Spring is certainly in the air, and the spring cleaning bug is making the rounds. But while you're taking the time to organize closets and go through your basement, don't forget about your HVAC system. The weather is heating up, and soon you'll be cranking up the AC if you haven't already. But before you kick off air conditioning season, take some time for a little spring cleaning for your HVAC system. It's not hard to do, and it can save you money and trouble. Just a little seasonal maintenance can lower your energy bills and prevent expensive breakdowns. We'll go through a list of maintenance tasks you can take care of both inside and outside your home. Then we'll point out a few areas you should really leave to the pros, like these TrustDALE certified HVAC technicians.
DIY HVAC Maintenance Indoor Tasks
Start your HVAC spring cleaning indoors with these simple but critical maintenance items.
Clean the Evaporator Coil
The evaporator coil is a series of winding pipes that carry cool, condensed refrigerant. As air from the blower passes over the tubes of refrigerant, the air is cooled as the refrigerant absorbs the heat and expands. The cool air is pumped into your home to cool it, and the warmer, expanded refrigerant passes to the condenser (more on that later). The evaporator coil is typically in an A shape and covered with thin sheets of metal (fins) that help the refrigerant cool air more efficiently. To clean it, you first have to find it. The evaporator coil is usually behind a door or removable panel just above the blower. Start by removing any dust with a soft brush. Next, spray the evaporator coil with coil cleaner, which you can find at any home improvement store. Just let the cleaner drip off the coil into the drain pan below. When you're done, clean the pan and make sure that it is draining freely.
Cleaning the Evaporator Drain Line
As warm, moist air flows over the evaporator coil, it is cooled, releasing the moisture in the air. The moisture condenses on the coil and drips down into the drain pain. From there, it is carried away by a 1-inch pipe called the drain line. The pipe typically drains into a sink, floor drain, or sometimes outdoors. But all that humidity creates the perfect environment for mold and algae. Over time, mold or algae can clog the drain pipe. So once or twice a year, it is a good idea to clear the drain pipe. You can use a wet/dry vac to suction out any blockage or clear the drain as you would any plumbing line. If you don't have a wet/dry vac, you can clean the pipe with a plumbers snake, garden hose, or by pouring distilled white vinegar through the pipe.
Turn off Your Humidifier
Many heaters have a humidifier unit that helps keep the air moist while you are using the heater. Without a humidifier, the air coming out of a heater is quite dry and can create an uncomfortably dry environment in your home. But during the summer, you don't need or want that extra humidity. To prevent water damage, it's a good idea to turn off your humidifier. Many humidifiers have a summer setting that turns off the water supply. If you don't have a summer setting on your humidifier, you may have to turn off the water supply at its source.
Change the Air Filter
Now is a good time to change your air filter. However, don't leave your filter changes until your seasonal maintenance. It is important to change your air filter anywhere from once a month to once every three months. The higher the MERV number and the more you use your HVAC system, the more frequently you should change your filter. If you live with a shedding pet, you should change the filter every month. Similarly, if the air in your home has a lot of particulate matter, such as dust from construction or agriculture, you should change your filter more frequently.
If you are worried about pollen and allergies in the spring, a MERV 11 filter can help. A MERV 11 filter catches most pollen and pet dander. However, before installing a higher MERV-rated filter, check your HVAC manual or ask an HVAC professional. The higher the MERV rating, the harder the blower has to work to force air through the filter, and not all HVAC units can accommodate high-MERV filters.
DIY HVAC Maintenance Outdoor Tasks
Once you've taken care of the indoor maintenance, head outside to complete your DIY spring maintenance.
Clear a Path Around the Condenser
Your condenser, that big metal box outside your house, is critical for your AC system. Indoors, as warm air passes over the evaporator coil, the refrigerant in it expands and absorbs the heat from the air, cooling it so it can cool your home. From there, the warmed, expanded refrigerant is pumped outdoors to the condenser, where it releases all that heat back into the wild. To effectively release the heat collected from your indoor air, the condenser needs a clear swath of air all around it. Blocking the condenser and preventing it from releasing heat can keep your air conditioner from functioning correctly.
Over the winter months, debris can collect around your condenser, from dirt and leaves to trash and newly-grown spring shoots. As you perform your spring maintenance, get outside and clear a path of at least two feet all around your condenser.
Take Off the Cover and Clean the Condenser Unit
Once you've cleared a path, it's time to get to the condenser itself. Take off the cover, and give the condenser a good wash. You can start with a shop vac or even an outdoor broom to sweep off any large debris and dust. Next, use a hose to spray off any remaining dust. If you find that the hose isn't getting off caked-on debris, try spraying the condenser with coil cleaner and let it sit for a few minutes before trying again. Make sure to carefully replace the cover when you're done. Once the AC unit is running, the spinning fan can be quite dangerous if it isn't adequately covered.
When to Hire a Professional
While some maintenance is simple DIY, other tasks should be left to the pros. Since it takes a professional HVAC technician to perform complete maintenance, you should make sure to have your system professionally inspected and serviced at least once a year. Ideally, you should have your system services twice a year, in spring and fall, as you switch from heat to cooling and back. In addition to the following professional-only tasks, a service call usually includes most DIY tasks, too. So if you don't feel like doing it yourself, a TrustDALE certified HVAC technician can do most of it for you. The exception is clearing the space around the condenser. If there is vegetation or other significant debris, you'll likely have to clear that yourself.
This is what most professional HVAC service calls include:
- A full system inspection
- Checking refrigerant levels
- Inspecting the coil, drain pan, and drain line
- Visual inspection of the compressor and motor
- Cleaning any buildup, dirt, or debris that has accumulated on system components
- Checking (and possibly replacing) the air filter
- Replacing and belts, parts, or connection that have worn out
- Checking for the proper functioning of the thermostat
- Testing for leaks in the system
While it is important to perform maintenance at least twice a year, the most important thing you can do for your HVAC system's health and longevity should be done more often. Changing the air filter as necessary prevents your HVAC system from overworking to push air through a clogged filter. Depending on the level of particulate matter in your home's air, you should change the filter anywhere from once a month to once every three months.
There are some situations in which you should definitely opt for monthly filter changes. Smokers and pet owners should change their filters monthly. Similarly, if your home gets a lot of dust from nearby construction or agriculture, you should change your filter more regularly. If your home is surrounded by trees that give off a lot of pollen, you might also want to change your filters monthly during the times of the year with a heavy pollen count. Monthly changes might also be in order if you are using a high MERV filter since a finer filter captures more dust and is clogged more quickly.
If you haven't had your HVAC system serviced in the last six months, now is the time to call a TrustDALE certified HVAC technician. And remember, every TrustDALE certified business is backed by Dale's trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.