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11 HVAC Maintenance Tips for Homeowners

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Learn How to Best Take Care of Your HVAC Unit

Why does the air conditioner always seem to break down on the hottest day of the year? If you’ve been in this situation, you understand the dilemma it brings up. It’s a common source of anxiety for people in the greater St. Louis area, where 100-degree weather can easily be a daily event. Having a working heating and cooling unit leads to happy customers. The summer heat can be relentless, but you don’t have to let it get the best of you.

Tip #1: Change the Air Filter

The air filter becomes clogged over time, and this especially becomes a problem when it is dusty outside. The air filter will be filled with dust, debris and other particles that you want to clean out. A daily buildup of these particles can lead to your air conditioner working much harder, which is going to raise your energy bill much higher, and it will also increase the risk of it breaking down from problems. When you regularly replace or clean the air filter, you lower the load that the HVAC unit has to clean.

As a general rule of thumb, you will want to clean your home heating and cooling system once every two weeks. If you live in a particularly dusty environment, you should clean it even more often. It’s a regular part of your maintenance plan.

Tip #2: Wipe away the Dust from Around the Unit

You’d be surprised at how leaves, grass, dirt and even branches have been known to infiltrate your furnace and air conditioner. This can cause a bunch of costly problems that will eventually lead to a severe breakdown of your unit. Why pay that cost when you can catch it early? You should regularly spend time clearing out the vegetation in the unit and check it for debris regularly. In particular, after your area has experienced strong winds because of a storm.

Tip #3: Leave the Air Vents Open

Contrary to popular opinion, closing the air vents will not save you on energy costs. In fact, it can be one of the worst things that you could do to your heating and air conditioning unit because of how it significantly increases the pressure load. When you close the vents, you block off the cool air and lower the unit’s performance levels drastically. If you want the maximum level of efficiency and to prevent overloading your air conditioner, you should keep all the vents open and keep them free of possible obstructions to the airflow.

The biggest problem with closing the air vents is how it doesn’t mean you’re sending less air into the home. The problem is how your air conditioner still takes the same amount of electricity to operate. In addition, the cooling fan hasn’t stopped working either. This damages the air conditioner and the ductwork. As this happens, air leaks will begin to form with it, and the more vents that you have closed, the more pressure that you will put on the system, and increase your chances of these leaks forming. Some of the things that you could potentially do to lower your energy bill instead would be if you were to:

  • Install a zone control system.
  • Keep your heating and air conditioning unit well maintained.
  • Close the blinds and shades.
  • Use fans on the days where it’s needed.

Tip #4: Have a Maintenance Tune-up

You’d be surprised how HVAC services could actually lower your heating and cooling bill. When was the last time that you had your HVAC unit serviced? If it has been over a year, you could be at a much higher risk for problems occurring. Especially over the hot summer months, do you really want to have to sit in your home without AC? Heating and air repair can keep you from losing your air conditioning unit on those triple-digit days. In addition, a tune-up can catch problems before they spiral out of control, and it can even lower your energy bill. If you want to keep your AC unit in good shape, HVAC maintenance can help to lengthen its lifespan.

Tip #5: Set Your HVAC Unit at the Optimal Temperature

While the temperature that you set on the thermostat will largely depend on personal comforts, many systems will have an optimum temperature level that ensures they will continue to use the energy efficiently. You might look at the owner’s manual to figure it out, or you could ask your service technician to help you find the most energy-efficient temperature. You want to avoid fluctuating the temperatures too often because this will make your HVAC unit work harder, and then it won’t be working as efficiently as it could be.

Tip #6: Seal the Home from Incoming Drafts

The average individual thinks of stopping the air infiltration during the cold months, but they don’t give much thought to the summer season. Any leak of air within the home will rob you of your HVAC system’s full potential because this heating and cooling will be lost as a result. To get the best results, you should close the doors and windows and ensure that you have a good weather seal on the home before you turn it on. Putting weather strips on the door, in particular, can help you to avoid the cold air leaking out through the door. You may also want to upgrade to newer and more energy-efficient windows to keep from losing cooling and heating through them. The most common places for drafts in the home include:

  • Chimneys
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Attics and basements
  • Electrical outlets

Tip #7: Check the Ducts

One of the important aspects of air conditioning maintenance would be if you were to check the air ducts regularly. As stated before, the ducts may start to leak, and this can cost you big. In fact, according to Energy Star, leaky ductwork could cost you as much as 30 percent more. That means for every dollar you pay, you will be paying 30 cents more on your energy costs.

How can you check the air ducts to make sure that everything on your home heating and cooling unit is running smoothly? First, you will need a few supplies:

  • Grease pencil
  • Plywood
  • Smoke pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Plastic sheets
  • Mastic
  • Paintbrush
  • Foil-backed fiberglass insulation
  • Fog machine

To begin with, you will turn on the furnace and air conditioner so that it blows with some consistency. Next, you will climb to the attic and lay plywood over the joists. You want to walk through your attic safely. You will move the insulation ducts if needed. Next, you will place a hand close to the duct joints, where the ducts are connected. You will feel for air in your hand. With a big leak, it’s quite obvious. You will mark the area using your grease pencil. Next, you will light the smoke pencil, but you can also use incense. Look for smoke that wavers erratically because this indicates that your ductwork has a leak. You might use the pencil to help you to find the leaks that you couldn’t find with only your hand. You can also mark the areas that leak in this way.

Next, you will tape over the room vent with the plastic sheets and the painter’s tape. You will place a fog machine near the blower intake and point it at the fan. You will look for the exit points with the fog and mark your leaking points with the grease pencil. After the ductwork leaks have been identified, you will conduct some HVAC maintenance where you wrap it with the tape that is foil faced and apply the mastic. You can also call in HVAC services as a way of having the professionals handle the problem. One of the signs that you have a tear in your air duct is that you see insulation debris blowing through the ventilation system.

Tip #8: Keep Clearance Around the Unit

Believe it or not, maintenance also goes to the outside as well because it involves keeping the unit as free of obstruction as possible. If you have shrubs or trees near the outside of the unit, you should cut away the limbs. In general, safe clearance of your air conditioning unit will be around 12 inches. Keeping this clear can help to ensure the lifespan of your unit, and it keeps other problems from popping up.

Tip #9: Clean the Condensate Drain Line

Your HVAC unit will have what’s known as a condensate drain line. You want to keep this clean because when the line gets clogged, it can cause the system to start to freeze up and fail in its operation. Cleaning this line is one of the quick fixes that will take place, and to do this, you will detach the line and pour in a cup of vinegar or bleach. This cleans away some of the sediment, mold and algae that can build up within your HVAC system. How often you will have to clean the drain line will largely depend on how well you maintain the rest of your unit. For example, how often do you replace the air filter, and what’s the overall efficiency of your air filter?

Tip #10: Keep the Condenser and the Evaporator Coils Clean

Whether it’s an indoor or an outdoor HVAC unit, you want to keep the coils as clean from debris as humanly possible. This is all part of good HVAC maintenance, and you want to keep the airflow running as smoothly as possible. One of the signs that you have a blocked coil is how the unit no longer even powers on. Cleaning the coils is a quick maintenance hack, but before you ever begin to clean them, you should first make sure that you carefully follow the instructions. Take special care when you handle the coils because you don’t want to damage them. This can be astronomically expensive, and paying for it will range anywhere from $400 up to $1200 to replace the coil. The pricing depends on what kind of brand and model of HVAC system that you have. Also, the more expensive units tend to have more expensive parts for replacement.

Not only can the coils be expensive, another one of the problems is how ordering the parts can be difficult to even get, depending on the make and model of your HVAC system. Another thing that you would have to consider is the cost of the labor from the HVAC services. This is one of the reasons that it is so important to maintain your HVAC system correctly because you won’t have to worry about this as much.

Tip #11: Check the Flame

When you go to check the flame on your furnace, it should be a crisp color blue. In fact, if it isn’t, then you should call in an HVAC specialist immediately. A blue flame indicates that the proper combustion is taking place. If you see long streaks of yellow or orange, it indicates that you need a technician who can adjust the furnace or clean it.