Angie's LIST Guide to
HVAC Maintenance

You can help your heating and cooling systems work more efficiently and last longer by tending to regular maintenance. Some things, like changing the furnace filter, can easily be done by the homeowner.
 

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Filters & tune-ups

Change furnace filters regularly to keep your system working efficiently. (Photo by James Holk)Change furnace filters regularly to keep your system working efficiently. (Photo by James Holk)

What's the best defense your home has against the cold of winter? It's an efficient and effective home heating system. But to get the highest level of performance from your gas, electric or fossil-fuel powered system, you'll need to give it some regular TLC by way of seasonal or regular maintenance.

Changing the filter: One of the least expensive, but often overlooked maintenance items in warm or cold weather is ensuring that the filters for your furnace or air-conditioning unit's air handler are checked and replaced on a regular basis.

To maintain a unit's peak efficiency, Energy Star recommends changing the air filters every three months at a minimum. A fresh filter traps contaminants such as dander, pet hair and dust and helps the system run more efficiently, prolonging its life.

During high usage months in the winter or summer, check your air filters at least once a month and change them as needed.

Tuning up the system: Beyond changing the air filter on a regular basis, one of the best ways to ensure your home's HVAC system is operating at peak efficiency is to have a qualified professional HVAC contractor tune up the system on a bi-annual basis.

Energy Star recommends scheduling your system tune-up around the beginning of daylight savings time in the fall and its end in the spring. It's an easy way to remember to have your system serviced before the peak heating and cooling seasons.

Seasonal checklist

Check out this Energy Star list of maintenance items a HVAC professional should inspect or service with each tune-up:

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1. Check the thermostat settings
Installing a programmable thermostat is a great way to ensure your home's HVAC system cools and heats the home at the most efficient and opportune time. During a seasonal tune-up, an HVAC company should check the settings to make sure the system is heating or cooling as programmed.

2. Inspect electrical connections and test voltage on system components
Broken, loose or disconnected connections can mean your system isn't operating properly, efficiently or safely, which will also increase the likelihood of component failure.

3. Lubricate moving parts
Moving parts without the right amount of lubrication increase friction and decrease your system's overall efficiency. Without regular lubrication as needed, moving parts will also wear out more quickly.

4. Inspect the condensate drain
If the drain for condensation in your home's air conditioner, furnace or heat pump becomes obstructed, water damage, high humidity levels and possible mold or bacteria growth may result.

5. Check system start-up and shutdown controls for proper operation
The startup and shutdown cycles, usually based on the thermostat settings, should be checked to make sure the system is operating properly and safely.

6. Check, clean or replace the air filter
This should be a part of the regular service, but if you don't check or change your filters yourself, the HVAC contractor should be able to show you how to perform this essential task yourself.

Furnace maintenance

1. Inspect the exhaust outlets
If your heating system isn't expelling its exhaust properly, a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide or other gases may result. During a seasonal maintenance tune-up, the chimney flue or vent stack should be checked to ensure there's no corrosion, leaks or back drafting.

2. Check fuel lines and connections and burners and heat exchangers
Leaky or disconnected fuel lines or connections present both a safety risk as well as make a system less efficient overall. Burners with accumulations of soot and cracked heat exchangers also compromise a system's energy efficiency.

AC maintenance

1. Clean air conditioner coils, inside and out, before cooling season begins
Dirty coils make the A/C system run longer, decreasing efficiency and increasing cooling costs.

2. Check and refill the refrigerant charge if necessary
Not having the right amount of cooling refrigerant can lead to a damaged air compressor.

3. Clean and calibrate blower system components for optimal airflow
The AC system produces cool air for the entire home by blowing warm air over the cooled coil. Ensuring that air is moving over the coil as efficiently as possible can mean increased durability and efficiency of the system.

Comments

The coolant R22 has recently gone up from $45/lb to $65/lb. Our service rep told me that R22 is being phased out since R22 still depletes the ozone layer. New AC units will require R410 which is operated at significantly higher pressure that involves totally replacing the AC unit. He told me that a blue liquid, called UV dye, can be injected into the coolant system to check for leaks. The blue liquid can (at least in principle) aid in sealing the leaks. Does anyone know how effective this procedure is in stopping leaks?

I recently bought a 15 year old home, and so is the heat pump. Thanks for the article about the change in refrigerant. Now, I know why the bill was higher than the past. He recharged it with R-22, and had to make a special trip to get it. The service man was very competent, but he didn't explain much. Very quiet.

I'm, now very concerned about the life of this machine. I will have him come out, and inspect twice a year. In the meantime, would it be helpful to install suction, and discharge gauges around the compressor to watch the performance?

Thank you in advance for your advice.

We would like to get a quote on have our furnace serviced and cleaned. Need to get an early morning appointment.

What can I do to troubleshoot before having someone come to fix or give estimate.

When turning on a/c can hear the usual low humming of a motor (fan?) but it never kicks in. Air doesn't go on.

Hi, We live in Germantown, MD and would like to get a Maintenance Service for our HVAC/HeatPump system. Please email with details of different options. Thanks. Mohib.

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