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HVAC maintenance: A guide for homeowners

Published April 10, 2024

    HVAC systems help heat our homes when it’s cold, keep the air inside fresh, and cool our spaces when the weather is hot and sticky. Because HVAC systems are such a crucial part of a functioning and pleasant home, keeping them well-maintained should be a priority for homeowners. In fact, staying on top of HVAC maintenance could extend the life of your system and potentially help you save money on home repairs.

    How does HVAC work?

    It’s easy to take some household appliances for granted. Do we really need to know what makes an oven hot or a fridge cold? In truth, understanding how these appliances work may give you a little edge in the maintenance game.

    HVAC is an acronym for heating, ventilation and cooling, the methods used to regulate temperature and air quality in a home or building. While HVAC systems may vary based on each home's needs, here’s a breakdown of common components and how they function:

    • Heating: HVAC systems heat the home with a fuel-burning furnace or a heat pump. Heat pumps use a refrigeration cycle to extract heat from the air outside to provide warmth to the indoor space.
    • Cooling: Keeping the home cool is usually done with an air conditioner, which takes warm air from inside a room, cools it with evaporator and condenser coils, and then releases the cooled air back into the room.
    • Ventilation: The “V” part of HVAC refers to the process of bringing in outdoor air and removing stale or polluted indoor air through a series of ducts, which helps the home maintain freshness.
    • Air filtration: To further boost air quality, many HVAC systems employ air filters to catch pollutants, allergens, dust and other particles.
    • Humidity control: Some HVAC systems include humidifiers and dehumidifiers to maintain comfortable humidity levels.

    There are many moving parts that make an HVAC system work, which means there’s also a host of malfunctions and mishaps that could occur down the line. To keep your home consistently comfortable, a little home HVAC maintenance goes a long way.

    Common HVAC problems

    Understanding what could go wrong with your system is an important part of its maintenance. Keeping your home’s temperature and air quality regulated isn’t a simple task, and there are a number of conditions that could affect your HVAC’s level of efficiency. Let’s explore some of the more common HVAC hiccups you may encounter as a homeowner:

    • Dirty or clogged filters: Filters need to be cleaned or replaced to work properly, and the same goes for air filters. If filters become dirty or clogged, it may restrict air flow and reduce your home’s air quality.
    • Thermostat issues: If your thermostat runs out of batteries, is set incorrectly or becomes faulty, it could cause issues with regulating temperature control.
    • Refrigerant leaks: Refrigerant is a crucial player in the HVAC cooling system. If there’s a refrigerant leak it could impact your home’s cooling abilities, perhaps even stopping the cooling process altogether.
    • Fan problems: Fans help air travel through your home, and that air ends up heating or cooling you and your loved ones. If your fan experiences a malfunction of its blades or motor, it could mean less fresh air and temperature control.
    • Noisiness: It’s nice to feel your HVAC working and not hear it. If your system suddenly gets louder or starts making strange noises, it could mean there’s a mechanical issue at play.
    • Faulty ignition or pilot: HVAC systems typically require some sort of pilot light or ignition to warm a home. Things could get a bit chilly if the pilot light goes out or if your system has ignition problems.
    • Electrical issues: Faulty wiring and other electrical malfunctions could reduce the efficiency of or put a complete stop to the system’s functionality.
    • Leaky ducts: If your ducts aren’t insulated or maintained they may become leaky, which reduces the system’s ability to circulate the air, making the system less efficient.
    • Old or outdated equipment: Almost everything gets a little rusty with age, and HVAC systems are no exception. Normal wear and tear over the years can cause a variety of issues that may reduce your system’s effectiveness.

    This may seem like a long list, but with the right HVAC tips and regular HVAC system maintenance, you may be able to prevent these issues from occurring.

    HVAC maintenance checklist

    Having a checklist may help you keep track of maintenance tasks you may want to take care of every few months or once a year.

    • Inspect and change your air filters: Depending on the filters, consider changing or cleaning them every few months. This may keep your air fresh and could even reduce the system’s workload.
    • Clean around the outdoor unit: Try clearing leaves and other debris from the outdoor entries of your unit about once a year. This could help maintain proper airflow into and out of the unit.
    • Inspect and clean evaporator and condenser coils: Evaporator and condenser coils are key players when it comes to cooling your home. Consider carefully dusting and cleaning them once a year or asking a professional for assistance.
    • Clean around indoor unit: Cleaning the indoor entry points of your unit helps maintain proper airflow, so you may want to dust and clean the vents annually to keep that air moving.
    • Inspect and clean your furnace: About once a year, perhaps before you need to start using your heat ahead of the colder months, consider cleaning and servicing your furnace. Wiping its components down, cleaning the area around the pilot light or ignition, and inspecting the exchanger and wiring may help keep your home warm and toasty. If you feel insecure working around the wiring and other delicate elements of the machinery, you might want to reach out to a professional to retain your peace of mind.
    • Test your thermostat: Early fall may be a good time to test your thermostat. If it’s acting up, you’ll have plenty of time to get it serviced before things get too chilly.
    • Schedule professional maintenance: An HVAC professional may notice issues that you don’t, so scheduling a yearly appointment may keep your HVAC system running smoothly.

    In summary

    HVAC systems do a lot for the home. They keep things comfortable, whether it’s hot or cold, and keep clean air pumping through your personal sanctuary. These systems have a lot of responsibilities, which usually means there are a lot of moving parts that keep your HVAC system functioning. Regularly consulting your HVAC maintenance checklist and working with an HVAC expert could keep things working like a well-oiled machine and may save you money on home improvements in the long run.

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