Maintaining your HVAC System

Over time, your Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system may lose some of its efficiency due to worn out parts and blockages. Performing regular maintenance checks is the only way homeowners can keep it functioning optimally as well as extend its lifespan. Luckily for savvy homeowners, HVAC system maintenance is a task that’s well within most people’s abilities. Herein are six ways to maintain your HVAC system.

1. Clearing Debris from the Interior
Before you do anything, make sure you completely turn off the unit’s power supply. If there’s a shut-off box on the outside, make sure to turn it off as well. Use a wrench or a screwdriver to unfasten the cage on the exterior compressor, then lift it away from the unit. Clean the interior using either a wet/dry vacuum or by hand, and remove all the dead leaves and debris that have accumulated.

2. Cleaning and Straightening the Fins
When cleaning the fins, avoid using a pressure washer as it could damage them. Instead, use a shop vacuum with a brush attachment to clear all the dirt that is on the outside, then a garden hose to flush out debris between the fins from the inside out. You can also opt for commercially available fin cleaners that do a better job of clearing away dirt and debris from the dirtiest of fins.
The next step is to straighten them because bent fins reduce your HVAC system’s overall efficiency. A butter knife can do the trick, but so can the fin straightening tools that are available commercially. Just be careful not to be too forceful to avoid damaging the tubes within the fins.

3. Cleaning the Evaporator Coil
The evaporator coil is located on the blower or furnace unit, which is on the inside. To get to it, you may have to remove some screws as well as some foil duct tape. Use a soft bristle brush to dust it off first, then a no-rinse cleaner to rid it of any dirt and grime that is stuck onto it. No-rinse cleaners are commercially available as sprays that foam up then eventually drip into the drain pan. You can use a solution made from equal parts water and bleach to clear out the drain afterward.

4. Unclogging the Evaporator Drain
The evaporator drain is susceptible to algae and mold buildup that can potentially clog it up. A drain that is plugged up is not very efficient, and it may lead to issues such as flooding or in the case of HVAC systems with a drain float, a complete shutdown of the entire system.

The drain pipe can be identified as a black, white, or grey PVC pipe of about one inch in width that empties its contents near the condenser unit on the outside. To unclog it, use a wet/dry vacuum cleaner with the filter removed and a piece of duct tape or rag wrapped around the point where the two tubes meet. Turn on the vacuum for about 3 minutes then turn it off. This is enough to get rid of any blockages, biological or otherwise, that may be reducing your HVAC’s drainage efficiency.

5. Replacing the Filter
Changing the filter should be done at least twice a year according to HVAC experts. A screwdriver may be needed to open up the filter compartment. Carefully pull out the old filter and replace it with a new filter that has the same airflow rating. Experts caution against using the so-called air-purifying or HEPA filters as they are known to reduce airflow.

6. Clearing the Area around the Unit
Ensure that the condenser unit that is outside is placed in a clearing about 2 feet wide in all directions. This is done to ensure proper airflow around it. When the condenser is not in use, such as during winter, it is advisable to cover the top with plastic or plywood to shelter the interior from debris.

It is still necessary to have an HVAC technician periodically check on your system to ensure it is running optimally. Remember that some maintenance checks can only be performed using expertise and tools that may not be readily available to the average homeowner.

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