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Homeowner 101: Basic HVAC Upkeep


You may think of them as mere appliances, but your HVAC system is what keeps your home comfortable in a heat wave and toasty during the first snowfall. HVAC— heating, ventilation and air conditioning— systems regulate the temperature in your home and improve the air quality. However, for these systems to work properly you must conduct some routine maintenance. Now, occasionally this calls for the knowledge and skills of a professional, but, in many cases you can handle the upkeep yourself.

Whether you are a first-time homeowner or you’ve been around the block a few times, it’s easy to miss the signs that some upkeep is required. Here are a few tips for ways you can maintain the health of your HVAC system — before the sounds, smells and situations warn you something is wrong.

Has your HVAC system been serviced by a professional? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. A yearly check by a qualified pro is the first step in your basic HVAC upkeep. According to HomeAdvisor, you’ll pay between $125- $175 for this service, but it could save you thousands in repairs or replacement costs down the road. Call your pro before you need to use it for the first time in spring or summer. The tech will perform an overall inspection and check individual parts of the unit to ensure it is ready for warm weather.

Have you noticed that it takes longer than normal for your air conditioning to cool a room? It could be that the air coming through your vents is no longer cool or that the air flow is weak. Homeowners who want to prevent this from happening need to be sure they replace their air filters regularly. Make sure you choose the proper size, as the size and shape of filters can vary among different HVAC systems. It’s also a good idea to annually inspect evaporator coils to make sure there isn’t a refrigerant leak.

Have you been hearing new sounds and noises coming from your vents? There may be parts loose that are rattling with the movement of air and the vibrations from the motor. More severe issues could point to a belt needing repair or a motor shutting down. You can help prevent these problems from arising in the first place by using a fin comb to straighten out any bent coils.

Do you smell strong or strange odors when your HVAC system is running? There could be a build up of mold or debris causing the smell. A homeowner conducting regular upkeep can fight back by clearing your vents and cleaning drain channels once a year with diluted bleach. Other smells could be signs of a more serious, and more immediate problem. For instance, if you smell burning when your HVAC system is running — or even when it isn’t — you should call a professional right away.

What other kinds of maintenance should I perform? A homeowner has several other responsibilities for HVAC maintenance that can reduce the need for costly repairs or even a system replacement, such as:

  • Keeping the grass around the outdoor HVAC unit cut and the area clear of leaves and other debris.

  • Making sure the ground under the HVAC unit is level and solid.

  • Turning off water to the furnace humidifier in the summer.

  • Replacing the humidifier filter and turn on the water to the furnace in the fall.

These are simple, easy ways a homeowner with little or no experience with HVAC systems can focus on upkeep. However, if your energy bill keeps increasing year after year and you don’t know why, something may be over your head or out of your hands. When these issues arise you can — and should — always turn to a professional. Some HVAC issues only a pro can handle include:

  • Refrigerant leaks

  • Electrical control failures

  • Thermostat malfunctions

  • Motor mechanical issues

  • Broken condensation pump

  • Compressor failure

If your HVAC system is more than a decade old, you may need to consider a replacement, especially if your routine maintenance isn’t preventing major repairs and malfunctions. That’s why it’s so important you stay on top of your upkeep. From changing filters to cleaning drains, these maintenance steps can add years — while limiting expenses from repairs — to the life of your HVAC system.



Seth Murphy began doing DIY projects to save money after the birth of his son.

He started PapaDIY to share tips and advice with others

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