Many homeowners don’t realize that an improperly maintained HVAC system can be a ticking time bomb of high costs and safety issues. In this article, we’ll go over the importance of routine HVAC maintenance, as well as discuss maintenance that you can do yourself, and maintenance that is best left to professionals.
What is HVAC Maintenance?
HVAC maintenance involves inspecting all of the components that make up an HVAC system, and then cleaning, adjusting, lubricating, calibrating, and changing parts, if necessary. The purpose of HVAC maintenance is to ensure that your HVAC system stays running safely at all times, and there are no surprise shutdowns or failures.
Benefits of HVAC Maintenance
There benefits of routine HVAC maintenance far outweigh the costs. In fact, a poorly maintained HVAC system can cost you many times more than the cost that it is to properly maintain the system in the first place.
Many of the high costs associated with a poorly maintained HVAC system arise from sudden system failures. During non-business hours, such as night time and weekends, the costs to have a professional HVAC technician come out and fix your system are usually much higher. In addition, a neglected HVAC system will often fail in a catastrophic manner, and will require a lot of parts and labor to fix. You wouldn’t want your HVAC system failing in the middle of winter when it can be very cold outside!
Lower Utility Bills
A well maintained HVAC system performs more efficiently, and will use less utilities (such as electricity or gas). Even if you don’t notice any problems with the temperature in your home, your HVAC system might be using more energy than is necessary to keep your home comfortable. An HVAC system that is not maintained will slowly lose its ability to efficiently keep your home at a comfortable temperature.
Extended Rquipment Lifetime
The parts of a properly maintained HVAC system will experience a much longer lifetime than a poorly maintained one. This can have a compounding effect on the rest of your parts, since there is less strain on the system as a whole. Your HVAC system can last for many years if it is maintained on a regular schedule. I have gone into some buildings with 20 year old equipment that looks almost brand new because it has been maintained so well!
Safer Equipment Operation
In addition to costing more time and money to repair, an improperly maintained HVAC system can also jeopardize your safety as well. Improperly maintained electrical components in your HVAC system can short circuit and catch on fire. If you have a furnace in your home, a crack in the heat exchanger can cause poisonous carbon monoxide gas to infiltrate the air inside your home. Overloaded fan motors have been known to overheat and catch on fire if not maintained!
Do-It-Yourself HVAC Maintenance
Fortunately, there are a few things that your can do yourself when it comes to HVAC maintenance. These topics covered below are the bare minimum when it comes to maintenance, but are essential in keeping your HVAC system running properly. Make sure that your HVAC system is shut down and powered off before conducting any maintenance.
Change or Clean the Air Filter
Every HVAC system will have an air filter of some sort. Residential ducted systems usually have a disposable filter in the air handler, where the fan is located. Disposable filters are designed to be thrown away and replaced with a brand new one. Ductless split systems usually have a reusable filter in the indoor unit. These reusable filters can be removed, cleaned, and then replaced.
Clean the Outdoor Unit’s Coil
The outdoor unit does not typically have a filter, so the coil itself must be cleaned. This is typically done by shooting it down with a water hose. For coils that are really dirty, you should consider using an AC coil cleaner. Caution – do not use a pressure washer to clean the coil of an outdoor unit. Using a pressure washer to clean the coil can damage the coil.
Keep Indoor and Outdoor Units Free of Obstructions
It is important to keep your HVAC system free of obstructions that might reduce airflow. For indoor units, this means that you need to keep your ductwork clear, and there is no blockage by any rugs, curtains, or furniture. For outdoor units, this means that you need to ensure that there is a clear perimeter around the unit to ensure that air can freely flow through the unit. Be sure that all plants are trimmed back and away from your outdoor unit to keep it running smoothly.
Check the Thermostat
The thermostat is the brain of your HVAC system. It compares the temperature inside of your home with the setpoint temperature that you set, and runs the HVAC equipment accordingly. Most modern thermostats also have scheduling features that allow the system, for instance, to turn off during the day when you are at work. If your thermostat has scheduling features, it is important for you to utilize them correctly, that way your HVAC system isn’t using too much energy when you aren’t even in your home.
It is also important for you to set the thermostat setpoint temperature to the appropriate temperature for you to keep comfortable based on the outside weather conditions. For instance, if you are heating your home in the winter, but are walking around in shorts because it is too hot in the house, then you may want to adjust your setpoint to a more appropriate temperature for the outside weather conditions.
Professional HVAC Maintenance
Even though many essential maintenance tasks that you can conduct yourself, it is still necessary to have a professional HVAC technician come in and maintain your system. Here are a few things that you can expect a professional HVAC technician to do:
Inspect the System as a Whole
A professional HVAC technician knows what to look out for when watching an HVAC system in action. They are able to see, hear, and even smell things that most people would not notice. Expect the technician to start and stop the system, and inspect its various parts and sequences to ensure that everything is working properly.
Lubricate Mechanical Components
Mechanical components in your HVAC system are constantly moving. Due to this movement, friction can occur and wear down components if they are not treated properly. Expect the technician to lubricate moving components, such as fans and dampers.
Adjust and Maintain Fans
The fan, or blower, consists of an electric motor that drives a set of fan blades, either directly, or by a belt. Outdoor units have fans as well. Expect your HVAC technician to clean and adjust the fan and/or motor, and replace the belt, if necessary.
Check Pressures and Line Connections
Cooling systems have refrigerant (also known as freon) inside of them. This refrigerant exists in a closed loop inside of your system and should not leak out under normal circumstances. Expect your technician to check the pressure of the refrigerant to see if a leak has occurred. In heating systems that use gas, expect your technician to check for leaks to ensure that no gas is escaping. Gas leaks can be a fire and safety hazard.
Inspect Burners and Heat Exchangers
Gas heating systems have burners and heat exchangers. Expect your technician to closely inspect your heating equipment. Dirty burners will cause performance inefficiencies. Cracked heat exchangers are a safety hazard and should be replaced immediately.
Proper HVAC system maintenance is an essential part of a healthy home. There are many benefits of routine HVAC system maintenance, such as lower utility bills, less downtime, and extended equipment lifetime. There are many tasks that you can do to maintain your HVAC system, such as changing filters, and cleaning it. However, you should still bring in a professional HVAC technician to inspect and maintain your system regularly. By properly maintaining your HVAC system, you can ensure that it will run at peak performance.