Homeowners must perform routine HVAC maintenance for air quality safety reasons. Scheduling HVAC preventative maintenance ensures it performs properly and prolongs the lifespan of your unit. Neglecting your system could lead to inefficient performance and system failure. There are several HVAC maintenance tasks you can complete on your own, however, some require an HVAC specialist. In this guide, we outline the dos and don’ts of HVAC maintenance.
DO: Seasonal HVAC preventative maintenance
At least two times per year, schedule HVAC preventative maintenance with a professional technician. Maintenance should involve a furnace or heat pump inspection that includes cleaning and an annual tune-up. Schedule maintenance for your air conditioning system in the spring and your furnace or heat pump either late summer or early fall. That way, your unit is running optimally and efficiently as soon as you turn it on.
If your HVAC technician discovers a severe problem, they can deal with it before it leads to other problems, and before it’s time to switch over from heating to cooling or vice versa. A tune-up typically includes a thorough inspection including checking the heat exchanger for cracks, checking refrigeration, cleaning condensate tube build-up, condenser cleaning, lubricating all moving parts and replacing filters.
DO: Change your filters regularly
Even though your HVAC specialist is checking filters twice annually during maintenance and tune-ups, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them. Typically, HVAC systems have either a 30-day fiberglass filter or a three-month pleated filter. Because they have such a short lifespan, you should check them regularly. Even if it’s ahead of schedule, change them if they’re dirty.
Leaving a dirty filter in an HVAC unit makes it work harder. The harder an HVAC unit has to work to circulate air throughout a home, the more energy it’s using. A dirty filter also strains the system’s fan, which can also make it work too hard.
DO: Keep the area clutter-free for healthy systems
Seasonal HVAC maintenance should also include keeping the area around HVAC units clear both indoors and outdoors. That means there should be no build-up of debris, dirt, grass or leaves. According to the Department of Energy, you should leave at least two feet of space around outdoor HVAC units to ensure they operate efficiently.
DO: Regulate your internal temperatures
The Department of Energy states that, when homeowners turn their thermostats back by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours daily, they can save 10% on annual heating and cooling bills. Further, if you set your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter when you’re awake and lower it when sleeping, that also saves on energy costs. Use that same strategy in the summer by setting thermostats at 78 degrees when at home and keeping it warmer when away.
Using programmable or smart thermostats is a simple way to control your home’s heating and cooling efficiency. You can control this thermostat technology from a smartphone or tablet from any location. Some smart thermostats can even learn your habits, adapting so you don’t even have to program energy-saving adjustments.
DO: Do visual inspections during your HVAC maintenance
At least once a year, perform a visual inspection of your system to make sure nothing looks awry. Check that condensate or evaporator coils aren’t dirty, that coils are not frozen and there are no water leaks. Look for damage to fins and, when the unit is on, listen for strange vibrations or sounds. Contact an HVAC professional if you notice anything that needs addressing.
DO: Maintain your carbon monoxide detector
When you’re operating an oil or natural gas heating system, you’ll also have a carbon monoxide detector. Make sure you’re testing the carbon monoxide detector at least once monthly. If the unit has replaceable batteries, change them at least once every six months or when you hear a single beep every minute. These detectors are essential for HVAC maintenance because, if it starts beeping four times with a pause, that means your HVAC unit is leaking, and you must get outside into fresh air and call 9-1-1 immediately. It’s also essential to remember that the average lifespan of a carbon monoxide detector is between five and seven years. Some monitors will notify you that they need replacement if they beep five times every minute.
DO: Make a seasonal HVAC maintenance checklist
Creating a seasonal HVAC maintenance checklist gives you all the to-do’s to add to your calendar. You’ll want to add professional seasonal maintenance to the calendar, which will include turning the water on in the fall, replacing the humidifier wick, turning the water supply to the furnace off in the spring and inspecting air conditioner refrigerant lines before summer. Additional checklist items include checking thermostat settings, tightening electrical connections, lubricating all moving parts, inspecting the condensate drain and checking the system’s controls.
Make sure your calendar has reminders to schedule this maintenance, change your air filters monthly (or every three months depending on the type), replacing batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and inspecting your system.
DON’T: Ignore higher utility bills
If your HVAC system doesn’t receive regular maintenance, that could mean it’s running less efficiently. As a result, it’s consuming more fuel and causing higher utility bills. High energy bills indicate that the system either isn’t functioning as it should or that it might be time to replace it with a more energy-efficient unit. Look at the age of your HVAC system to determine if it’s time for an upgrade that meets efficiency standards.
DON’T: Be afraid to call in an HVAC professional
While there are many things you can do to ensure that your HVAC system is running optimally from season to season, there are limitations. HVAC specialists are trained and must follow building codes to ensure your home is safe. They also manage all electrical component installation to ensure efficiency. A sign that you need to hire an HVAC professional includes your system continuously turning on and off, or short-cycling. You might also need an HVAC professional if there is excessive noise when you start up the system.
Frequently asked questions
When do I need to schedule professional HVAC maintenance?
Schedule professional HVAC maintenance twice per year. Your air conditioning system should be checked in the spring and your furnace or heat pump in late summer or early fall.
What temperature should I set my thermostat?
The Department of Energy suggests setting thermostats to 68 degrees during the winter when you’re awake and lower for sleeping. In summer months, keep thermostats at 78 degrees when you’re home and set it to higher temperatures when you’re out, adapting it as needed for your health needs.
What does an HVAC tune-up include?
Seasonal tune-ups include a thorough inspection, checking the heat exchanger for cracks, checking refrigeration, cleaning condensate tube build-up, condenser cleaning, lubricating all moving parts and replacing filters.
How long does an HVAC tune-up take?
Depending on your HVAC system’s configuration, plan on tune-ups to last about one hour. Include an additional 30 to 45 minutes if any refrigerant is needed.