HVAC units are a “set it and forget it” luxury for most people until something happens that requires a professional. Many of these issues can be avoided with regular maintenance, and fortunately, these projects are easy to do yourself.
As a homeowner, it is common to schedule annual appointments with an HVAC technician who will inspect your system and make sure it operates at peak performance. Between these visits, you can do a quick run-through yourself and help keep everything working smoothly.
DIY HVAC Inspection
If you want to save on HVAC inspection costs or learn more about the intricacies of your home, you can conduct an HVAC inspection yourself. It’s a straightforward process, and with the right tools, it should only take a few hours.
This is your starting point, as it is the brains of the whole operation. It is also the most accessible component to inspect and should be a relatively quick procedure.
Batteries and Heating/Cooling
If your thermostat is battery-powered, now is the time to check on its charge. Typically, these batteries can last up to two years, so replace or recharge if it is nearing that time.
Although you would notice if there was no heat in the winter and no cooling in the summer since you are doing an inspection, test these functions to make sure that they work. Each setting should come on quickly, and if there is a long delay, this should be mentioned to your HVAC professional, as it could signify an issue.
Most residential HVAC systems are a “split system,” which means that some of your components are indoors, and some are outdoors. For example, the HVAC systems compressor will be located outdoors, next to the house. It is a large, square machine sitting on a concrete slab.
Before any work is done, turn off the power to the indoor and outdoor unit using the on/off switch or the breaker.
Cleaning the Compressor
With outdoor compressors, debris such as dirt, dust, and leaves can build up around them and get into the grates. It can also clog the drainage and reduce airflow, which will impact the performance of your HVAC system. You want to give your compression two to three feet of clearance on all sides, so remove any debris and clean up the area.
After you have finished cleaning the perimeter, you can remove the fan cage. This will allow you to clean inside the machine using a shop vac. Vacuum up any dirt and debris, then move on to cleaning the fins.
Clearing the Fins
The fins of the compressor are located on the side and look like a metal grate with vertical slots. These provide airflow and move heat away from the HVAC system. If they are dirty, clogged with debris, or bent out of shape, this will reduce the airflow and the system efficiency.
Using a hose and sprayer can clean the machine from the inside, blowing any grime outwards. If the fins are bent, you can use a fin comb to straighten them out. If you do not feel comfortable with this step, you can ask your HVAC tech to straighten out the fins for you on their next inspection, as they will have the correct tools.
Leveling the Unit
Because the concrete slab will be sitting on the ground, it can shift and move over time. If your compressor is not level, this can disrupt the refrigerant and oil that moves through the system, leading to some costly repairs. Use a level to check that your machine is sitting flat, and if minor adjustments need to be made, use rot-resistant shims.
Inside your home are the furnace and evaporator, though you will not have a separate furnace component if you have a heat pump. These are located in your attic, basement, or utility closet.
Before you do any inspecting, you must turn off the power and the AC.
Cleaning the Evaporator Coil
The evaporator coil uses refrigerant to remove heat from the air before it circulates throughout your home. The evaporative coil is in the access panel of the air handler unit, and you will need to remove the screws and panel to access it.
Once exposed, check to see if it is dirty. A dirty coil can become clogged or frozen, and it is essential to clean it to prevent this from happening. You will need to use a special cleaner made for cleaning coils, and it is recommended to go with a no-rinse foam cleaner that you spray on and leave.
Cleaning the Evaporator Drain
During hot days, the evaporator coil can produce a large amount of water, up to gallons per day during peak summer use. Check that the drain is free of dirt and debris, using a shop vac to clean the area if needed. When finished, reattach the access panel.
The final touches to your DIY HVAC home inspection are to replace the air filters. Regularly changing these filters is the single best thing you can do for the air quality of your home and its efficiency. These can become clogged with dust and air pollutants, restricting the airflow and their ability to filter.
HVAC filters should be changed every three months, depending on the type, but changing these monthly can make a difference if you have pets or severe allergies. There are many types of filters with different ratings, from HEPA filters to the more common MERV-rated filters.
What is a MERV Rating?
MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values and signifies the filter’s ability to capture particles between .3 and 10 microns. Many HVAC systems use MERV filters, and for residential properties, the standard rating is MERV 6 or MERV 8. For comparison, hospitals often use a MERV 14 to MERV 18, but this will significantly reduce airflow in a typical residential HVAC system.
Now that your DIY HVAC inspection is complete, you can rest assured that your system is running efficiently!