It was hard work keeping you from freezing in winter and melting in summer, but your HVAC system did it — and now it’s tired. Here’s how to give it the tune-up it deserves.
Neglecting your HVAC system is never a good idea. Here's why:
Unless you live in a solar-powered yurt (we’re into it), you’re no stranger to the monthly energy bill. Electricity is a commodity, and maintaining your HVAC system is one big way to save money without trying.
If your HVAC system is old or in need of a tune-up, you’re essentially asking it to run twice as long and twice as hard — and charging you for every second of overtime it works. Common issues like a bad condenser coil or motor can be fixed, but if your system is getting old (10+ years is the average), the baseline energy costs of even the best-maintained system will be comparably high. Consider installing a new one.
Air filters are deceptively simple: That rectangle that slides in and out of your HVAC system is doing a lot of work all the time. Before you breathe it in, the air that circulates in your air conditioning and heating systems has been pushed through a densely woven screen of fiberglass and cloth to clear it of mold, dander and other potentially dangerous build-up.
A dirty air filter can wreak havoc on your HVAC system, causing malfunctions, impeding airflow, dirtying your air ducts and negatively affecting the air quality in your space. Your air filter is generally located behind the register (the grates where air enters and exits a room) or inside your air handler. You should check it every other month by shining a light through the mesh of the filter — if you can’t see light on the other side, it’s time to put in a new one.
The underbelly of your home — where air is heated, compressed, cooled and circulated — can be a dangerous place. And if you don’t commit to regular preventative maintenance, you can run into serious issues like carbon monoxide leaks.
Carbon monoxide leaks happen when fuel doesn’t burn fully and releases toxic fumes into the air. It’s most commonly caused by a faulty furnace or clothing dryer, both of which are part of your HVAC system — and can help be kept safe by annual check-ups.
You can’t smell carbon monoxide and inhaling it can kill you. Before you start another heating season, check the batteries on your carbon monoxide detector and have an HVAC pro troubleshoot your system.
Keep your HVAC system running smoothly all year-round with these tips:
Your air conditioning unit has two main parts: a compressor and a heat exchanger. It’s installed just outside of your home on a concrete slab to keep it level.
But over time, one side of the pad might sink. Depending on how extreme the tilt is, the imbalance can cause damage to coolant tubes and electrical lines running from the unit into your home, as well as leaks and water damage.
Stay ahead of things by checking your AC unit regularly for signs of sinkage (especially between seasons, when the ground is soft) and hire an HVAC technician to correct the leveling ASAP where and when gravity hits.
Most home systems have a user-friendly control post — for your HVAC system, that’s your thermostat.
Depending on how it’s programmed, your thermostat might not be operating at peak efficiency. That means your home gets too hot, then too cold, and your energy bills are going up.
If you’ve checked the batteries and your thermostat just isn’t working, hire a professional to put in a new one. While you’re at it, have them check your HVAC system’s drip lines to make sure moisture isn’t building up in your system, causing mold, mildew and other damage.
Do you know what a refrigerant line is? An HVAC technician can tell you that it’s a copper pipe that carries refrigerant (the stuff that keeps your home cool) through the entire air conditioning system. They might also tell you that when there’s frost on that pipe, you need more refrigerant.
A pro can fix problems you can’t diagnose yourself and give you other maintenance tips to keep your home running at peak efficiency.
A heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) expert can troubleshoot or repair your home’s heating and air conditioning systems. The cost of air conditioning maintenance and repair is $50 to $100 on average, though it’s rare for a site visit to cost less than $100 in parts and labor. Most companies charge a flat rate to cover the repairs needed after inspecting a system in person — and as a rule, the older the unit, the more expensive a repair is likely to be.
The average lifespan of an AC unit is 15 years, and most HVAC specialists can perform a routine system check and tuneup for $125 to $200 on average. The best way to keep your AC and heating system working efficiently is to change the air filter once a month (the manufacturer will suggest the same thing). Keeping your air filter and condenser coils clean and free of debris can help lower utility bills.
For more on costs, see “How much does air conditioning repair cost?”
If the air coming out of your heating system smells like a campfire, don’t just shut it off. Your HVAC system needs more than just a quick check — it needs a technician. Hire one of these pros:
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