Until the day home heating and air conditioning units come equipped with intuitive voices programmed to deliver current assessments about the health of your HVAC unit, you’ll to have to be your own diagnostician. Does this mean you need HVAC credentials? Of course not. You just need an AC repair and furnace repair hero or two–and no capes are required to do the job.

But as a homeowner who would prefer not to be surprised during a blistering summer or colder-than-usual winter, sleuthing out the warning signs of a system about to malfunction can not only help you sleep more soundly at night, but you’ll love how knowing what to look and listen for can benefit your bank account.

Is Your Air Conditioning System About to Fail?

You don’t necessarily have to live in Phoenix or Miami to be filled with gratitude every time your AC compressor kicks in. But when your favorite equipment dissipates or simply stops humming, you don’t want to kick yourself for ignoring obvious warnings. What symptoms should you look for that suggest your cooling system might be on its way out and could benefit from heating and air repair services? How about you start with these 6 AC repair warnings:

Warning #1: Your thermostat starts acting like an adolescent going through puberty. One minute, temps stay right on the money and in the next, you can’t believe what your eyes are telling you. Is one room hot while another is cool? You could have a bum thermostat. If so, AC repair should top your “must do now” list.

Warning #2: We like to call this one “the dead giveaway.” You get no cool air. Period. Even if you turn the thermostat down so far, you could comfortably host Arctic penguins. The good news is that all you may need is Freon. The bad news is that your compressor gave up the ghost. We stand ready to deliver either news!

Warning #3: The air you are getting is best described as wimpy. There are several reasons this could be happening. The most depressing is compressor failure or capacitor failure. Alternately, your duct work may require cleaning because you’ve neglected it over time. If you’ve been completely oblivious to the decline in the quality of the air coming through your system, it could be both.

Warning #4: You see standing water or damp spots in area that are supposed to be dry. This is another crap shoot in terms of diagnosis and either scenario can be attributed to two possible causes: either your refrigerant is leaking or the conduit that disposes of condensation could be broken or blocked. In either case, your family’s health could be at risk. Refrigerant leaks can be remedied quickly. Mold growth due to condensation issues can be catastrophic down the road.

Warning #5: Something stinks, you don’t own a pet and you can’t put your finger on where the odor originates. This could mean that the unit’s wiring has burned out and/or a build-up of mold or mildew is responsible for causing the odor in the air conditioner, the duct work or both. Bacteria growing in AC systems can have disastrous health consequences.

Warning #6: You hear noises that go bump in the night or day and there’s nothing in the newspaper about zombies coming to town. Don’t be fooled into thinking that only one weird noise points to problems: the sounds you hear could be grinding, grating, squealing or some combination of the three. Solutions to this dilemma usually indicate a slipped belt, broken motor bearings or something as simple as a need for lubrication. Angie’sList.com may help you ID those sounds.

Is Your Heating System About to Quit?

Our clients have gotten into interesting chats with our techs about whether it’s “better” to have the air conditioning break in the summer or the furnace go out in the winter. These conversations usually end with a client saying, “I can always take a cold shower in the summer!” Shivering in a cold house in January? It’s worse! How can you tell if you need furnace repair? Look for these warnings:

Warning #1: You’ve owned your furnace for 15 years, so age could easily be the reason for strange sounds, smells and behavior that you haven’t experienced before your system reached an advanced age. Proper maintenance helps, but until manufacturers figure out a way to get 50 years out of a furnace, age could be the reason your heating system fails to perform efficiently.

Warning #2: Another candidate for “most obvious” warning arises if you power up your furnace and you’re greeted with a blast of cold air that doesn’t dissipate. This sign of potential furnace death may be due to the demise of the blower fan motor, but more likely, your furnace may have a burned-out pilot light or a heat exchange issue.

Warning #3: You open your power bills and can’t figure out why costs are skyrocketing. Sure, your energy provider could have increased its pricing structure, but it’s more likely your furnace is on its last leg and it’s working harder and longer to maintain the temperature setting you desire. It could be time for a furnace repair consult.

Warning #4: You can skip this warning if you have an electrically-powered heating system because this pertains only to folks with natural gas-driven furnaces. If your pilot light is yellow, take this as a cautionary sign to get help fast. This warning could signal rust build-up, extreme condensation issues or even carbon monoxide leaks. Don’t take that yellow indicator as a sign to “slow down”; read it as a “get help now” tip.

Warning #5: If you already hate dust (and who doesn’t?), did you know that dust can trigger heating system malfunctions? Dust seeps into heat registers and then it’s circulated throughout your home via your furnace fan and duct work system. Over time, dust can build up so dramatically, even folks who are obsessive filter changers can’t keep up, so if you notice poufs of dust coming from heat registers when the compressor kicks in, keep this warning in mind.

Warning #6: Hearing strange sounds? You could have a ghost living in your system but it’s more likely your heating system may be ready to give up its ghost. Expanding and contracting ducts emit unique sounds that are a normal part of owning a central HVAC system, but if you hear squeaks and pops, this is not business as usual. These sounds could indicate a loose part that requires replacement.

7 Things to Try if Your Home Heating and Air Conditioning System Behaves Badly Before You Ask for an HVAC Estimate

According to TheFamilyHandyman.com, taking simple actions to give your HVAC system some love before you resort to calling professionals will not only give you peace of mind, but the tech won’t have to spend as much time troubleshooting your problem because you’ve already been smart enough to check the obvious:

1. Did you pull your air filter out of its slot to see if it’s clogged with dust and soil? This is especially important if you have pets. Rule of thumb: 4- to 5-inch filters should be replaced twice a year; replace thinner filters every other month.

2. Could the wiring connecting your outdoor HVAC systems have been compromised last time you went crazy with the weed whacker? It can happen. Take a look. It only takes a minute.

3. Are your landscaping projects the culprits? In your effort to obscure an outdoor HVAC system, homeowners often plant flowers and shrubs as camouflage. As a rule of thumb, don’t plant within 3-feet of your unit (4-feet is better) unless you are looking for trouble. Leaves and yard waste sucked into a system can suffocate it. That’s no way to treat this pricey equipment.

4. Exercise restraint when you cool your home. It’s possible to trigger a system freeze in an older HVAC system by keeping your AC thermostat below 70-degrees in the summer. Experts agree that there’s always a 20-degree difference between indoor and outdoor readings. Set your temperature lower when temperatures spike and you could put more pressure on your system than it can handle.

5. Are your pipes frozen because you’ve run your cooling system non-stop? It happens. A quick fix is simply letting those pipes thaw out and re-starting your unit. Do this by turning off the system while keeping the fan on. You may have to do this a couple of times. If the situation persists, you likely have more problems than frozen pipes.

6. If your thermostat isn’t lit, did you check your system’s batteries? Replace them and pat yourself on the back when thinking of the service call bill you just dodged! While we’re on the subject of easy fixes, you did make sure circuit breakers aren’t thrown, right?

7. Are your vents the culprits? In their eagerness to decorate rooms worthy of home and garden magazine spreads, homeowners inadvertently place furnishings, plants and other items that block wall or floor vents. Move these items to see if this is your problem.

Worst Case Scenario: Suppose Both of Your HVAC Systems Fail?

This is actually a good thing, though you may not feel like doing a happy dance when receiving this news. In fact, there are reasons having both systems go in concert can benefit you and your wallet.

-When you upgrade your entire system, your ability to choose units that are mutually compatible are better than if you had to replace one at a time. And thanks to the advent of Energy Star-rates HVAC systems you get extra assurances courtesy of government watchdogs.

-You can save money by purchasing both thanks to sales and specials offered by manufacturers looking to liquidate inventory because newer models are arriving.

-Installing newer technology can drive up the value of your home when it’s assessed, should you decide to sell in the years ahead.

-You could learn that your old system has dramatically inflated your power bills while the new one is so energy efficient, the savings you realize are astonishing.

Compelling Reasons to Let Professionals Tackle Your Heating and Air Repair

If you’ve got diplomas hanging on your walls that tout engineering degrees and certificates proving you’re an HVAC master, calling heating and cooling companies might not make sense, but even if you’ve got a healthy amount of skill, the tools, brains and desire to do the job yourself, calling in an expert just makes good common sense. You need credentialed, certified professionals with top-quality skills for all of the following reasons:

-If you try to repair or replace your HVAC system and mess things up, the finished job could cost twice as much as the true original cost.

-Your unfamiliarity with installation intricacies could knock out support systems connected to your HVAC and the rest of your home. Ka-ching!

-Attempt the job yourself in-between work, family and other obligations and it could take many more weeks to finish the install.

-Do you want to toil over an install when the heat index is 100+ outside and it’s just as hot inside?

-Even seasoned DIYers have been known to damage systems beyond repair because they don’t know what they’re doing.

-Try and do the job yourself, mess up and good luck explaining this to your homeowner’s insurance guy when you try to file a claim.

-Your family stays safer if you just say no to doing your own install. Improper venting alone can expose your family to carbon monoxide fumes.

-You could inadvertently expose yourself to electrical shocks and dangers that have future health and welfare implications.

There’s more, but we think we may have sufficiently made a case for protecting your home, your life and your health by calling in the big dogs for an HVAC estimate. The best heating and cooling companies will know a thing or two about getting your job done safely, efficiently and more reasonably than you might have imagined!