The invention of heating and cooling systems is truly one technological innovation that all of us should be thankful to for the rest of our lives. One can only imagine how miserable our lives would have been if air conditioning and heating systems didn’t exist. Another thing that we should appreciate about HVAC systems is that they’re built to keep us comfortable for a long time.
Even the cheapest brands promise many years of life, while some higher-end units even claim that they can last more than a couple of decades, even with frequent and heavy use. Still, an HVAC system is a machine, and machines do encounter problems at certain points in their lives.
When an HVAC system breaks down, the best thing to do would be to contact a trusted HVAC contractor to repair it. HVAC repairs may cost you a lot of money, though, especially if the problem that caused your HVAC system to break down is a lot more serious than you previously thought. And if the damage involves the compressor, motor blower, or any other critical part, you might as well think about replacing your HVAC system with a new one. After all, there wouldn’t be much of a difference between the price tag of a new HVAC unit and your repair bill for your damaged system.
HVAC Maintenance Tips
Even though the breakdowns become unavoidable as your HVAC system ages, you can dodge an enormous repair bill or two by having the following maintenance tasks performed on it regularly:
Regular air filter replacement
Every HVAC system has an air filter, although its filtration capabilities may differ from one type to another.
Whatever the type of air filter your HVAC system has, it is designed to take out dust, dirt, mold and mold spores, pet dander, and all sorts of contaminants and particulates from your indoor air and trap them. That way, none of them would be able to circulate back into your home.
However, air filters can only take so much dust and dirt within a certain period. Most air filters usually last 90 days before the accumulated dust and debris start to affect airflow.
However, if some members of your family suffer from allergies or are prone to asthma attacks, or you have pets and wall-to-wall carpeting, 45 days should be a good enough time to replace your air filter.
Whatever happens, you should never forget or neglect to clean or replace your HVAC system’s air filter, as a clean air filter means airflow would be optimal. With good airflow, your HVAC system won’t have to work so hard, making it less likely to suffer breakdowns that will surely cost you.
While we’re talking about clean air filters helping prevent costly repairs, it’s also worth noting that they help reduce your energy bills too. According to the Department of Energy, routinely cleaning or replacing your air filter can reduce your air conditioner’s energy consumption by five to 15 percent.
Keeping the outside unit clean
A grime-filled air filter impedes airflow. The same thing also happens when the outside unit, which includes the condenser coils and cooling fins, is covered by dust, dirt, and debris.
Worse, dirt and debris—which could include tree leaves and branches—that collect on and around your outside unit will make it more difficult to release the heat that the refrigerant absorbs from your indoor air.
Because of poor airflow and faulty heat release, your HVAC system could eventually overheat and break down.
Fortunately, cleaning the outside unit is yet another HVAC maintenance task that you can take on yourself. It may be a bit more complicated and labor-intensive than replacing the air filter, but keeping the outside unit clean should still be easy enough to do.
To clean your HVAC system’s outdoor unit, you’re going to need the following tools:
- Water hose with sprayer
- A vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment
- Work gloves
- Safety goggles
- Air conditioner coil cleaner
When you’re all set, take the following steps:
- Locate the outdoor shutoff and turn off the electrical power to the condenser unit. Whether it’s a switch in a box, a fuse block, or a pull lever, do what needs to be done to make sure the power to the HVAC unit is off. Turn the thermostat off, too.
- Put on your work gloves and remove large pieces of debris around or near your outdoor unit. If there are plants anywhere near the outdoor unit, relocate them to ensure that the area around it is clear.
- Remove dust and debris from the condenser fins using the vacuum cleaner with the soft brush attachment. Do this as delicately as you can so as not to bend the fins out of shape.
- Clean off loose debris on the outside unit using the water hose spray.
- Get your coil cleaner, spray it on the outside unit, and rinse it off after 10 to 15 minutes.
Cleaning your outside unit once a year would be good enough for most homeowners, but you need to take your location into consideration. If your home is in a heavily polluted big city, a twice-yearly cleaning might be necessary.
Pay more attention to your HVAC system
It’s common for homeowners to treat their HVAC system as an afterthought as long as they function perfectly and only give it their attention when it finally breaks down and requires significant and costly repair.
If you pay a bit more attention to your HVAC system long before it conks out on you, you might be able to catch early warning signs and get an HVAC professional to perform minor fixes that don’t cost as much as major repair work.
When you hear odd noises like thumping, rattling, buzzing, and grinding coming from your HVAC unit, you must take them as a sign that there’s something wrong with it, like loose parts, compressor malfunction, or even a refrigerant leak.
If you ignore those noises, whatever’s causing it could make things worse over time, and you end up with an HVAC unit that will need costly repair work.
Conversely, addressing the noises as soon as you can helps you nip whatever HVAC problem there is in the bud. The sooner you deal with the issue, there will be less damage, and fixing it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Aside from odd noises, it would help if you also were on the lookout for strange smells, poor airflow, uneven cooling or heating, and other signs of HVAC problems so you can have it checked out by professionals right away.
Get preventative HVAC maintenance done regularly
Your HVAC system will benefit greatly from your efforts to regularly clean or replace air filters and clean the outside unit. If it can speak, your HVAC system will likely thank you for taking heed of the warning signs it’s giving out that there’s something wrong with it.
Still, to make sure that your HVAC system is in the best shape possible, you will need to call on the experience and expertise of professional HVAC technicians, who are most qualified to perform preventive maintenance work on your heating and cooling system.
With regular preventive HVAC maintenance, your system will run more efficiently, which will help reduce your utility bills. Preventive maintenance also helps add years to your system’s lifespan. A well-maintained HVAC system requires fewer repairs as well.
On top of replacing the air filter and cleaning the outside unit (which you already do regularly), HVAC professionals are also expected to do the following when performing an AC tune-up:
- Confirm quality of installation
- Check and measure refrigerant charge levels
- Gauge system airflow
- Check for signs of a refrigerant leak
- Inspect the area around the air intake
- Check system controls
- Clean and adjust the blower and its components
- Check and clean condensate lines
- Assess starting and heating/cooling cycles
- Inspect the duct system for leaks and blockages
- Make sure electrical connections and components are working properly
- Measure voltage and amperage
- Check heat strip amps
- Lubricate motors and all moving parts
- Check fan, bearings, and belts for tightness
- Inspect fuel line connections
- Test and calibrate the thermostat
Frequency of HVAC preventive maintenance
If your HVAC system is made up of a standard central AC unit and a furnace, you should have preventive maintenance performed on each unit once a year.
However, heat pumps are an entirely different story. People use heat pumps to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter, which means they run practically all year-round.
Considering the hard work homeowners put them through the entire year, heat pumps will need preventive maintenance work every six months to keep them in tiptop shape.
As sturdy as HVAC systems are designed to be, no one can deny that they will eventually need repairs at some point. Still, with proper and regular maintenance, you should be able to reduce the frequency of HVAC breakdowns, and that will already save you a lot of money in repairs in the long run.