HVAC maintenance is an essential part of prolonging the life of your HVAC system, helping you to avoid unnecessary repairs and ensuring it performs at its optimum for as long as possible.
Failing to carry out regular maintenance can potentially result in your HVAC system breaking down much sooner than could be avoided. In the long term, this can result in a range of performance issues related to things like the gradual build-up of waste and wear and tear.
Like most mechanical equipment, the reality is that it is going to face some form of repair at one stage or another. However, preventative maintenance makes the chance of catastrophic and expensive repairs much less likely.
HVAC Maintenance You Can Do Yourself (DIY)
Often, people don’t give much thought to their HVAC systems as they are out of sight, equally, many people just don’t feel confident around mechanical equipment like air conditioners and furnaces.
And while it’s true that many tasks should be left to the hands of professional HVAC technicians, there is quite a number that you can quite easily do yourself.
So, what HVAC maintenance tasks can you do yourself?
Change Filters on a Regular Basis
If your air filters are not performing well or are dirty, then this can restrict the airflow through your system, making it work harder and use more energy than it should have to.
Pet dander, dust, and hair are all major culprits of blocked and dirty filters, so if you live in a home with pets, then it’s even more important for to carry out regular checks on your filters.
How often should you change your filters? The answer completely depends on your home environment, but you should carry out a check at least once a month and if they appear visibly dirty, change them.
Energy Star recommends changing your filters at least every three months, but during winter and summer when your system is being used more often, it’s likely that your filters will need to be changed more often too.
Carry out a Visual Inspection
Another important check you can do yourself is a thorough visual inspection of all the major and minor components of your system. This can help you spot signs that something is wrong or deal with problems that could potentially lead to system failures down the line.
Look for anything that may signal there is a problem with your systems such as minor leaks, disconnected components, and rust. Also, check your refrigerant lines and look for signs of freezing and dirty evaporator coils.
Check your vents too, ensure they are free from all debris including leaves, mold, and grass. The space around your outdoor air conditioner and heat appliance should also have a clearance space of at least 3 feet.
If there is something wrong with your system, other common signs include the sudden occurrence of unexplained changes in your system’s performance.
Re-Calibrate Your System Bi-Annually
Before summer and winter, it is recommended that you make some minor adjustments to your HVAC system. For example, adjust your thermostat slightly if you anticipate large temperature changes as you can potentially make huge savings by reducing your energy consumption.
HVAC Maintenance for Professionals
HVAC technicians and other professionals can carry out more comprehensive system maintenance that can really help give your system a tune-up and ensure it’s performing as required.
Energy Star recommends scheduling a professional pre-season check-up and maintenance bi-annually. This includes a pre-winter season check for your heating system and a pre-summer check for your cooling system. This will ensure there are no issues with your system as you head into the periods of peak system use.
HVAC Maintenance Checklist
So what type of checks does a professional HVAC technician carry out during a regular maintenance appointment?
Some HVAC system component checks are carried out as part of routine pre-season maintenance while others are specific to the type of system being serviced e.g. heating or cooling.
Routine Maintenance Checks:
1. Check Thermostat Settings
Programmable thermostats should be adjusted to meet the temperature preferences of the customer and conditions of the current season. They should be altered to prevent excessive runtime while maintaining a comfortable environment during occupied hours.
A brief discussion with the customer about their habits and routine will allow you to program the settings to ensure they are achieving maximum energy savings.
2. Tighten electrical connections
Ensuring the electrical connections are not loose or broken is essential for efficient and safe system operation. That means checking the caps, relays, safeties, contractors and carrying out both voltage and current checks on all equipment motors.
3. Lubricate Moving Components
An HVAC system moving parts need to be regularly lubricated to reduce friction and therefore wear. Without adequate lubrication, the systems can need replacing more often and the performance of the system can be impacted by damaged/worn components that do not operate at their maximum performance.
4. Check System Controls
Any routine check should verify that the system is running as intended and without any errors occurring at any point in the process. Therefore, you need to test the system controls by initializing a complete heating and cooling cycle and checking that everything is working in a stepwise fashion from starting up to shutting off.
5. Inspect the condensate drain
Both cooling and heating appliances such as furnaces and air conditioners produce condensate during operation. Normally, this water vapor is deposited into a collection tray and evaporates to the outside of the home.
However, gradually the water can attract the growth of mold, algae and create a mixture of waste that can lead to a blockage. If not emptied and left there is also the risk of the collection pan flowing over into the property, which can potentially damage flooring, decor, and furnishings.
Therefore an important part of maintenance is to check for blockages in the condensate drain, to empty the collection pan and ensure condensate is draining and evaporating as required.
Heating Maintenance Checks
1. Inspect Key Heating Components
When examining heating appliance you need to take special care to check the gas pressure, burner combustion and the heat exchanger. A pressure that is too low or high, a dirty burner and a damaged heat exchanger can all impact the systems function, lead to decreased efficiency and render it a potential safety hazard.
These issues are all typically easy to fix, either through cleaning, re-calibration or repair, although in some cases complete replacement will be required – often more common in the case of heat exchangers.
2. Inspect Fuel Lines & Connections
Gas and oil lines that have faults are potentially hazardous to health in numerous ways since they are a fire hazard and potentially toxic if inhaled. Therefore, it’s important to check the lines for any issues and repair them if necessary.
Steam pipes and water pipes should also be checked for problems, especially if the customer already suspects a leak. You may find that you need to insulate your steam pipes if they are exposed to increase the energy efficiency of your heating system.
No matter how small, these type of issues have a tendency to get worse over time and it’s far better to fix them now rather than later. Often changes in pressure provide an indication that there is a fault somewhere in the systems pipework.
Cooling Maintenance Checks
1. Clean AC Evaporator & Condensor Coils
Both condenser and evaporator coils are repeatedly exposed to the air from outside that is sucked into the system and the fungi, dirt, debris, and particulates it contains land on and sticks to the coils. This dirt can impact the air conditioners ability to perform well and reduce its efficiency, so should ideally be cleaned at least once a year.
2. Check & Refill Refrigerant if Necessary
Too much refrigerant in your cooling system can result in damage to your air compressor. It can also result in increased energy costs for home cooling. Equally, a system that doesn’t have enough refrigerant may signify that there is a leak somewhere in the system and can also decrease efficiency.
3. Check & Re-Calibrate the Blower System
If the air blower is not blowing the warm air over the cooling coils in your air conditioner at the optimum level, then it can potentially reduce your system’s efficiency by up to 15 percent. Therefore, the blower needs to be checked and re-calibrated if necessary.