Spring Maintenance Crucial for Proper AC and Heat Pump Operation

spring timeIt might surprise you to learn about the many benefits of performing and scheduling maintenance on your HVAC system in the spring. A combination of simple do-it-yourself steps and a professional maintenance tune-up will prepare your central air conditioning or heat pump system for a long summer of cooling comfort, as efficiently as your equipment is designed to operate. First, though, plan to do some things yourself.

DIY AC/Heat Pump Maintenance

  • Change the air filter and commit to inspecting it monthly. When it looks clogged with dust and dirt, change it or clean it, depending on the type of system or filter you use. (Some filters are reusable.) A clogged filter will impede airflow through your home’s forced-air HVAC system, which will make your AC or heat pump work harder to meet the set thermostat temperature. Overworking your system can damage the compressor and/or air handler/blower motor. An air filter that’s dirty also can result in particles of dirt or dust falling onto sensitive system components and/or blowing past the filter and into your home’s air. Don’t buy the cheapest HVAC filters; spend a few more bucks and purchase one that will capture a higher percentage of airborne particulates.
  • Perform some yard clean-up to make sure various types of debris – including sticks, leaves, weeds and other clutter – are removed from around the outside condenser/compressor unit. Anything impeding airflow can erode the efficiency and performance of a central cooling system. You can also consider cleaning your outside unit, including the fan motor, fan blades and heat-exchange coil, though unless you’re confident about performing the task, it’s probably better to leave this to your trusted HVAC professional.
  • This is an easy one. Take a tour of your house and remove any objects that are blocking heating/cooling vents or registers, even partially. These could include rugs, drapes, furniture, toys, rugs, boxes, etc. If your HVAC system can’t deliver conditioned air in every room, that not only degrades comfort in that room but also can negatively impact how the whole house is conditioned.
  • Inspect doors and windows to make sure they’re properly sealed to keep the warm air out of your home. Consider replacing worn-out weather-stripping on widow sashes and door jams. Use caulk or spray foam to seal cracks and holes in the home’s outer perimeter. Potential problem areas include where building materials meet (foundation and drywall for example) and where utility lines or pipes penetrate the outer walls.
  • Check your ceiling fans when the weather warms up to make sure the blade rotation is counter-clockwise. In some homes, the rotation is switched to clockwise for the winter months, to allow upward air flow to redistribute warm air that collects high in a room. With the counter-clockwise rotation, the fans blow the air downward, where it creates a cooling effect in the room. This allows you to turn up the thermostat a few degrees and use less energy (and money) cooling your home.

Professional Spring AC/Heat Pump Maintenance

Your professional HVAC technician should perform the following tasks during a spring maintenance tune-up of your central air conditioner or heat pump:

  • Clean the inside and outside coils of your split-system cooling system. While the outside coils can collect dust and dirt, the inside coils are vulnerable to dust and dirt as well, plus mold and bacteria. Either way, foreign material on a coil will degrade the heat-exchange process that’s crucial for AC and heat pump operation. When the coils are dirty, your system has to work harder to cool your home, and that overwork may damage the compressor and air handler. If inside coils are contaminated with mold or bacteria, that creates a health hazard.
  • Clean and lubricate moving parts in the machinery, including the air handler and compressor motors. Dirt on sensitive moving parts creates friction, which then requires more energy for the machinery to operate (leading to premature breakdowns).
  • Check and tighten any loose electrical connections, cleaning terminals when necessary.
  • Check refrigerant level to make sure it meets precise manufacturer guidelines. If the refrigerant is below those guidelines, the technician should recharge it, of course, though not before inspecting the air conditioner or heat pump for refrigerant leaks. Since refrigerant works in a closed system, a low level either means it was under-filled in the first place or is leaking.
  • Check and adjust system airflow. Forced-air cooling and heating systems require a precise amount of airflow to operate at their best. Airflow can be adversely affected by issues with the blower/air handler motor, as well as by a dirty air filter and problems with the ductwork.
  • Ductwork should be checked for leaks or damage, and repaired or replaced if necessary. Ducts routed through unconditioned areas such as crawlspaces or garages should be insulated.
  • Thermostats should be inspected for proper operation and calibration. If you’re not sure how to program a “smart” thermostat, the technician should review the process with you.
  • System controls should be checked for correct operation. The technician should also take a look at the component in a heat pump that reverses its mode from heating to cooling.
  • If you have a whole-house dehumidifier or air purifier/cleaner working with your central AC system, the technician should check these for proper operation.

Not every spring maintenance tune-up will include all of these tasks, with some companies offering different levels of maintenance. But a proper maintenance tune-up should definitely include most of these items.

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