3 Maintenance Tips for HVAC Systems

Today we’ll go over 3 Maintenance Tips for heating and air conditioning systems. Hopefully these tips will allow you to monitor your heating and cooling system better for more efficiency.

According to my licensed heating and air conditioner friends, there are three basic maintenance items for HVAC units that people overlook. And these three items comprise a large portion of easily preventable equipment failures. These consist of the condensate drain line, the air filter, and the condensing coil.

The Condensate Drain Line

In this part of Texas and a majority of the southern US, most single-family homes with HVAC systems have what’s called a split system. This consists of a coil unit that sits on top of the furnace called an evaporator coil, which is connected to another unit at the exterior that contains the compressor and condensing coil. If you’re curious about how this system works, head to HowStuffWorks; they have some nice descriptions and illustrations.

hvac drain lines as viewed during an inspection with Barrie Inspections in Victoria Texas
Primary Drain Line (upper), Secondary Drain Line (bottom)

An air conditioning system ‘conditions’ the air by removing heat and moisture. As warm, moist air gets passed over the evaporator coil (the thing that sits above the furnace or air handler), moisture condenses on the cold tubing. This condensate drains down to a pan where it gets directed out to a plumbing drain (primary) and an exterior site (secondary).

Condensate needs to be directed to an appropriate location, which is typically a nearby plumbing drain. This drain material must consist of cast iron, galvanized steel, copper, copper alloy, PEX, polyethylene, ABS, CPVC, PVC, or polypropylene pipe or tubing. The drain must also have an internal diameter of at least 3/4″.

If you have a unit that could cause damage to your house if it leaks, like in the case of an attic unit, there are additional rules to help prevent damage such as installing a float switch to detect blocked drains before an overflow situation happens.

When improper materials are used, the drain is undersized, or is poorly installed, the drain piping has an increased potential to get clogged. If the condensate drain consists of a garden hose or clear plastic tubing, replace it. This will help to prevent a blocked condensate drain, which will help prevent unwanted leakage at the evaporator coil.

Cleaning Tip: Make sure your condensate drain piping is properly installed, sloped the correct way to allow gravity flow and properly secured. Pour one cup of liquid bleach into the main drain line at the air handler every 3-4 months. Typically this will be open, but sometimes will have a cap present on the piping. Bleach will kill the algae growth inside the pipe, which is typically the cause of clogs.

The Air Filter

The air filter, also known as a furnace filter, must be replaced regularly. Usually, every one to three months will do, depending on the type of filter that’s installed and if you have pets. Pets or high traffic homes will more than likely need filter changes more frequently. While most homeowners know about changing the filter, a lot of people forget or go over the recommended intervals. Barrie Inspections recommends setting calendar reminders to ensure they get changed as scheduled!

dirty HVAC air conditioner filter, barrie inspections in victoria texas, home inspector
Dirty Air Conditioner Filter

If your home has an air handler in the attic, the filter will usually be located at the ceiling in an upper-level hallway. Some attic units also have a larger 4 or 5 inch filter in the unit. Double filtration is not recommended by manufacturers and may utilize more electricity to run.

Important Tip: Restricted airflow leads to reduced efficiency and reduced cooling capacity. If your filter is extremely clogged or the evaporator coil is dirty from not having a filter in place over an extended period of time, it could cause the evaporator coil to freeze over and stop cooling.

dirty evaporator coil found on a home inspection by Barrie Inspections
Dirty evaporator coil (from dirt passing by a filter/missing filter)

Periodic cleaning of the evaporator coil is also recommended. Usually this coil gets dirty from air being sucked past the filter, or if the unit is run without a filter. Cleaning of these coils is tricky and should be done by a licensed heating and cooling professional to prevent damage to the coil itself. Barrie Inspections recommends this annually, typically around the beginning of the warm season.

The Condensing Coil

This is the one that gets forgotten about the most. The compressor and condensing coil are the parts that sit outside the home, preferably in some out-of-the-way part of the yard. To help dissipate the heat that gets removed from the home, a big fan pulls outdoor air over the condensing coils.

air conditioner condenser coil, barrie inspections victoria texas
Condenser Coil / Compressor Unit

For the condensing coil to work properly, it needs plenty of airflow.  This means no trellis attached to it, no ivy, no plants, no walls, no boxes, and so on. Clearance requirements will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but a good general rule is 24″ of clear space. It’s always best to keep vegetation trimmed away. Climbing vines especially can cause damage to the cooling fins, which will reduce the unit’s life.

dirty evaporator coil found by barrie inspections, home inspector in victoria texas
grass clippings attached to coil fins

Condensing coils also need to be cleaned regularly. If your condensing coil is covered with dirt, dust, grass clippings, dryer lint, cottonwood seeds, and other outdoor stuff, you won’t have good airflow. Take the time to inspect all sides of the unit and clean the coils off if necessary. This can usually be done by spraying the unit down with a garden hose. Don’t try a pressure washer; the fins will bend very easily.

If your unit has protective grills that prevent access to the coils, you’ll need to take the grills off first. At that point, you need to do some dismantling. You might prefer to have an AC technician do the work if that’s the case.

Barrie Inspections is ready to handle all your real estate inspection needs! We have the experience and expertise to give you the best value and the most detailed inspection! Call 361-298-0472, email James@BarrieInspections.com, or schedule on our website 24/7 HERE. Barrie Inspections is here to help you!