DIY Maintenance

What is your home's best defense 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. 

Most HVAC work should be done by a professional, but you can take some steps yourself to ensure the longest life for your system:

Change the filters regularly: This is one of the most important steps in system maintenance. Dirty filters mean your system has to work harder to move the air, causing poor performance and creating more wear and tear on the system. A clean filter also lowers your energy costs, since the system uses less power to do the same amount of work, and improves indoor air quality.

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.

Perform a visual inspection: Check your HVAC system regularly for warning signs that you need a professional to take a look. Catching problems early can save expensive repairs later on. Frozen coils, water leaks, and dirty evaporator or condenser coils could require an HVAC contractor's help. 

Watch the thermostat: Turning your thermostat even one or two degrees higher in the summer or a few degrees lower in the winter can save wear and tear on your system and make a big difference in energy usage. 

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 biannual 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. A standard tune-up is likely to cost you between $70 and $100, but it's money well spent. 

Video: Air Conditioning Maintenance Tips

Seasonal Checklist

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

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, 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.

A/C 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 A/C 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.

HVAC Service Contracts

An HVAC service contract can be a very cost-effective way to make sure your system is properly maintained and to have someone on call when things go wrong. Depending on the amount of services offered, they cost between $150 and $500 per year, but they often include yearly inspections of both your furnace and A/C, discounts on major repairs, and preferred scheduling status when you have problems during the busy season. 

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