Extend the Life of Your Heating and Air Conditioning Systems
With heating and cooling systems, small problems can easily turn into big, expensive ones when you least expect them. Your air conditioner, furnace and boiler create the perfect indoor air temperature all year long. Don’t neglect them; keep them in top condition with twice-yearly professional inspections. In between visits, there’s a lot you can do to extend their useful life.
Experienced air conditioner technicians can check the electrical components and refrigerant levels and alert you to problems early; but there’s plenty you can do to keep your AC in good working order.
- Replace air filters every one to three months to prevent strain on the motor and to keep your indoor air clean.
- When you’re cleaning your house, run the vacuum or a feather duster along the intake and return vents in each room.
- Make sure nothing is blocking the registers. The harder your system has to work, the shorter its life span.
- In a split system, make sure the outdoor condenser and compressor are free of leaves and debris. Turn the power to the system off at the box and at the breaker and hose off the inside of the cabinet with a garden hose.
- Make sure the pipe that drains condensation from the inside evaporator unit to the outside is clear. Algae is an ever-present problem in these drainage tubes and clogs them up, so pour a little unscented bleach into the standpipe once every three months. Use a shop vac to clear the end of the tube.
Maintaining your heating system
Home heating makes up more than 40 percent of your utility bill, so it’s important to keep the system running smoothly. In addition to calling a professional for twice-yearly checkups, make sure all parts are kept clean.
Like an AC unit, a heat pump must be kept clean and free of air-blocking debris.
- Keep the outside unit free of twigs, leaves and other debris. Fall and spring are the best times to accomplish this task.
- Don’t close off registers to little used rooms. This can lead to mold formation in the ductwork.
- Replace or clean furnace filters every one to three months. If you have a humidifier with your heating system, replace the panel at the start of heating and cooling seasons.
Like an air conditioning system, a furnace relies on a blower and duct system to distribute warm air. Many of the same maintenance tips apply.
- Change the furnace filter every month or so. A cheap one will work just fine.
- For gas-powered furnaces, turn up your thermostat every month and activate the burners, and then inspect the flame. They should be clear blue and even. If it burns yellow, call a pro. Your burners could be dirty.
- Turn off the power switch and vacuum the burners and the furnace base. You want to remove as much dust as possible. If you see soot, which is fine and black, lift the blower door and vacuum the compartment.
- Vacuum the blower blades and remove any grime with a small soft brush. Be careful you don't disturb the wiring or fan blade counterweights. This could throw your blower off-balance.
Issues with a boiler can be dangerous, even fatal. Proper maintenance leads to efficient performance and longer life, but it’s a job best left to a professional. Still, there are a few things you can do to keep it running smoothly.
- Run your boiler for a few minutes each month, even in warm weather, to make sure it’s working properly.
- Clean and oil the blower to keep it free of dust, sediment and rust.
- Inspect for leaks, cracks and holes. Look at the vent connection pipe and the chimney. Do you see a water leak? If so, you could have a problem with the heat exchanger.
You’ll notice that most of this advice is focused on keeping your system clean and free of blockages. When you’re dealing with electricity, gas and water under pressure, it’s wise to rely on an experienced HVAC service company for maintenance and repair. Still, every small step you take can add years to the life of your unit, and save you up to one-third of your heating and cooling bills.