Did you know that heating and cooling a home already makes up about 40% of a household’s energy use? This means that if you pay $1,800 a year for electricity, more than $700 already goes toward your HVAC use!
However, a lack of heating and air conditioning maintenance can make this go even higher. That’s because ill-maintained HVAC units are inefficient, so they also use more energy. Industry studies confirm that a lack of HVAC maintenance can make a system 30% to 60% less efficient.
The longer an HVAC unit performs inefficiently, the more strain it deals with. This, in turn, can lead to premature equipment failure. Deteriorated space heaters and coolers also add to indoor air pollution woes.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do on your own to keep your HVAC unit in tip-top condition. We’ve rounded up some of them below, so be sure to read on.
Maintain That 2-Feet Outdoor Unit Clearance
The outdoor HVAC unit is the big, metal “box” encased with grills that you’ll find at the rear or one side of your house. It houses the fan, compressor, and condenser coil. It’s through this unit that the system disperses the heat it absorbed from your indoor air.
The fan’s task is to blow ambient air across the condenser coil to cool it down. The condenser coil, in turn, is where the refrigerant ends up after absorbing heat from the air. The compressor allows the refrigerant to move throughout the entire HVAC unit.
All the heat absorbed by the HVAC system then moves out from the outdoor unit.
Therefore, if your outdoor unit gets all clogged up, the heat won’t have any way to escape. In this case, your HVAC system’s efficiency will drop, and it will fail to deliver conditioned air. You’ll start to experience problems like poor airflow or no cool or warm air at all.
So, if such issues arise, one of the first heating and AC troubleshooting steps is to check the outdoor unit. However, it’s best not to wait for this to happen by keeping the outdoor unit free of obstructions. This entails maintaining proper clearance of about two feet on all sides of the outdoor unit.
That said, always keep a lookout for vegetation, such as shrubs, overgrown grass, and weeds. Don’t let them grow too near the outdoor unit, as they can impede airflow. Be sure to remove fallen leaves, twigs, and branches piling up near the unit, too.
Clean the Outdoor Unit Case
Before you start cleaning the case, be sure to turn off the power supply to your HVAC system first. It’s best to shut down the main electrical switch for your HVAC unit to stop the flow of current completely. You should also wear electrical gloves, protective boots, goggles, and respiratory protection.
Once you’re all set, broom and brush away visible debris on the exterior housing of your outdoor unit. You can also use a vacuum to remove stubborn clogs, such as grease and grime, from the grills.
Check the grills, too, for any bent or dented sections. You can use a dinner knife to realign the fins with gentle pressure. Be careful not to insert the knife too deeply, as you might damage the internal components.
For added protection, consider using an in-season cover for your outdoor unit. Often made of PVC-coated mesh, it can help keep larger debris, such as leaves or twigs, from getting into the unit.
You’ll also find off-season covers that can protect your outdoor HVAC unit during fall and winter. These will keep debris, snow, and melted ice off of the exposed component of your HVAC system.
Give the Inside of Your Outdoor Unit Some TLC
If you’re confident of your DIY skills (and you have a toolbox to show for it), you can deep clean the outdoor unit, too.
First, use a screwdriver or wrench to take out all the fasteners securing the removable cover. Gently lift the panel and set it upright against a sturdy surface, such as a wall.
Do note that in some HVAC units, the fan and the removable cover are a single component. In this case, the fan itself may be a built-in component of the detachable panel.
In any case, you’d want to remove the grill and fan so that you can access the inside of the metal box. Get rid of any foreign objects in it (such as leaves, twigs, branches, plastic, etc.). You can also brush, wipe, and vacuum the interior side of the grills.
Next, gently brush and wipe the fan blades to get rid of dust and debris build-up. Don’t apply too much pressure, as this can dent the blades.
Once you’re all done, you can reassemble the outdoor unit. Make sure to tighten all fasteners to prevent the removable panel from getting loose. Don’t turn the power on yet, as you still need to clean the indoor unit.
Replace or Wash Those Filters
In the US, indoor pollutant levels may sometimes be two to five times greater than outdoor levels. There are even cases wherein indoor air can be over 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Such pollutants include dust, debris, pet dander, dust mites, and other particulate matter.
At the same time, the more polluted the outdoor air is in your area, the more polluted your indoor air can also be. Do note that almost 21 million folks live in US counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution.
The good news is that HVAC filters help clean the air by entrapping some of those airborne particles. You’ll find yours inside an enclosure by the indoor unit. In most cases, the encasement is right beside the massive fresh air return duct.
These filtration devices’ main function is to protect HVAC units from residue build-up. In doing so, though, they also help clean the indoor air that circulates in your home.
That’s why over time, your HVAC filters will get clogged with airborne contaminants. All that filth can impede HVAC performance, as clogs in filters restrict airflow. This reduced airflow can then make your home feel either too hot or too cold.
As such, keeping your filters clean is a key step in heating and air conditioning maintenance. Fresh filters also help boost your HVAC system’s efficiency, as they let more fresh air in.
If you live in a highly polluted area, it’s best you change or wash your HVAC filters at least once a month. If your city’s air pollution isn’t that bad, do this maintenance task at least once every two months.
Wipe the Indoor Evaporator Coil Clean
The indoor HVAC unit is where you’ll also find the evaporator coil. This other coil houses the cold refrigerant that sucks the heat out of warm air.
Just like every other object inside your home, the indoor unit can also form layers of residue. The thing is, dust and debris formation can “insulate” the evaporator coil. If this happens, the coil won’t absorb as much heat as possible from the warm, moist air.
As a result, your HVAC system would have to kick things up a notch, and in doing so, work harder and use more energy. The longer this goes on, the more electricity the unit uses, and the higher your energy bills can get. This is a big issue, what with the 12 cents per kWh increase in US residential electricity prices this 2021.
That’s why you should also clean your indoor evaporator coil once or twice every season. You’ll find this inside the indoor HVAC unit, behind the evaporator coil door. You may have to take out some screws, nuts, bolts, and a few layers of foil and duct tape to access the coil.
Once you see the network of metal pipes, it’s time to get brushing. Be sure the bristles are non-abrasive so as not to scratch the coil. You can then spray the coil with a coil cleaning solution you can buy from home improvement stores.
Don’t worry about the cleaner dripping; the drain pan right below the coil should catch it.
Get Rid of Drain Pan Dirt and Drain Line Clogs
According to a guide from Air Smart, HVAC systems can spring “nasty” water leaks. These leaks, in turn, often arise from faulty or clogged drain pans and drain lines. These HVAC components are responsible for channeling condensation out of your home.
Condensation occurs whenever warm, moist air touches the indoor cold evaporator coil. When this happens, the water vapors in the warm air change into physical water droplets. Gravity then pulls the droplets down, and they drip into the drain pan right below the coil.
The drain pan has a drain line connected to it, which, in turn, directs the collected water outdoors. It’s thanks to these two that you can heat or cool your home without your HVAC causing water damage.
However, since the drain pan and drain line is in a dank, dark spot, it can develop microbiological growths. These often take the form of mold patches, the spores of which can germinate within one to two days. Give them enough time, and they can block the drain line or even cover the entire drain pan.
As such, be sure to check and clean your drain pan and drain line at least once a month. This also works as an AC/heating troubleshooting step if your air smells moldy when you turn the unit on.
You can use hot water mixed with some liquid detergent and bleach to clean the drain pan. You can also pour a mixture of 50% water and 50% bleach down the drain hole and into the drain pipe.
Don’t Forget Your Duct Registers and Grilles
First, check if the vents are easy to detach; if they are, it’s best to remove them so you can give them a deeper clean. In this case, you may only have to take off a few screws, bolts, and nuts. You can submerge the panels in a sink or large bucket filled with hot, soapy water.
Rinse off the soapy suds and dry the covers with a microfiber cloth. Before placing them back, vacuum the areas of the ductwork itself that you can reach. If your machine has an extendable attachment, use that to reach the deeper areas of the duct.
If it’s hard to remove the vent covers, you can vacuum them in place. Before cleaning ceiling vents, though, make sure you cover your furniture with a sheet. This way, dust won’t fall on and ruin them.
Also, make sure you’re still wearing personal protective equipment while doing all these. This way, you can protect your eyes, nose, and throat from irritating dust and debris.
Invest in Professional Heating and Air Conditioning Maintenance Services
Professional HVAC tune-ups include complete inspection and maintenance. Aside from those discussed above, HVAC technicians also perform electrical and mechanical checks. They calibrate thermostats, secure electrical cords, and monitor refrigerants.
HVAC pros also inspect ducts, which can leak, collect residue layers, or even develop molds. Just so you know, leaky ducts account for up to 40% of heating and cooling energy wastage. What’s more, a 20% loss of conditioned air can push an HVAC system to work 50% harder.
So, for your benefit, be sure to set a date with your local HVAC tech at least once in spring and another in fall. Pre-season maintenance can ensure your HVAC unit is in tip-top shape before its peak use.
Don’t Let Extreme Cold and Heat Render You All Beat
Your HVAC unit doesn’t jeep keep you comfortable; it also helps keep the air inside your home fresh. A fully-functional comfort system can also protect you from detrimental weather-related health woes. That should be enough reason to invest in heating and air conditioning maintenance. Ready for more home improvement and maintenance guides like this? Then please feel free to check out our other educational resources!