Today’s homeowners are more empowered than ever before. A few clicks can lead you to an inspiring story of a DIY kitchen renovation, or the tale of someone who has successfully re-laid a brick driveway. In many cases, handy homeowners can save money by taking on home improvement projects themselves. But projects like heating and cooling repair are not simple or safe enough for you to take on yourself.
Complex improvements to a home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system fall into this category. An HVAC system is an intricate system of many working parts, and damage (or worse, injury) can result if someone without the technical know-how attempts repairs.
If you’re working on your to-do list of DIY home improvements, here are five HVAC projects that you should leave to the professionals, along with a few tasks you can safely take on yourself.
1. Full HVAC Replacement
This one should sound intimidating from the very start. Electrical wiring and high voltage aside, a full HVAC replacement requires a lot of specialized knowledge. No matter how much research you have done online, it is never completely tailored to the situation in your home. Size and capacity differ greatly for HVAC systems, and a professional will know how to install a new heating and cooling system in your home the right way.
Replacing an HVAC isn’t a matter of yanking the existing unit from the wall and plugging in a new one. Additionally, ductwork throughout the home might be in need of updating. An extensive overhaul may even require a building permit. If a full HVAC replacement is due, it’s definitely time to call the experts.
2. Projects Involving Electrical Work
HVAC systems are high-voltage pieces of machinery. Systems can run between 220 volts and 240 volts, and require a dedicated circuit to run. That’s not to mention the 5,000 watts of electricity an HVAC system can require to start up. This is well above the amount of voltage needed to severely injure someone lacking electrical experience. Unless you’re just plugging in a window-unit AC, a DIY heating and cooling repair project is not the best time to practice tinkering with electricity.
3, Projects Requiring Specialty Tools
A major attraction of DIY heating and cooling repair projects is the chance to save a bit of money, but the amount you save will quickly dwindle if you find yourself having to ring up a huge bill at the hardware store to get the tools you need for the job.
Do you have a multi-meter, leak detector, or refrigeration system analyzer sitting in your toolbox? If you answered “no” or “what are those?” to any of those items, calling an expert is in order. HVAC professionals make a living by working with these specialized tools, and they’ll always have the gear necessary to get the job done.
4. Replacing HVAC Refrigerants
Refrigerants are the substance that enables the air conditioning function of your HVAC system. The refrigerant, in either liquid or gaseous form, is kept within the copper coils of an HVAC system. Through a series of chemical reactions, the refrigerant is cooled, and that air is then cycled around your house.
There are several different kinds of refrigerant, all of which can be hazardous. Exposure to refrigerants, especially in confined spaces, can lead to serious health issues. There’s a reason why professionals often need to be certified to work with certain types of refrigerants.
5. Replacing Heat Pumps
Just as the air conditioning function of your HVAC can contain dangerous elements, so too can the heating unit.
HVAC systems can produce heat using various types of fuel in solid, liquid, or gaseous states. As a result, maintaining an HVAC system is a project that comes with its share of fire hazards. Not only that, but incorrectly replacing or checking your heat pump can cause problems long after you thought your repairs were through. Combustion issues can lead to the release of carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and other chemicals that are invisible yet hazardous when inhaled.
What You Can Do Yourself
The good news is that there are some HVAC projects you can take on yourself:
- Change your HVAC filter. Filters allow for debris-free air to flow – and they get dirty quickly. It’s suggested that homeowners replace filters monthly during peak heating and cooling periods, and then every other month during temperate seasons. This simple task can make a huge difference in the lifespan of your heating and cooling system, and will ensure your heating and cooling unit is running as efficiently as possible.
- Clean your ducts. Just as your HVAC filter can get dirty, so too can your ducts. Dirty ducts block airflow and compromise air quality for you and your family. There are a number of online DIY guides to duct cleaning.
- Unfreeze your air conditioner. It’s a bit ironic when your air conditioner freezes, but there are a handful of steps you can use to diagnose this issue and solve it without having to call in the pros.
- Troubleshoot your thermostat. Is your thermostat not working? Check the batteries. If batteries aren’t the issue, make sure a setting isn’t preventing the screen from turning on.
- Make seasonal preparations. Whether it’s getting ready for the winter or maintaining your unit at the end of summer, you can easily ensure that your HVAC system is in the right shape to do its job.
Maintaining your heating and cooling system over the years will involve a long-term relationship with your local HVAC professional. While they may be happy to show you a few tricks of the trade so you can DIY next time, remember that a professional opinion is worth more than any hazard you may face by doing a job incorrectly.
Kevin Burns is the President of Bob Jenson Air Conditioning in San Diego with over 29 years of experience in the HVAC Field. He has worked in every aspect of the industry and has trained dozens of people. Ken has a passion for doing what’s right for each home and customer and sets this standard for his entire team.