The Homeowner’s Guide to HVAC Maintenance

The Homeowner’s Guide to HVAC Maintenance

Homeownership comes with a lot of responsibility. In addition to making sure that you pay your mortgage on time every month, you also have to oversee the functions of your home and make sure that everything is working efficiently. Things like HVAC maintenance might not be particularly glamorous, but they’re part and parcel of keeping your home running right.

HVAC, which stands for “heating, ventilation, and air conditioning,” is the system responsible for helping you maintain a comfortable temperature in your home. It is also partially responsible for maintaining optimal air quality and energy efficiency.

Most of the HVAC maintenance that you undertake as a homeowner is proactive and preventative, meaning you’re doing work that will help future problems from occurring. There is a lot that can go wrong with your HVAC, including leaks, corrosion, and issues with distributing hot or cold air. And everything from clogged filters to dirty coils can lead to a problem, so it’s important that you stay on top of your maintenance tasks year after year.

The best way to go about maintaining an HVAC system is to have a set plan that you follow every year. In this guide to HVAC maintenance, we’ll go over the basics that you need to know in order to put a plan into place, including what goes into proper maintenance, how often you should do it, and how much it costs.

Common HVAC problems

As mentioned above, there are a lot of problems that can occur with your HVAC system—some of the more common than others. And it helps to know what these problems are. Here are three HVAC problems to keep top of mind as you work out your maintenance schedule and options.

  1. Leaks
    All HVAC connector and drain lines have the ability to develop leaks. These leaks force your system to run harder than it should, and could ultimately lead to you having to replace one or more components. Keep an eye out for leaks from refrigerant lines (more on those under monthly HVAC maintenance tasks), as well as leaks from the AC condensate line and heat exchanger.
  2. Corrosion
    Whenever you combine wiring with moisture you have the potential for corrosion. This corrosion, which can happen on any wires or terminals related to your HVAC system, will generally cause your heating or cooling system to turn on and off on its own. Like leaks, it will also force your system to work harder, and may lead to a complete break over time.
  3. Dirt and debris
    All components of your HVAC system—from filters to the electric panel, and everything in between—need to be free of debris. In addition to causing your system to work inefficiently, things like dirty air filters will pump dust and allergens into your home, reducing the air quality and flow and potentially clogging the system.

Types of HVAC maintenance tasks

You can’t put together an HVAC to-do list if you don’t know what you have to do in the first place. Barring any unforeseen issues, these are the standard HVAC maintenance tasks that you’ll want to undergo each year. We’ve broken them into specific timelines so that you can easily differentiate between what needs to get done right now and what needs to get done just once a year.

Following this list will help you keep your HVAC in strong working order, and will also ensure that, if there is a problem, you find out about it sooner rather than later.

Right now

Make sure that these tasks are always ticked off to mitigate the potential for avoidable issues with your HVAC system:

  • Check that the area around the visible indoor and outdoor components of your HVAC system (think AC units and heating units) are free of debris, including boxes, grass, leaves, and furniture.
  • Ensure that there are two feet of cleared space around all HVAC system components.
  • If you haven’t already, buy high-efficiency air filters so that you have them ready to go. If you don’t have a high-efficiency filter in place already, swap one in.

Once a month

  • Inspect your air conditioner refrigerant lines for leaks. These two lines, which are typically copper, connect your outdoor air conditioner to your system’s indoor evaporator coil. Here’s where—and what—to look for.

Once a season

  • Replace the air filter every 90 days.
  • Turn off water to the furnace humidifier in the summer.
  • Replace the humidifier filter and turn the water back on in the fall.

Once a year

  • Go through your home and replace the batteries in all of your carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Lubricate your HVAC motor and replace the fan belt if it’s not running efficiently.
  • Clean your AC condensation drain line with bleach. Directions on how to do that here.
  • Take a look at your outdoor AC unit and ensure that, in addition to being free of debris, the unit is standing on level ground.

If you follow this list and make sure to do the right tasks at the right times, your HVAC system should run well for a long time. The life expectancy of an HVAC system is about 10 to 25 years—and with preventative maintenance, you can expect yours to last closer to 25 than 10.

What about hiring an HVAC technician to come in?

Even though you can handle most of the standard HVAC maintenance tasks on your own, your heating and cooling system is rather complex, and some issues might not be apparent to you. In the same vein, there are more nuanced checks that need to be done occasionally, such as checking for the proper functioning of electric components and ductwork.

It’s a good idea to occasionally bring in a pro for HVAC maintenance. If your system is new you can probably get away with having someone come just once a year or every other year. For older systems, plan to have professional maintenance performed twice a year—in the spring and then again in the fall.

HVAC maintenance and repair costs

Your HVAC system isn’t going to cost you too much if you stay on top of preventative maintenance. Costs to budget for include high-efficiency air filters, which are about $20 apiece (you’ll need four per year), and a bottle of bleach for cleaning drain lines—about $5.

If you hire a technician to come in and perform maintenance, expect to spend about $70 to $100 per visit. Ask about any discounts that might be available. Some HVAC maintenance companies also offer annual contracts, where you pay a set fee to have someone come out once a year.