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HVAC Cleaning and Maintenance: Tips and Reminders for DIY Success
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HVAC Cleaning and Maintenance: Tips and Reminders for DIY Success

HVAC Cleaning and Maintenance: Tips and Reminders for DIY Success

HVAC Cleaning and Maintenance: Tips and Reminders for DIY Success

You like a clean home. That’s why on your seasonal checklist, cleaning the HVAC system makes an appearance every few years. And that regular maintenance will go far to keep things in good working order, staving off major breakdowns and repairs. But from time to time this expense just isn’t in the budget and you’re faced with handling the task yourself. At Fred’s Home Services we understand that life can get in the way of your best plans. So if you find yourself with an HVAC system in need of some tidying up, but without the funds to hire out, don’t worry––we’re giving you our best tips on how to handle this job in-house.

Check and Replace Air Filters

Arguably one of the most important–and easily replaced–pieces of your heating and cooling system is the air filter. Regardless of how spotless the ductwork is, if the filter is clogged with dust and debris, the system won’t operate to its full potential. Thankfully this task is an easy one. Set a quick reminder in a smart device or make a note on the calendar to check the air filters monthly. Every 30 days is a good rule of thumb if you’re using the typically less-expensive, thin fiberglass filters. Upgrading to the pleated versions could buy you a few extra months before replacing, but monthly checks are still a good practice. You’ll be there to notice anything unusual that could signal potential problems with your system.

In winter months, when we’re trapped indoors and illness and dust are rampant, changing filters is more important than ever. And if you have a family member who suffers from asthma, allergies, or is very young or aged, keeping filters fresh is a good move. If you commonly leave windows open or have pets, only clean filters can help to clear the air of potential allergens and keep the indoor environment clean. Fresh filters are also a first line of defense against debris entering ductwork and causing problems further down the line. Larger objects, like bits of loose insulation, could cause damage or become a fire risk. Clogged air filters are a top contributor to HVAC system failure, so it’s vital to keep them clean.

Keep Free of Debris

From cooling in the summer to heating during winter, your HVAC system could be in constant, year-round operation. Maintaining its best condition depends not just on indoor care, but also on a regular inspection of the outdoor area around the condenser unit. Depending on location and wind patterns, fallen leaves, twigs, pollen and dirt could easily collect on and around the unit and choke out a clean air feed. This could impair the unit’s efficiency or even cause damage.

A quick, simple fix is to make cleaning around the condenser a weekly task. If it’s in a convenient area, giving it a quick glance anytime you walk by will help you to spot problems before they arise. And every few months or so giving the unit a deep clean could shed light on work that may need to be done. While you’re at it, be sure to set up a two- or three-foot perimeter around the unit that is free of landscaping. You’ll make it easier to access and check for issues, but you’ll also ensure that plants aren’t growing too close and blocking air intake and exhaust pipes. If leaves tend to gather on top of the unit, a thin, netting-like cloth can be used to prevent leaves from clogging the blower.

Oftentimes homeowners try to hide unsightly HVAC equipment behind shrubs or tall grasses, but these can quickly encroach and make it difficult to work around the unit. So if you’re not keen on seeing that industrial-looking metal box, consider putting up a small fence a few feet away from the unit. Not only will you block the unit from view but you’ll also prevent accumulation of garden debris and ensure there’s enough air flow around the unit.

Clean Registers and Vents

In your regular cleaning routine you might notice a slightly fuzzy coating on the outer surface of registers or vent covers. While you’re taking care of cleaning those, remember that the exterior is a manifestation of what’s going on inside. Now is a good time to work on the interior of those vents too. If you’re going to tackle vent cleaning yourself, there are a few supplies you’ll need:

Vacuum: a household vacuum with attachments and a detachable hose will work, but a heavy-duty model is best.
Brush: something the size and shape of a toilet brush works best, but any paintbrush with stiff bristles will do the job
Screwdriver: you’ll need to find the fasteners that hold registers in place and use the corresponding tool to remove them––typically, you’ll need either a screwdriver or allen wrench.
Cleaning Cloths: use these to block air flow to vents that still need to be cleaned––they will help to keep dust down
Furnace Filter: coincide changing your filter with cleaning vents––the new filter will catch any dust you’ve missed

Once your supplies are gathered, you’ll want to cover supply registers and turn off the heat while leaving the fan run. After cleaning supply and return registers turn the system’s power off to open and clean inside vents. Once you’re done, replace the system’s filter, turn the power on, and know that your home is all the cleaner for your efforts.

Use a Humidifier Seasonally

During winter months, when dry heat is being blown through your home, a humidifier is a must-have. Air that retains a relative humidity around 40% will keep you feeling warmer at slightly lower temperatures, saving on heating costs. Moisture in the air will also keep your skin, hair, and body more comfortable during the onslaught of winter. But once summer comes back around, air outside and in the home is naturally more humid. In fact, it can become oppressive. Turning off your system’s humidifier will give it a break for the season, give you a chance to thoroughly inspect and clean the unit, and will also enable your cooling system to work more efficiently. Air conditioning works to dehumidify the air, so if your system is simultaneously adding water while trying to remove it, energy is wasted, the system could become overworked, and costs could increase.

When it comes to humidifiers, systems vary, so first you’ll need to know if you’re dealing with a steam, fan-powered, or bypass model. They go by various names, and of course at Fred’s Home Services we can help you to determine which type your system uses. The big thing to consider here is that shutting down your humidifier for the season isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

Generally, water accumulates and sits in a humidifier, waiting for dispersal. Leaving that water in place after shutting the unit off can result in mold, algae, fungus, or any number of undesirable growths. You won’t want that to eventually cycle through your HVAC system, so turning off the humidifier’s water supply is key. If your unit has a bypass duct damper, you’ll want to turn this off too. Now is also a great time to give any removable parts a thorough cleansing and clean or replace existing water trays or filters.

Pair Fans with HVAC

Air flow is key to keeping indoor temperatures comfortable year-round. In winter months, warmer air gathers near the ceiling, and your living space could be left feeling cooler. After you’ve made sure that the rotation is clockwise, run ceiling fans at the lowest speed to gently distribute warm air more efficiently. This is especially helpful if your home develops hot or cool spots, which could point to an entirely separate issue that needs to be addressed.

In hot summer months, using a ceiling fan might allow you to keep the thermostat set up to four degrees higher than usual. After making sure that the fan blades are turning counter-clockwise, use whatever setting feels most comfortable. Pairing fans with air-conditioning will create an indoor windchill which will help you to feel cooler, even at slightly higher temperatures. Since fans are less expensive to run than your HVAC unit, this is a cost effective way to keep cool.

Be Aware and Observant

Like your household appliances, every HVAC system makes sounds that are just part of its typical functioning. Most homeowners tune out the hum of the motor or fan engagement. But it is important to keep an ear out for unusual sounds, as these are often an indicator of internal problems. Whether a part is loose, clogged, or just wearing out, there are some definite noises to take note of. Let’s run through some of the types of sounds you could hear, and what they might mean:

Thumping: could be an unbalanced blower wheel or motor
Whistling: possible refrigerant leak or excessive internal pressure
Slapping: likely something is stuck or lodged in the blower blades
Clicking: normal on startup/shutdown but if noticed near a control panel or compressor this could indicate a defective electrical relay
Rattling: inside this could be debris, a loose blower or other system component; outside this could mean loose hardware but might point to a failing motor
Hissing: likely leaking ducts, possibly an incorrect filter
Popping: normal as metal heats and expands, insulation can limit noise
Squealing: could be a lack of lubricant, a loose fan belt, or motor bearing problem
Buzzing: likely indicates excessive vibration which could point to loose parts or a faltering motor
Rumbling: most often stems from buildup on burners
Scraping: could be a loose or broken blower wheel or broken motor mount
Humming: normal during operation but if consistently loud this could indicate a loud transformer, bad interior fan or capacitor, loose parts or wiring, circuit breaker overload, or condenser fan motor failure

These could be fluke, one-time sounds. But if you notice a regular pattern, it’s time to locate the source of the sound. After some investigation and assessment you could tackle the repair or you might decide to call in a professional.

When to Call a Professional

If you’re just in need of a general system cleaning, this is certainly a job you could tackle using the above tips and pointers. But if your schedule just doesn’t allow for it, calling in a professional is a guaranteed way to get the results you’re looking for in less time and with very little inconvenience.

But as you know, your home’s HVAC system has numerous moving parts and plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. Since the unit is usually being used continuously throughout the year, it’s a given that parts will need to be replaced, tightened, or otherwise maintained. If you feel confident to do the work you’ll of course be saving yourself the expense of calling a professional. But if a job is overwhelming or you aren’t sure of success, it’s best to let an expert handle the repair. Lack of knowledge could mean that more harm is done just by disassembling or attempting a repair. You could end up paying more in the long run if a pro has to undo improperly done work on top of fixing the problem.

Another consideration is that many HVAC manufacturers require annual preventive maintenance as part of their warranty terms. If that’s the case for your model, a yearly checkup will keep big problems at bay and clue you in to any possible future issues. This is really the best way to stay on top of your HVAC unit’s overall functioning. If you do plan to have preventive maintenance done we’d suggest the more temperate times of year––during spring and/or fall––when the system isn’t in full use and when technicians aren’t in higher-than-usual demand.

Partner with a Pro: Choose Fred’s Home Services

At Fred's Home Services we strive for honesty, integrity, and excellence in everything we do. We have been servicing the greater Cleveland area since 1982 and for over 30 years we have provided expert, comprehensive heating and cooling services. Our experienced and knowledgeable technicians are EPA-certified and pride themselves on maintaining your HVAC system to its highest efficiency. We also strive to be environmentally conscious and educate clients on home energy management.

So if you’re in need of HVAC maintenance or repair, please get in touch to schedule an appointment with one of our expert technicians. And consider joining our email list for seasonal tips and reminders. We look forward to meeting and serving you!