You probably don’t think about your home’s heating and cooling system — until you have to. Too often, homeowners fail to pay attention to their HVAC and suffer the consequences: a broken system at the wrong time of year.
Meanwhile, if you adhere to a strict HVAC maintenance schedule, you can entirely avoid problems with your HVAC and enjoy the proper interior temperature year-round. It isn’t difficult to maintain maintenance on your HVAC; here’s a simple guide to get you started.
Experts agree that you should get your HVAC professionally serviced once per year, ideally in the months before you will need it most. That means if you live someplace exceedingly hot, like Phoenix, heating and cooling contractors should visit your home before summer, in March or April. Conversely, if you live someplace cool, like Detroit, an HVAC specialist should pay you a visit before winter, in September or October. If temperatures are moderate for you year-round, like Los Angeles, you can choose when to schedule your service.
During a service call, a technician will double-check the performance of your system. If you have noticed anything wrong during recent weeks or months, they might strive to diagnose your problem and repair or replace underperforming parts. If you get your HVAC serviced annually and perform regular checks yourself (more on that later) you shouldn’t have much wrong with your system, but it is good to have a professional check connections, modify settings and otherwise get eyes on the complex machine.
How much you pay for annual service will depend on your area, the repairs your technician might find and the experience of the technician. Usually, there is a flat rate for a home visit as well as an hourly charge for time spent diagnosing problems and fixing them. Almost all HVAC service providers will charge more for emergencies and calls during on-seasons, but by scheduling your service in advance (ideally for a workday) you can avoid these extra fees.
Unless you want to pay a technician to survey your HVAC more than once per year, you should be willing and able to perform some minimal maintenance yourself. For the most part, these checks consist of determining whether anything is malfunctioning within your system and cleaning or replacing basic parts. It’s good to perform a check at least once a quarter, if not once a month. This will ensure you notice minor problems before they develop into major ones.
Specifically, here are some things you should keep an eye out for during your regular checks:
Dirt/debris. Usually, HVAC units are located outside the home, on the roof or near the foundation. Weather often blows dirt, leaves, branches and other debris onto or around the unit, and this junk can impair performance by blocking airflow (and worse). You should work to clear away debris whenever you notice it accumulating, or else that stuff could get inside the unit and cause significant damage. A rake and a broom should be enough to keep the area around it tidy, but if you do want to give your unit a good wash, you can disconnect the electricity and use the hose.
Leaks. Water damage should be among the scariest threats to your home, so whenever you hear a steady drip, you should diligently search for the cause. HVACs rely on water, and their hoses and pipes can leak like any other plumbing. If you do trace a leak back to your HVAC, you shouldn’t try to repair it yourself; you should call in your trusted service provider.
Filters. HVACs pull in air to heat or cool through a filter, so your home’s air isn’t filled with dust, dirt and debris. However, over time, those filters get clogged with the junk they are keeping out. Experts advise replacing your filters every three months for most of the year and then every month during your most active season. You can invest in reusable filters, which require you to take them out and wash them, or you can use the standard disposable kind.
Odors. Your HVAC should always pull in clean air from outside, so if you notice an odd or off-putting smell all around your home, you need to investigate. It is possible for mold and mildew to grow inside your HVAC, especially if there is a leak that you didn’t manage to detect soon enough. In areas where the summer months are accompanied by high humidity, mold and mildew will grow fast. There are ways to prevent the spread of mold and mildew, such as replacing your air filters, insulating your ductwork, cleaning drip pans and investing in dehumidifiers.
Your HVAC is not a perpetual motion device; it needs the right maintenance to function effectively for long periods of time. With a small amount of assistance from professionals and a large amount of diligence on your part, you can keep your HVAC working well for longer.