Regular HVAC maintenance crucial to system performance

Regular HVAC maintenance crucial to system performance

Dear Angie: You talk a lot about the importance of taking care of your heating and cooling system and I’ve seen you quoted as saying that your system loses some of its efficiency each year when you skip servicing it.

My question is, if you have neglected your system for a few years, are you able to regain that lost efficiency by getting back on a regular service schedule or is that efficiency lost forever?
– J.B., Fishers, Ind.

Dear J.B.: There are a number of variables that would determine whether or not your system would return to its original stated efficiency.

There is always going to be wear and corrosion just from the age and use of the equipment, but if there’s no major damage caused by neglect, then a good, thorough inspection and cleaning can help restore a system to its original efficiency.

I always recommend homeowners get on an annual maintenance program with a trusted heating and cooling company. A typical maintenance service will include the technician pulling and cleaning the burner and pilot assemblies, checking the gas pressure, and inspecting the strength of the igniters, motors and other components to tell you if your system is operating within designed specifications or if it is starting to fail.

However, if you’ve neglected your system for some years, you might need more than just routine maintenance. Stress is put on equipment that is not properly maintained. The blower motor works harder and a dirty blower motor will move less air through the house via the ductwork. This alone can take an hour or more to clean and is usually not part of a regular cleaning.

Also, heat exchangers can crack, evaporator coils can malfunction, and dirt can build up on the interior of your furnace and in all of your ductwork. Cleaning the ductwork and furnace can help, but stress on metal and the motor is not reversible.

Of course, a big factor in how well your equipment works is how frequently you’ve changed your filters. Not replacing filters regularly – or using poor quality filters – can cause permanent damage to your equipment.

How do you know if your air filter is of good enough quality? If you hold it up and can see your fingers through the other side, then it is probably not sufficient enough to protect your system. If filters have been ignored, then it could take several hours of cleaning the furnace, blower and evaporator coil to return the system to its peak operating efficiency.

Ultimately, getting on a routine maintenance program with a reputable company will give you peace of mind that your system will work its best when you need it. I recommend you have a professional evaluation of your equipment. The technician will factor in its age, condition and efficiency to determine if a thorough cleaning will suffice, or if you’re better off replacing the system with a more efficient new unit.

Whether you need a new system or if your current system is still in good shape, get on a maintenance plan now, change your filters regularly and your system should provide you with years of efficiency and comfort.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a provider of reviews you can trust on contractors, doctors, dentists and other service professionals. More than 1 million consumers across the U.S. use Angie’s List to help make tough hiring decisions easier.

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