The “If You Can, Then You Can” of Residential HVAC Maintenance
Rest assured, maintaining the majority of your HVAC unit does not require serious technical know-how. If you’re someone capable of washing a car, you have the skill set to perform 70 percent of the work required to maintain a residential HVAC unit. Do you change the oil in a car? If so, you have found the way to do 80 percent of the maintenance work on an HVAC unit too. You can do 95% of the maintenance if you’ve ever changed a car battery without setting off sparks.
In addition to requiring very little know-how, HVAC maintenance doesn’t require specialized tools and instruments either. But it may raise some questions, especially for the people new in this area, or those who have recently moved to a new location and are not familiar with their HVAC unit.
As a member of the homeowner club, if you own a toolbox and it doesn’t say “Play-Doh” on the side, you probably have what you need to do your own HVAC maintenance. You can do half your HVAC maintenance with a Phillips, a broom handle, a shop towel, and a hose.
If you are still not certain you have what it takes to do it yourself, the following checklist will give you a better idea of what is required. You may pick up some tips from posts by other members who have shared their experiences and guidance.
Take note that at the end of the checklist, there are three don’t-do-it-yourself maintenance/repair scenarios. The title of the section is, “If You Run Into One of These Problems, Call an HVAC Professional.” It’s there so you don’t have any, “Oh $#!%. I shouldn’t have tried that” moments while doing your HVAC maintenance. The services of a professional are recommended in these cases.
If you run into one of the problems/symptoms listed under the section below titled “If You Run Into One of These Problems, Call an HVAC Professional,” call an HVAC professional. Even if you are an astronaut who does his own rocket science, there are some HVAC repairs you should leave to an HVAC professional.
The Basic Parts of an HVAC System
An HVAC system is also known as an air distribution system or a central air conditioning unit. It’s a critical component of any home or building, influencing comfort and health.
The HVAC system in your home is responsible for regulating the ambient air temperature, filtering the air, monitoring, and adjusting humidity levels. There are really only two parts to an HVAC system: duct networks (inlet and exhaust) and an air handling unit.
The two parts of an HVAC system have subcomponents. The duct networks include filters. It’s important to note that depending on your location, the number of units and their types may vary.
The air handling unit includes:
- Furnace (Including the Thermostat, Heat Exchanger, Burners, etc.
- Condensing Unit (Including Evaporating Coil and Refrigerant Lines)
Basic Residential HVAC Maintenance Checklist of 3 Items
Every year, you should do general maintenance on your HVAC system. And, every maintenance measure should serve a specific purpose. Your primary goal with respect to maintenance should be to improve air quality. That’s a way to ensure the members of your household breathe clean air.
1. Filter Maintenance/Replacement: Improving the Air Quality in Your Home
The first step to improving the air quality in your home is HVAC filter maintenance. You have two options. You can clean the reusable filters in your HVAC system or you can replace the disposable filters. But first, you have to find them!
How to Find HVAC Filters in Your Home
Because there are different kinds of HVAC systems — and a house may have more than one HVAC unit — the filters are not always in the same place.
But, there are really only three places you will find air filters in an HVAC system:
- Behind the return air grills – You might find return air grills up high on a wall near the ceiling. If they’re not there, you might find them down low near the baseboards. Or, the return grill may be located on the ceiling.
- The filters behind the return air grills aren’t the only ones in the house. You will also find filters in the HVAC air handler. There are two kinds of air handlers: horizontal air handlers and vertical air handlers. Vertical air handlers are generally smaller units, so they fit into smaller spaces.
There are two kinds of vertical air handlers.
Upflow vertical HVAC air handlers.
The air filter is generally found on the bottom of an up-flow vertical air handler.
Downflow vertical HVAC air handlers.
The filter is usually found on top of a down-flow air handler.
Horizontal units include industrial-sized air handlers. Sometimes, the filter can be found on the back of the unit, but the filter is usually in a filter-housing slot, on the side of a horizontal air handler.
However, the filter is usually in a filter-housing slot on the side of a horizontal air handler. This is typically not a problem for most people, but if you experience difficulties in locating it, you may find useful information in various forums or articles that deal with this specific issue pertaining to your business or home HVAC system.
How to Clean HVAC Filters in Your Home
Cleaning filters is as straightforward as running a specific amount of water over them. The key to cleaning an HVAC filter is making certain that you spray the filter in the opposite direction that the air flows through it. As an old HVAC maintenance quote goes, “When cleaning, something should always flow in the opposite direction.” If you haven’t cleaned the filter in a while, one side will be dusty and dirty. The other side will be noticeably cleaner.
As someone with experience will tell you, spraying the clean side helps knock the filth off the other side.
After this, it’s crucial to let the filter air-dry completely before putting it back in place. By browsing various business forums, several HVAC experts back up this step with their own experience and numbers showcasing the importance of a completely dried filter.
If you have cleaned the filters several times, it’s probably best to replace them. That means about once a year because you should clean the HVAC filters in your home every two to four months, as stated in many articles. Sometimes, however, you will need to replace the filters more often.
If your filters are extremely dirty and you can’t seem to get them clean by spraying them with water, replace them. This issue is something that can’t be overlooked. If your HVAC unit has dirty filters, it is not just recycling air, it is recycling dust and micro-particles – a concerning health fact that I, alongside many other HVAC professionals, have come across.
Disposable vs Reusable Air Filters
The argument for reusable air filters is that they are, logically, reusable. While they may be slightly more expensive than disposable filters initially, reusable filters may save you money in the long run in the grand business of HVAC maintenance and economy.
However, reusable filters typically have a lower Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating than disposable filters. Various numbers support the statement that a quality reusable filter will only have the capacity to capture 75 percent of the dust, pollen, microfibers, and organics that pass through.
A typical disposable air filter, on the other hand, despite being a single-use item, will capture 95 percent of aerial debris, or even a higher amount.
2. Maintaining Your HVAC Furnace
The idea of doing your own HVAC furnace maintenance may sound like a tricky proposition, but it isn’t. From personal experience to numerous articles discussing this topic, there are a large number of things you can do to maintain the furnace without disassembling the mechanical and electrical parts. Most of it entails inspection and cleaning.
***The one thing to remember is that most of them are powered with natural gas or propane. Always shut off the gas line before inspecting or maintaining an HVAC furnace.***
The parts of an HVAC furnace you can inspect and clean yourself are the:
Heat Exchanger – Look for cracks on the body and around the couplings of the heat exchanger. When they begin to get older, most of them crack.
Burners – The burners on an HVAC furnace tend to get dirty. Removing them is simple and you can clean them with a damp towel.
Pilots – Clean and inspect the pilot and pilot assembly. Use a non-flammable degreasing agent and wipe them clean when you are finished.
Gas Lines – Cracked gas lines are the only truly dangerous components of an HVAC system. Visually inspect the lines. Look for cracks, dents, and abrasions. And, get your nose down near the line and smell for gas. Make sure all couplings are in good condition as well.
Belts and Pulleys – Inspect the belts and pulleys and make sure they are not cracked, that they have adequate tension and that they are not frayed.
Unlike a furnace, an air conditioning unit is traditionally electrically powered, and if you have any doubts or concerns, remember: forums, articles, and professional advice can be easily found to assist you.That does not mean they do not have the potential to be dangerous. You guys must be aware that most run on 220 voltage. At this point, it just means there isn’t the potential for an explosion, not that there isn’t a significant difference in potential risks.
3. HVAC Air Conditioning Unit (Condensing Unit) Maintenance
Always flip the breaker to the air conditioning unit prior to performing maintenance on an HVAC air conditioning unit. Not only are you protecting yourself from the potential of an electric shock, but you can also be certain that the fan will not kick into gear while you are maintaining the unit. In this important site-specific task, all safety measures must be followed to the letter.
The primary purpose of cleaning an air conditioning unit is to remove dust, leaves, grass, and other debris that might be restricting airflow into the unit. The difference a clean unit can make to the effectiveness of cooling in all rooms of your home is significant.
There are two parts of a condensing unit you want to focus on maintaining:
- Condensing Coils.
The condensing coils on an HVAC unit which you guys might see on the post shared on our page, are often referred to as the “grill.” The coils are the thin, flat wires running around the outside of a condensing unit and held in place by a mesh-wire coil guard.
How to Clean the Coils of and HVAC Condensing Unit
You can use a broom as well as a soft bristle brush to clean the coils of an HVAC condensing unit. Be careful though not to bend the coils as they are easy to damage. Remember to use very gentle pressure and always run parallel to the coils when cleaning them, never perpendicular.
By removing the lid on the top of the condensing unit, you can access the fan. With a damp towel, you can clean both the fan fins as well as the housing of the motor. As you can read on various areas of our site, this is a job suited to those who take care in their work.
Once you’ve removed the lid from the condensing unit housing, you can then clean the coils from the inside of the housing. While this may seem a simple task, it’s important to observe caution. Do not, for any reason, remove the fan nor attempt to disconnect the wiring. If you do, you run the risk of remounting it at an angle, an error that can damage the fins, the condenser housing, and the fan motor.
How Clean the Fan on an HVAC Condensing Unit.
By replacing the filters; inspecting and cleaning the furnace, and maintaining the air conditioning unit, you can keep your HVAC system running efficiently. And, you can prevent system failures. Feel free to reply to any of our posts with your experiences or questions. Experienced users may even offer their answers.
There are, however, a number of HVAC problems and symptoms you should leave to professionals. No amount of reading online manuals or trying to DIY can substitute professional help in these areas.
There are two circumstances in which you should not try to maintain your HVAC system. If you believe you might be putting yourself in danger, call an HVAC professional. Do not hesitate to dial in the reply option on our page if you encounter a situation beyond your understanding.
Those are the Basics of a Residential HVAC Maintenance Checklist
An instance in which you should not do the maintenance yourself is upon the discovery of a gas leak in or around the furnace unit. Call your HVAC professional immediately. If the leak is severe, please call your local gas company or dial 911. Make sure you open a window if the leak is inside the house. Keeping the possible dangers in mind that the leak can cause an explosion is crucial.
Another situation you want no part of is exposed to electric cables in a condensing unit. If you find exposed cables, again, call your HVAC professional. Your safety is of utmost importance.
If You Run Into One of These Problems, Call an HVAC Professional
Less serious HVAC system issues that you still probably do not want to deal with include:
The residential HVAC maintenance checklist above will help you keep your system in order. It is important to remember, however, HVAC professionals perform all of the maintenance listed above — and more — professionally. Don’t hesitate to call for help! Reading posts and gathering information from reputable sites can be informative, but never neglect professional advice.
Another situation you want no part of is exposed to electric cables in a condensing unit. If you find exposed cables, again, call your HVAC professional.
Less serious HVAC system issues that you still probably do not want to deal with include:
- Motor blower voltage and amp adjustments.
- Thermostat calibrations.
- Motor and bearing lubrication.
- Flue pipe corrosion and leaks.
- Fan motor maintenance.
- Cleaning duct systems.
The residential HVAC maintenance checklist above will help you keep your system in order. It is important to remember, however, HVAC professionals perform all of the maintenance listed above — and more — professionally. Don’t hesitate to call for help!