No matter where we live, we depend on our HVAC systems to keep us either cool and comfortable or warm and cozy at times, even though the cost of HVAC maintenance freezes us over.
This is especially true when the system inevitably fails on the coldest or hottest days of the year. Or on the weekends when rates for service calls to an HVAC technician jump.
Maintaining your system can help prevent some costly emergency repairs.
But what really needs to be done and how much should it cost?
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. There are several different types of HVAC systems, but split systems with an indoor and an outdoor component are most common in residences.
The ingredients vary depending on the climate in which you live.
- Oven and air conditioner: These are most common in climates with extreme temperatures, from cold winters to hot summers. Most ovens are gas powered but some use heating oil. Air conditioner condensing unit outside and evaporator coil inside. It’s the evaporator coil that takes the heat and then sends it through copper lines to the radiator.
- Air handler and heat pump: In temperate climates, a heat pump is a good option. The heat pump is heated and cooled once the processes are reversed. A blower motor in the air handler delivers hot air.
- Furnace and heat pump: In places where it is very cold, one heating system is not enough. The dual or hybrid fuel system automatically switches from the heat pump to the furnace if the temperature drops too low.
All types of systems need maintenance.
“If there are issues that create a dirty or clogged system, this can have a negative impact on system performance and equipment wear,” said Wes Davis, Director of Technical Services. Air conditioning contractors in America (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). “This has very real consequences for both the life of the equipment and how good it is at keeping your home cool or warm.”
Reasons for preventive maintenance الصيانة
Treat your HVAC system like a car. You change the oil regularly to keep the engine running smoothly and hopefully keep you from getting sidetracked. The same applies to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
Being proactive rather than reactive can save you money as well as:
- Prevent malfunctions.
- Improving indoor air quality.
- Reduce energy costs.
- Extend the life of the system.
- Provide proof of maintenance to maintain warranty coverage.
- Prevent hazardous carbon monoxide from entering the home through cracks or leaks.
The frequency of maintenance depends on several factors.
“A relatively new system may not need to be validated as often as a mature system,” Davis said. “It also depends on the area of the country and where the equipment is installed. If it is in a hot attic in the south where the temperatures are really high, that equipment will experience more wear and tear than it would in a basement in a fairly dry environment where the equipment will last for many years “.
Ultimately, Davis said, it’s up to you and your HVAC professional to decide on a maintenance schedule based on your system and climate.
Air conditioning preventative maintenance
Some regular HVAC system maintenance is easy enough for any homeowner to do. Other tasks require a trained professional.
Changing the air filter is one of those easy tasks and should be done every one to three months. Often the filter is in the air return area before the air flow enters the unit.
More expensive high-efficiency filters, such as HEPA, are not always better.
“If you have a system designed for a low-efficiency filter so that air passes through it very easily and you pull it up and replace it with a high-efficiency filter, it is more restrictive so that air doesn’t move through the system and that’s low airflow can cause components to overheat and shut down the system,” Davis explained.
But allowing more air to circulate can also mean that more trash makes its way into the coils, causing them to get dirty.
Change these filters often if you have allergies, pets, or if the unit is in constant use.
The 20″ x 20″ air filter sells for $2 to $12 depending on quality. This is a common size, but make sure you know what size your unit needs. There are dozens.
It’s also important, Davis said:
- Free up space around the outdoor unit: Make sure there is at least two feet of space around the compressor. Remove leaves and plants that are too close. Trim trees that can drop leaves and seeds on the unit.
- Clean the condensing unit: The metal fins on top are clogged with dirt, pollen and other things. Use a regular garden hose to do this, not a power washer that can damage the delicate fins. Use a fin comb to gently bend any bent fins obstructing airflow through the coil.
- Make sure the unit is level: The compressor may fail if it is not.
- Flushing the drainpipe and drain pan: Clogs can cause leaks or backups.
If you have an oven, turn the water off the humidifier in the summer when it’s not running. Before it cools down, replace the filter in the humidifier and turn the water back on.
For window units, make sure that the seal between the air conditioner and the window is solid and that it connects to the air conditioner’s can. Moisture can damage the seal and allow cold air to escape from the home.
While some tasks are easy to do, there are others that should be left to the professionals. Depending on where you live, maintenance checks can cost anywhere from a special price of about $30 to over $100.
The difference between what service companies provide and what they charge, Davis said, prompted ACCA to develop national standards. The standards created a set of minimum tasks that must occur in an HVAC maintenance inspection.
- Wash files.
- Check the exchange.
- Vacuum blower booths.
- Look at the voltage and all connections.
- Check refrigerant levels.
- Look for any leaks that could cause the system to run more aggressively than it should.
- Lubricate the engine.
- Clean the condenser lines.
- Measure the air flow through the evaporator coils.
- Check all accessible air ducts for areas of moisture accumulation or biological growth.
- Check safety devices.
Some HVAC companies have annual maintenance plans, which may include priority service, so ask the company you use about the potential benefits of owning these plans.
Davis recommended asking HVAC what tasks will be performed during the maintenance call, adding that some of the lowest-cost companies look to generate new customers and new customers rather than prevent problems. In addition, he suggested asking whether the company follows ACCA standards or belongs to a trade association.
“Things like this tend to indicate contractors who are doing a better job,” he said.
Signs of an HVAC problem
Even if you maintain your HVAC system, problems can still certainly occur
Signs of potential problems include:
- Warm air escapes from the vents when the air conditioner is running.
- The system shuts down by itself intermittently.
- The temperature is unbalanced around your house.
- The noise is louder than normal while the unit is operating.
- Energy bills are higher than usual
At the very least, Davis recommends scheduling a maintenance service call if you can’t remember the last time you made a call.
Tiffany Sherman is a freelance reporter based in Florida with over 25 years of experience writing on finance, health, travel and other topics.