A Happy HVAC

Make Sure Your System is Airworthy
Tools for air conditioning repair and maintenance Make Sure Your System is Airworthy
Tools for air conditioning repair and maintenance.
By Pete Alfano

One of the more reassuring sounds any homeowner can hear is the furnace heating up to provide warmth for those frigid winter nights and the air conditioning units humming along to keep us cool during those triple-digit summer days. But as important as the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system — better known as HVAC — is to our comfort and well-being, too often it is not given enough attention when buying or maintaining a house.

Most HVAC heating and cooling systems are in an attic, and the air conditioning condensers are outdoors on the side of a house. Thus, it can be a case of out of sight, out of mind, and homeowners won’t know there is a problem until the system stops functioning. It is important, then, when buying a house, to know the age of the HVAC system. The Department of Energy recommends replacing it every 10-to-15 years. You may inherit an older system that is functioning but doesn’t have much of a shelf life remaining. And replacing an entire heating or cooling system can cost $10,000 or more.

Most homeowners are not well-versed in the components of a traditional HVAC system and how it works. The system includes a separate central air conditioner and furnace, or it may be a more modern heat pump that provides heating and cooling in a single unit. Many larger single-story and multi-story homes also have two heating and cooling zones with individual thermostats to regulate the temperature.

Regular maintenance is essential to maximize the lifespan of the HVAC system, efficiency, and keeping energy costs down, and it is usually best left to professionals. This is one do-it-yourself task even the best handyperson among homeowners may want to delegate. Changing a furnace filter every three months or hosing down an outdoor air conditioning condenser is one thing, but proper maintenance includes a laundry list of functions. Having a service contract with an HVAC company entitles you to an inspection of the heating system in the fall and a spring inspection of the air conditioning system.

Technicians will troubleshoot all the components of the HVAC system. For instance, are there any leaks in the drain lines of the air conditioning units? A clogged line can result in a ceiling leak. Is the refrigerant level adequate for cooling? Are the air ducts clear or clogged with dirt and debris? Are you changing the furnace filter every three months? Are there corroded parts?

It is also vital to know whether your heating system runs on natural gas or other fuel types. If it runs on a combustible fuel, it produces carbon monoxide, which is odorless and potentially life-threatening. A service representative may tell you that your heating system is working today but it is old, and they cannot predict when it might fail. That is why it is essential to have carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the house. This is not an issue for all-electric heating systems.

Maintenance of an HVAC system includes ensuring that thermostats are working properly and that outdoor air conditioner condensers are free of leaves, grass, and other debris. Homeowners also need to be aware if the HVAC system is making odd noises, blowing warm air from the air conditioning unit, or if their energy bills start spiking for no apparent reason. These may be signs that it is time for repairs or a new system.

Young black girl setting remote control panel smart home concept copy space Make Sure Your System is Airworthy
Young black woman adjusting remote climate control panel settings

At Your Service

Is a service contract with an HVAC company worth the expense? A company may typically charge
anywhere from $150 to $300 for one year, which entitles the homeowner to a fall and spring tune-up and inspection. The higher price is for multiple air conditioning and heating units found in homes with more than one zone. Without a service agreement, HVAC companies typically charge about $75 or more per unit in the fall and then in the spring.

A benefit of having a contract is that when the heating or cooling system fails at the worst possible time, you will be among the first customers to receive service.  

Read more about HVAC maintenance in your home HERE on LivingMagazine.net

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