Here in hot South Texas, our air conditioners go through an awful lot. Summer temperatures can reach well into the upper 90’s and stay there from May through September. Which is why proper HVAC maintenance is so important. Today we’ll go over some DIY HVAC Maintenance Tips to keep your system running smoothly!
You rely on your central air conditioner to keep you cool and comfortable during the summer and warm and warm during the winter (well, as much as Texas gets a “winter” anyways). But it doesn’t always go according to plan when there’s little to no maintenance completed!
Benefits of HVAC Maintenance
Like any large appliance, your HVAC system works hard and proper maintenance helps it to keep working at the same level you’re used to.
HVAC maintenance also extends the life of your unit and makes it more energy efficient. By getting regular inspections and performing routine DIY maintenance, you’ll be saving double. Not only will your utility bills go down (because you’ll be saving energy), you’ll be able to use your unit longer before having to replace it. Here’s a DIY HVAC maintenance checklist you can use to keep your A/C system up and running all year.
HVAC Maintenance Checklist
Perform the following HVAC maintenance checklist once a year. April is the perfect month for this, as the cooling season is over, but the summer heat hasn’t yet set in.
1. Shut Off Power
Any time you are working with electricity, moving parts, and large appliances, you should shut off power to the unit right from the source. Use the disconnect box next to the exterior condenser unit (outside HVAC unit) and turn off power at the breaker box as well. This will prevent serious injury from electric shock.
2. Clear Debris
The purpose of the exterior condenser unit is to move warm air from the inside of your home to the outside. For it to work properly, it needs proper ventilation.
Start by trimming back any foliage that might be growing too close to the unit and clear any dirt, leaves, cobwebs, or other debris from around the unit.
3. Clean the Unit
Remove the cover grille from the top of the unit. Inside of the box, you’ll see coils of pipe surrounded by thousands of thin metal fins. These allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat.
A typical garden hose with a spray head is the easiest way to clean the fins. Spray them from inside the unit, pushing the dust and debris outward. Do not use a pressure washer for this! Pressure washers are one of the most common causes for bent fins, and sometimes they cannot be straightened.
If your garden hose will not reach to the HVAC unit, you can use a vacuum cleaner’s soft brush attachment and vacuum the fins clean.
4. Straighten the Fins
Bent fins will restrict airflow, making your HVAC unit work harder. Straighten any bent fins with a fin comb, found at any hardware store.
5. Checking/Replacing Insulation
Over time insulation on exterior HVAC lines can degrade from weathering, UV rays and poor installation causing a loss of effectiveness. When insulation loses its ability to insulate, energy is lost and the equipment must work harder to maintain the desired indoor comfort level.
Identify the correct AC line to insulate. A typical residential AC unit has two copper lines that both exit the building exterior and run to the outside condenser unit. Only one of these copper pipes, the cold line, should be insulated. This is called the “suction” line and is typically the larger of the two pipes. There is no need to insulate the smaller, warmer copper pipe, often called the liquid line, because not insulating this line allows it to shed heat which is exactly what you are trying to do with an AC system.
6. Clean the Coils
Locate the evaporator coil in the inside air handler and clean it of any debris. If they collect dust or dirt, this can insulate the coil, causing the refrigerant inside to freeze.
This might sound like a good thing, frozen refrigerant actually causes your unit to overheat and break down. If you notice a layer of frost on your evaporator coil or condenser coil, call a technician to identify the problem.
7. Restart Your HVAC Unit
Once you have reinstalled the cover grille, switch the power on and turn the A/C on to make sure it is working. After about 10 minutes, feel the insulated copper tubing that runs from the unit into the house to make sure it feels cool to the touch. (The uninsulated tube should feel warm.) This ensures that your unit is working properly.
Now that you are finished with the exterior air handler, you can move to your inside HVAC unit.
8. Air Filter
Air filters remove pollen, dust, and other particles so that they no longer circulate in the air.
The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency.
The filter should be replaced monthly during heavy use during the cooling seasons. You may need to change the filter more often if the air conditioner is in constant use, if building occupants have respiratory problems, if you have pets with fur, or if dusty conditions are present.
9. Inspect the Drain Line
Condensate drain lines are located on the side of the inside fan unit. Sometimes there are two drain lines—a primary drain line that’s built into the unit, and a secondary drain line that can drain if the first line becomes blocked.
First, inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, causing a safety hazard or water damage to your home.
Most condensate drains are fitted with a maintenance cap at the air handler drain connection. Pour white vinegar or a mild diluted bleach solution through the condensate drain to prevent it from becoming blocked by algae growth. Reconnect the hose, making sure it fits securely.
10. Professional Maintenance
DIY HVAC maintenance can go a long way toward keeping your system at its best, but you should still have your air-conditioning and heating system professionally inspected once or twice a year.
As a homeowner, there are certain things that you will not be able to do yourself, such as checking coolant levels and cleaning ducts. Getting professional cleanings and inspections will help you keep an eye out for major system malfunctions and be on top of general maintenance.
Your air conditioner does a lot for you. Make sure you return the favor by performing routine HVAC maintenance to keep your system up and running. By regularly cleaning the air handler, changing the air filters, and clearing and unclogging the drain hose, you’ll be helping your central A/C stay at the top of its game.
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