Having no heat in winter or no cool air in summer makes for a miserable time. Learn how to do a basic HVAC inspection that could help keep your system operational at all times.
We all have a love-hate relationship with our HVAC unit. We love it when it’s working and hate it when it’s not. Not only is an HVAC breakdown a major inconvenience, but it can also be very costly to fix or replace.
Like many utilities, HVAC units begin to depreciate the minute they’re installed. Some people get lucky and have little to no problems with their HVAC for years, but most people aren’t so lucky.
The good news is that you can stave off malfunctions and keep your HVAC system in good working condition by performing regular inspections.
Here are the steps to take when performing your very own HVAC inspection.
1. Start with the thermostat
Start by making sure your thermostat is working properly. Check that both the heating and cooling mechanisms turn on and off with their presets. Physically open the thermostat and carefully clean the device with a Q-tip.
2. Shut off the power
Find the correct switch on your breaker box and turn off power to the inside unit. On the outside unit, turn off the on/off switch. This is incredibly important, as you’ll soon be removing parts of the unit.
3. Remove debris from external HVAC unit
Grab a screwdriver and a wrench and detach the fan cage from the top of the unit. Using a wet/dry vacuum, remove any excess leaves or debris from the interior.
4. Clean and repair the fins
Take a sprayer hose and spray the fins from the inside of the unit, washing away any debris. Do not use a pressure washer, as that can be a little too powerful. If the fins are exceptionally dirty, you can find fin-cleaning spray at a local hardware store.
The fins need to be straight in order to keep airflow efficient throughout the year. Take a butter knife or a fin-straightening tool and straighten the fins carefully. Reattach the fan cage.
5. Clear the area around the unit
It’s a good rule of thumb to keep at least two feet of distance between your external unit and any shrubs, trees or other vegetation. During the winter months, it’s beneficial to put a piece of plywood or plastic on top of the unit to protect from falling debris.
Do not cover the unit, as that’s an invitation for vermin to move in during off months.
6. Level the unit
Just like your foundation, your external HVAC unit can shift overtime. A condenser that isn’t level can cause the compressor to fail much earlier than it should. Check if the unit is level, and if not, use rot-resistant shims to prop up whichever side needs it.
7. Clean the evaporator coil
Now head inside. On your internal unit, open the evaporator coil door and give it a good dusting. Then spray with commercially available no-rinse coil cleaner. This will turn into foam and drip into the drain pan, which then must be cleaned out with hot water, soap and a small amount of bleach.
8. Check the evaporator drain
You may notice that your interior unit’s evaporator drain is clogged, which can cause flooding and other issues. Using a wet/dry vacuum, suck out any debris in the drain that’s blocking the flow of runoff water.
9. Replace the filter regularly
One of the most common causes of HVAC malfunction is the filter. This is what traps debris from your HVAC unit, and if it’s not properly replaced regularly, it can create some major problems. Some say the filter should be replaced every six months, but every one to three months is ideal.
Inspect the ductwork (where it’s visible) for any leaks and repair with duct tape.
Air vents should be located in almost every room of your house. Unscrew each one and examine with a flashlight for any debris, including rodent feces or mold.
If, during the course of your HVAC inspection, you find a serious issue with your unit, don’t hesitate to call in the pros. HVAC repairs and replacements should always be performed by a licensed professional. A ShieldGold or Systems Plan with American Home Shield Home Warranty could help you save the headache because it covers the repair and replacement of key components, including your HVAC unit.