Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning, or HVAC, is an essential system to any home. However, it’s also one that needs very consistent maintenance. By its very nature, HVAC systems can build up combustion deposits on burners, or clog coils with duct and if not maintained, can become inefficient, fail, or at worse even become very dangerous is regular HVAC maintenance is ignored.
To keep your HVAC system humming along, follow this simple checklist.
Do a Self-Inspection
Check exposed ductwork for peeling duct tape, disconnected ducts or or collapsed sections of flex ducts. If you do find a duct leak, do not use duct tape (despite the name) to repair it. Instead use UL181 tape, which looks like silver foil. It lasts longer and does not lose its bond, dry out and fall off due to heat.
Also, check your furnace flame. It should be a steady blue. Look for blocked vents, make sure you have good airflow at the registers work, and remove dirt or pet hair obstructing registers.
Get Professional HVAC Maintenance in Spring & Fall
Your heating system should be serviced in the fall. This includes professionally cleaning combustion deposits that are left on the burner and in the heat exchanger, which affect the furnace’s efficiency (wasting fuel) and can result in toxic deposits entering the air of the house. In Spring, the A/C system should get the same attention, making sure refrigerant levels are where they should be, and condensate lines and pumps are ready for action.
Consider Upgrades for Efficiency
If you are running an old furnace, consider replacing it with a new, Energy Star rated model. Fifteen years is a good cut off point. A new furnace will rapidly pay for itself in reduced energy bills and heating costs, and require less HVAC maintenance.
Change Filters Frequently
How often depends on a number of factors. Check the manufacturers’ recommendation, which can be anywhere from 1 to 6 months. If you have pets or allergies, then you should change your filter more often. Be particularly careful with filters in the spring if you have pets, especially long-haired pets. Dogs with double coats are the worst culprit for abruptly dropping large quantities of fur in your home.
Maintain Clearance Around A/C Compressor
Keep the space around your outside A/C compressor free of debris and vegetation. It needs at least a foot of clear space around it and four feet above. If the visible coils become clogged, you can clean them with a wet-dry shop vac.
Clean Ducts – But Only Rarely
Duct cleaners will say you should do this regularly, but the fact is that duct cleaning does not appear to prevent health problems, increase dirt levels in the home or reduce efficiency. You should only have your ducts cleaned if you’ve recently done a construction project that caused an excessive amount of dust, or you suspect you have vermin living in the ducts. Anything more than that is likely a waste of HVAC maintenance money.
Turn Water Off to The Humidifier
In late spring, turn the water off to the furnace humidifier (the exact date depends on where you are). Then in fall, turn it back on and replace the humidifier filter. This way you are not running the humidifier when not using the furnace. Also, clean the humidifier filters regularly, as they easily become clogged. White vinegar is good but rinse well afterward.
With these steps, your HVAC system should be in good shape – but what if it isn’t? Here are some things to watch for that indicate you may have a problem.
4 Signs of HVAC Trouble
- Yellow or Flickering Furnace Flame. A furnace flame that is yellow or orange rather than blue and/or flickering rather than steady indicates a combustion problem. The orange flame is a sign that the gas is not being completely burned and that you have a high level of carbon monoxide being produced. Get professional help immediately – carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal.
- Odd Odors. In addition to the yellow or orange flame, be on the lookout for an acrid, sweet smelling odor, another indication that fuel is not being fully burned and carbon monoxide damage is high. If you smell natural gas, get out of the building immediately and call 911 – natural gas can explode at the drop of a hat.
- Black Soot on Vent Pipes. The metal venting over a gas furnace or boiler has a section just above the appliance called a “draft hood”. This is where fresh air mixes in with combustion gasses going up the vent and out of the house. If the vent becomes blocked, those sames gasses can reverse and spill out into the room, leaking to a very danger carbon monoxide problem. If you spot black soot on the draft hood, or notice that there is gas (feels like warm steam) coming out, shut down the system immediately and call for professional help.
- A/C Not Cooling. If you feel warm or the AC is running constantly, there’s a quick test you can do to confirm its cooling ability. With a refrigerator thermometer, check the temperature of the air coming out of a duct, and the air returning. The difference between the supply and return ducts should be 12 to 20 degrees. If it is not, then you probably need service.
Keeping your HVAC system in prime condition is important for keeping utility bills down, staying healthy, and remaining comfortable in your home – so be sure to follow proper HVAC maintenance and keep your eye (and nose) out for signs of trouble!