How to Maintain My HVAC System

Your home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, in case you’re wondering) system is an essential element for creating a comfortable environment. It’s also one of the most expensive systems in your home, so maintaining it properly can have some significant benefits to your budget.

Obviously, the best procedures for maintaining your HVAC depend in part on what type of system you’re using. Yours may run on natural gas or electricity, or both. It could be solar powered, in some cases. There are hybrid systems that utilize a heat pump and even duct-free systems.

Still, basic maintenance procedures can be identified that apply to most HVAC systems and will help to prolong their life and make them more energy efficient as well.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (and considerably cheaper), so follow these steps to keep your HVAC system running smoothly.

Check Your System Twice a Year

Whatever type of system you own, it has 2 major functions: heating and cooling your home. It will see peak demand in the summer and winter months, so it’s important to service and inspect the unit at the beginning of each season. That means checking your furnace in the fall and your AC in the spring.

Some maintenance should be done even more often. Most manufacturers recommend that the filters be changed at least quarterly, for example. This is a simple operation, and new filters can be purchased for $20-$30, so many homeowners take care of this task themselves.


Check the Outdoor Unit

The parts of your HVAC system that sit outside are vulnerable to damage and exposed to the elements. They’re designed for this, but it’s important to have them checked by a professional at least annually. Here are the things to do:

  • Inspect unit for proper refrigerant level and adjust if necessary
  • Clean dirt, leaves and debris from inside cabinet
  • Inspect base pan for restricted drain openings—remove obstructions as necessary
  • Inspect coil and cabinet—clean as needed
  • Inspect fan motor and fan blades for wear and damage—on older models lubricate as needed
  • Inspect control box, associated controls/accessories, wiring and connections. Controls may include contactors, relays, circuit boards, capacitors, sump heat and other accessories. All control box and electrical parts should be checked for wear or damage.
  • Inspect compressor and associated tubing for damage

Inside Maintenance

In the home, your system includes ductwork and thermostats, as well as the furnace and filtration systems.  Professional inspection and some routine maintenance can protect you from unexpected breakdowns and keep you comfortable.

  • Inspect and clean blower assembly (includes blower housing, blower wheel and motor)
  • On older models, lubricate motor and inspect and replace fan belt if needed
  • Check combustion blower housing for lint and debris and clean as necessary
  • Inspect evaporator coil, drain pan and condensate drain lines. Clean as needed
  • Inspect for gas leaks in gas furnaces
  • Inspect burner assembly—clean and adjust as needed
  • Inspect ignition system and safety controls—clean and adjust as needed
  • Inspect heat exchanger or heating elements
  • Inspect flue system—check for proper attachment to the furnace, any dislocated sections, and for signs of corrosion. Replace if necessary.
  • Inspect control box, associated controls, wiring and connections
  • Clean or replace air filters
  • Inspect conditioned airflow system (ductwork)—check for leaks

While your system is operating …

  • Monitor system starting characteristics and capabilities
  • Listen for abnormal noise
  • Search for source of unusual odors
  • Monitor air conditioning and heat pump systems for correct refrigerant charge
  • Measure outdoor dry bulb temperature
  • Measure indoor dry and wet bulb temperature
  • Measure high and low side system pressures
  • Monitor gas furnace for correct line and manifold gas pressure—make adjustments as needed
  • Measure temperature rise and adjust airflow as needed
  • Check vent system for proper operation
  • Monitor system for correct line and load volts/amps
  • Monitor system operation per manufacturer’s specifications
  • Provide system operation report and recommend repairs or replacement as necessary

The HVAC systems we rely on every day are complex, and it takes professional help to keep them in top operating condition.  Depending on its features and design, you can expect to get 10-15 years out of an air conditioning unit, while furnaces last a little longer: 15-20 years.  

Once it’s time for a replacement you can expect to pay between $8000 and $20,000 for your new system and installation.  The costs can vary widely depending on the unit’s features and whether new ductwork has to be installed.

Maintaining your HVAC system is one of the costs of home ownership. Follow the guide above to keep your current system running like a champ for as long as possible.

Not sure you’re ready to tackle this project on your own? A Glasshouse manager can help. Learn how here.

And, for more information on the real costs of home maintenance, download this free whitepaper.

For more Easy Maintenance Tips from Glasshouse, read our ongoing series. Here’s a few posts that you might like: