Often, the difference between a smoothly operating, high-performing heating or cooling system and one that’s not is the amount and frequency of maintenance that system receives. It really does make a meaningful difference when a central air conditioner, heat pump or furnace gets annual or more frequent professional and homeowner maintenance.
That does beg the question – which HVAC maintenance tasks should the homeowner handle, and which should be left to a trained and certified HVAC technician? The answer isn’t necessarily cut-and-dried, however, since some homeowners are handier than others when it comes to mechanical systems. However, for a typical homeowner, knowing what they can do on their own is helpful, as well as what the professional will be doing during a semi-annual or annual maintenance tune-up.
Professional HVAC Maintenance Tasks
Typically, you can expect the HVAC technician to run through a standard checklist of maintenance tasks on your central heating or cooling system. Depending on what type of system – heating or cooling, heat pump or combustion – the checklist will vary, though standard checks will be done for any system.
For furnaces, the technician can be expected to check, adjust and maintain the blower motor, the ignition system and the burners, as well as the gas supply line and exhaust system. Maintenance may involve cleaning, lubricating and/or adjusting, depending on the specific component. Safety will be a priority for the technician, though they’re also look at making sure energy efficiency and performance are up to snuff.
For air conditioning and heat pump systems (which use similar heat-exchange technology), the technician can be expected to check the blower or air handler motor, refrigerant lines and levels, the heat-exchange coils in both the inside and outside components, the pan and drain for expelling condensation from the system, the outside compressor and capacitor, and the outside fan motor.
Depending on the type of system, the main indoor fan that pulls air through the machinery and then circulates it throughout the house may either be a dedicated air handler or as is the case in many AC systems, the furnace blower.
With any type of heating and cooling system, the HVAC technician should check the thermostat and stop-and-start functions for proper operation. When maintaining forced-air systems, whether AC, furnace or heat pump, the technician should inspect the ductwork to make sure it’s properly connected to the furnace and at other visible spots.
Different companies and service plans offer varied levels of maintenance, so when scheduling an appointment with an HVAC business, make sure you ask what’s specifically involved with that outfit’s preventative maintenance.
Tasks You Can Do Yourself
The most important (and easiest) DIY task is inspecting and changing the air filter for the furnace, AC or heat pump. Get in the habit of checking the air filter ever month, unless other factors in your home necessitate more frequent checks (heavy system use, home improvement projects that create dust, excessive pollen, etc). If the filter looks clogged with dust or debris, replace it. One trick is to hold it up before a light. If the light is mainly blocked by the material caked on the filter, it’s time for a change. Some homeowners write down the replacement date on the cardboard edge of the filter, so they’ll always know how much time has elapsed since it was installed.
Using a garden hose with a spray attachment, spray down the outside condenser/compressor unit of your AC or heat pump every month or two. This will help remove grime and dirt that accumulates on the unit as time passes.
Make sure there’s no vegetation, leaves or clutter blocking the air intake of the outside unit, which needs a smooth flow of air both into and out of the condenser/compressor.
Inside the house, make sure nothing is blocking vents and registers. This might be furniture, carpets, drapes, boxes or toys.
Many homeowners have good intentions when it comes to professional HVAC maintenance. However, other aspects of their busy lives interfere, and they forget to schedule maintenance. Most professional HVAC companies offer a maintenance club and/or service agreement under which they’ll remind member homeowners when it’s time to schedule a maintenance tune-up. Generous discounts usually accompany such arrangements.