As the weather finally begins warm up in eastern Pennsylvania, we find ourselves in that wonderful time of year between shutting off the heat and turning on the air conditioning. Spring cleaning shouldn’t just be about getting rid of clutter and cleaning out the cobwebs; it’s also time to think about routine home maintenance.
Bi-annual maintenance and checkups are important to extending the lifespan of your heating and air conditioning units, ensuring that they run efficiently and decreasing heating and cooling costs. But there are other things that homeowners can do to prepare an HVAC system for the coming months.
Before turning on the air conditioning for the season, use this spring cleaning checklist to prepare your HVAC system for the summer heat. This checklist is for homeowners and outlines steps that you should be able to handle on your own to help your system run well and last longer.
Shut Down the Furnace Properly
As you prepare to turn off your furnace for the season, without touching the electrical parts, inspect the unit for connections that look loose, warning lights or unusual noises. Check that the pilot light (if your unit has one); it should burn steadily and have a blue color. If, for any reason, the furnace doesn’t seem to be running normally, mention it to your HVAC technician at the next maintenance appointment.
Change the Filter
As a general rule of thumb, the changing season signifies that it’s time to change your HVAC filter. Routinely cleaning and changing filters – at least every 90 days – will help keep the air conditioning working well. Replacing a dirty HVAC filter can make the unit up to 5% more energy efficient. For pet owners and allergy sufferers, filters can be changed out more frequently, even monthly, to improve air quality.
How to Find the Right HVAC Filter
Most replacement filters can be found at a local hardware store. Write down the model number of and size of your current filter before you go so you’ll be sure to buy the right kind. For a good quality filter which traps more airborne particles, choose one with a MERV rating of 7 or higher.
Upgrade the Filter
Our HVAC maintenance advice is to go beyond replacing the filter. Consider upgrading the filter as well. Homeowners can improve air quality and system performance with a new, high-efficiency pleated filter. A step up from the standard filter, these have an electrostatic charge to attract particles of dust and bacteria and trap them inside the filter.
Get more information about the Advantages of Washable Furnace Filters.
Check for Air Leaks
Even if your HVAC system is well maintained, it will be a constant struggle to cool a home that is not well sealed. As you work on spring upkeep jobs around your house, keep an eye out for places where air can leak out. Check the weather stripping around the windows, door jambs and the seals around the doors. If you see signs of cracked, detaching or warped weather stripping and seals, it’s probably time to replace them. Making sure that the envelope of the home is sealed tightly will help eliminate irregular temperatures in the various zones. Plus, this will decrease the workload and allow your HVAC unit to work more easily and efficiently in both the summer and winter.
Open the Windows
Believe it or not, but the air quality in your home can actually decrease during the winter. The lack of fresh air circulating can increase the level of allergens and contribute to mold growth. Thankfully there is a quick fix for this problem. Simply open your windows and sliding doors to allow fresh air to flow throughout your home, naturally ventilating all the living spaces.
Turn on Fans
It may not sound like an important piece of advice, but spring and fall are the best seasons for enjoying fresh air and naturally pleasant temperatures. These are also the two times during the year when you can effectively save on utility costs.
Stretch out this period of energy savings – between turning off the furnace and turning on the air conditioning – by closing the window shades and curtains before leaving the house. This will decrease the amount of sun that enters and warms the interior during the day. Ceiling and box fans can also help maintain comfort levels and contain energy costs, but remember to turn them off when you leave as they cool people, not rooms. Use ceiling fans during the spring to help circulate fresh air and improve air quality before turning on the air conditioning for the summer.
Spring is a good time to clean supply vents and intake grills. Check that every register around the house is open and that air can pass freely. Furniture, rugs and curtains shouldn’t block the output from the air conditioner. To wash the grills, first remove them from the vents, then vacuum to remove dust and pet hair that may have accumulated over the winter and, finally, wash them with warm water and mild soap.
Dust off Electronics & Lights
Dust prevents electronics and other electrical devices from running efficiently. This is also a great time to clean any bathroom fans to clean buildup from the blades.
Inspect the Ducts
Look the main duct work over to make sure that there are no visible problems. For optimal indoor air quality, now is the time to schedule professional duct cleaning. Before turning on the A/C, it’s good to free ducts of dust and allergens that have built up during the winter. We recommend a good cleaning every five to seven years.
Adjust the Thermostat
If you don’t already have a programmable thermostat, we advise getting set up with one before the summer heat arrives. It’s great for energy savings and keeping the HVAC unit running less when cooling is not required. It’s easy to program the thermostat to ensure your house is a comfortable temperature when you get home.
Now is a good time to replace the batteries on your thermostat and smoke alarm as well.
Visual Inspection of the Outdoor HVAC Unit
You will also want to make sure that the outdoor unit is level and on a stable surface to ensure top performance when the summer heat hits. Visually check the condenser for signs that it has been damaged during the winter, as well. If something looks unusual, give your HVAC tech a call. A damaged condenser could be a serious problem when it comes time to turn on the air conditioning.
Check the Drainage Pipe
When you replace the filter, also check the condensate drain. This looks like a plastic or metal tray which serves to collect the moisture produced by the air conditioning coil. It’s important that the water collected here drains adequately because overflow could potentially damage the HVAC unit or your home. Make sure the hose connecting the tray to the drain is still in the right position and not leaking.
In addition to cooling the air in the home, an HVAC unit is also responsible for de-humidifying the air. As it removes the excess moisture from the air, the unit needs a way to get rid of the condensed water. This is where the drainage pipe comes into play. If it is clogged or draining poorly, it could cause standing water or a leak in the house. So, you want to make sure that the condensation drain line is clear and that water can be syphoned outside.
Clear Around the Outdoor Unit
During the winter, leaves, dirt and other debris have likely built up around the HVAC unit. Spring cleaning should include clearing away leaves, soil and mulch then cutting back any plants or bushes growing nearby. It should have 1-2 feet of clearance all the way around to maximize airflow and optimize the system’s performance.
Be sure to turn the power off, then clean the air conditioner fins by carefully vacuuming the outside of the unit with the brush attachment.
As you’re washing the unit, take note of the condition of the external panels. If any of them looks damaged or misaligned, you’ll want to mention this to your HVAC technician. You should also check the condition of the foam insulation around the refrigerant line running from the unit to the house. If it’s damaged or missing in places, it could be easily repaired before starting the system up for the summer.
Vacuum Refrigerator Coils
Dust builds up on refrigerator coils, causing the motor to work harder and consume more energy. Cleaning this once a year helps the appliance operate more efficiently.
Wash Solar Panels
If you have solar panels on your house, washing them at least once a year will help boost their productivity.
Test the Air Conditioning System
Once you have gone through all the items on the spring cleaning checklist, go ahead and turn on your HVAC system. Confirm that the air conditioning works and that cool air circulates throughout the house after it has been running for a few minutes.
If the air conditioning doesn’t seem to cool adequately, check that the thermostat is set to the right temperature and programmed correctly. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, turn the system off at the thermostat and call your HVAC service provider. It may be time to have your system tuned up or have the coolant replaced.
Schedule a Tune-up
So many people make the mistake of waiting until they really need their HVAC unit working to schedule tune ups, repairs and replacements. Why risk it? Spare yourself the headache and hassle; schedule furnace maintenance – cleaning, lubrication and component check – now. Caring for your furnace now will guarantee that it’s ready for next winter, before it gets cold, and that it will work well for years to come.
Similarly, you should consider getting the air conditioning unit serviced before the summer heat is upon us. It’s better for your unit, and less expensive in the long run, to maintain the parts in good working condition and have problems fixed before they become serious. Regular maintenance helps the system to run at peak efficiency by clearing air conditioning coils of dust and dirt, cleaning the filters and condensate drain, refilling the refrigerant that has been consumed and checking the condition of the safety devices, wiring, blower motor, coils, fan blades. With regular servicing, the life of a central air unit should reach 15 to 20 years.
With the summer months on the horizon, now is also a great time to talk with your technician about testing the seal on your air ducts and the possibility of installing a smart thermostat to keep your home comfortable and your utility bills low.
Spring is the best time to schedule a professional duct cleaning and HVAC system tune-up. It’s key that your air conditioner gets inspected and calibrated at the beginning of the season. Regular maintenance will keep it running well for years to come. Similarly, duct cleaning helps your system run efficiently and ensure that the output is simply clean, cool air.
When to Call a Professional
While going through this spring cleaning checklist, if you see anything that looks unusual about your HVAC unit or it doesn’t seem to be working as well as it did last year, that’s also a good reason to get some professional help.
To get an appointment for seasonal maintenance service by a certified technician, call AQM today or request an estimate online for repairs and unit replacement. We offer electrical, HVAC and generator servicing, installation and replacement for residential and commercial buildings in southeastern Pennsylvania – throughout Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.