Homeowner HVAC Maintenance
There are many homeowner HVAC maintenance items that can be done by residents to keep their Omaha air conditioner or furnace running well. These include cleaning the home air registers, washing down the outdoor air conditioner coil, replacing the batteries in the thermostat, keeping the area around the outdoor air conditioner free from the growth of bushes and shrubs, during winter months keeping snow clear of any furnace combustion air PVC lines, flushing the condensate drain line for the indoor air conditioner coil and for the condensate drain in a high efficiency furnace, replacing humidifier pads, and of course, replacing the furnace air filter regularly.
As an established heating, ventilation, and air conditioning contractor serving greater Omaha and surrounding areas, Accurate Heating & Cooling can come out to provide professional HVAC service beyond the basic maintenance items described in this blog. Give us a call today and schedule a furnace or air conditioner clean and check. We normally perform the air conditioner clean and check in the spring and the furnace clean and check in the fall. We also service geothermal units, mini split units, as well as commercial roof top units.
Replace Furnace Air Filter as Primary Homeowner HVAC Maintenance
It goes without saying that among the most important maintenance items that the homeowner can do to keep their HVAC system running all year long is to check the air filter monthly and replace if necessary. Every year we go on service calls were a dirty air filter has prevented an Omaha furnace or air conditioner from running. If your air conditioner has frozen up, the first thing to check is the air filter.
Cleaning Air Registers
Homeowners can clean off the return air registers in the house to help ensure adequate air flow through the HVAC system. Dust buildup can accumulate on the grill fins of return air registers over time. It works well to either dust the registers, clean them with a wet or dry cleaning cloth, or vacuum the dust buildup.
The photo above shows a typical return air register installed in a home.
The photo above shows a close up of the grill fins where some dust has accumulated.
If not periodically cleaned, this dust buildup layer can get large enough to begin to obstruct air flow. Think of trying to drink a soda through a straw where the straw is against the bottom of the glass so that the flow path is restricted. Restricting the return air registers has the same effect as having a dirty air filter in the furnace. In either case, air flow through the unit is restricted and this can cause issues with either furnace operation in winter, or air conditioner operation in the summer.
If it is difficult to tell whether a register is a supply register or a return register, placing a sheet of paper in front of the register will help to distinguish which type of register it is. The return register will suck the sheet of paper to the register while the supply register will blow the sheet of paper away.
Supply registers normally do not accumulate a lot of dust buildup, but they are places that can have material dropped into. Pet food can fall into the supply register if a pet food dish is near a register. Young fingers can drop toys down into the register. Brooms can sweep material into the register. A shop vacuum can be used to remove material that accumulates inside the supply ducts.
The photo above is of a typical supply register. There is a lever that positions manual dampers that can direct air flow a certain direction, or can be used to shut off air flow from the register.
The photo above shows the supply air register being removed from the rectangular hole cut into the flooring. In most cases, the supply air register is not fastened to the duct work below the register.
The photo above shows some materials that have accumulated inside the duct below the supply air register. A shop vacuum can be used to remove this material.
The edges of the metal duct work can be sharp so it is best to use an extension on the end of the shop vacuum hose that allows one’s hand to be outside the duct work.
One of our trusted business partners is a home cleaning service called Grace Home Cleaning. They do amazing work and people we have recommended them to have been very happy with their service. They can help you with professional home cleaning work throughout the greater Omaha metropolitan area. Kevin from Grace Home Cleaning and Tony from Accurate Heating & Cooling put the video below together to speak to some of the things a homeowner can do to help maintain their HVAC system relating to home cleaning activities. Check out the video for more information. The website for Grace Home Cleaning is GraceHomeCleaning.com. Give them a call. You will be happy you did.
The interior parts of the home duct work can also accumulate debris deposits. The benefits to maintaining a clean ventilation duct system include fewer health and comfort complaints by home occupants, more effective HVAC system performance, reduced energy usage, and longer equipment life. Ventilation ducts can accumulate materials and contaminants over time and these duct spaces can become breeding grounds for bacteria, mold, mildew, and fungi because they are dark enclosed spaces with relatively constant temperature and humidity. Periodic duct cleaning may become necessary to ensure proper indoor air quality as well as maintaining proper air flow through the system. For home occupants with allergies or with respiratory difficulties, or other medical issues, as well as homes with a number of pets, it may be necessary to have more frequent duct cleaning performed. We refer our customers who are looking to have their ventilation ducts cleaned to Maxim Pro Cleaners at MaximProCleaners.com. While duct cleaning is generally outside of the homeowner HVAC maintenance items that most residents can accomplish, the folks at Maxim Pro Cleaners are happy to service the greater Omaha metropolitan area homes and we have had great customer feedback when we have referred them in the past.
Of course, replacing the furnace air filter periodically is essential to ensure that your HVAC system operates when you need it. For some good information on selecting the correct style of air filter in the home, refer to this blog.
Replace Thermostat Batteries
Another homeowner HVAC maintenance item that occupants can be proactive about with regard to their HVAC system maintenance is to replace the batteries in their thermostat. Older dial type mercury thermostats do not have batteries (although they do have mercury!). Some of the newer digital thermostats receive all the power they need from the low voltage wiring they are connected to. For the rest of the thermostats, most have batteries in them and they will drain over time. When a battery fails in a thermostat, it can prevent the HVAC system from operating. This means that neither the furnace nor the air conditioner will operate. Once a year it is a good idea to replace the battery in the thermostat. Or, a good way to remember the thermostat battery is to get into the habit of replacing the thermostat battery the same time that one replaces the batteries in their clocks during the time changes that happen twice per year. Most thermostats that have batteries will have a low battery symbol somewhere that indicates when the battery is getting low.
The photo above shows two AA batteries inside the back of a typical thermostat. Usually, one must pull the thermostat off of the base plate to find the batteries. The base plate is the flat plastic plate that is fastened to the wall. There are metal prongs that connect the thermostat terminals to the terminals on the base plate.
Replace Home Humidifier Pad
Another homeowner HVAC maintenance item that can be performed for homes that have humidifiers is to periodically look over the humidifier unit. The most common permanently installed humidifier for residential HVAC systems is referred to as a bypass humidifier that is mounted across the supply and return duct work down by the furnace. There is a small copper water line that supplies water to the humidifier. These water lines can develop drips or leaks where water drips onto the duct work, or the furnace, or the floor. Standing water is a source of biological growth and should be addressed as soon as it is found. The bypass humidifier has a pad inside that facilitates the humidification process. Humidifier filter pads are composed of multiple layers of tightly woven metallic mesh. Most designs of humidifier filter pads have a type of granular clay coating over the wire mesh. The clay coating helps to provide for optimal water absorption. Water from the water line is directed to the top of the humidifier filter pad and the water trickles down the wire mesh pad. The clay layer helps to slow down the trickling water so that the water is exposed to the warm air passing through the humidifier pad longer and thus is more likely to be taken up by the passing air and raising the humidity level of the air. For the majority of residential applications, changing these humidifier filter pads annually is recommended. Certain homes may develop biological growths that require more frequent humidifier filter pad replacement than annually, but this is rare. For most humidifier applications, we recommend replacing the humidifier filter pad annually, or possibly every two years, and we normally recommend having us replace the humidifier filter pad in the fall when we are out for a furnace clean and check. So if replacing the humidifier pad is something that you would like to not have to do as part of your homeowner HVAC maintenance items, then just give us a call at Accurate Heating & Cooling. The cost of the humidifier filter pad is separate from the cost of us performing the furnace clean and check. Homeowners can also obtain the filter pads from a local home store and change them out themselves.
The photo above shows a Trane humidifier installed on the return ducting. The 6 inch diameter round metal duct coming out of the side of the humidifier goes around to the furnace supply ducting. In this arrangement, heated air from the furnace supply duct passes over the humidifier pad and mixes with the other air in the return duct. This mixture of return air and humidified air then passes through the furnace and is heated.
The photo above shows the humidifier front cover removed with the installed humidifier pad showing. The granular clay coating can be seen covering the wire mesh filter pad media. This image also shows the manual damper located on the left hand side (in this photo) of the humidifier. The little black handle on the damper is currently positioned in the “Winter” position, which allows air flow over the humidifier filter pad. During summer months, when the furnace is off, the black plastic damper handle is repositioned to either of the “Summer” positions. When in the summer position, the damper is closed which prevents air flow across the humidifier pad. We normally want to be DE-humidifying in the summer as outdoor air relative humidity levels are higher than what is comfortable.
The filter above shows a replacement humidifier filter pad. The pad shown is new and the granular clay coating covering the wire mesh filter pad media can be clearly seen.
Flush Condensate Drain on Evaporator and High Efficiency Furnace
Another homeowner HVAC maintenance item that individuals can tackle that is also down by the furnace is to flush the condensate drain line. For most furnace installations, the air conditioner indoor refrigerant coil is usually located above the furnace. There is a drain pan below the refrigerant coil that collects any moisture that condenses out of the air that passes over the refrigerant coil when the air conditioner is operating. This water from the refrigerant coil pan is drained through tubing or piping to a floor drain or some other drain path. On occasion, this condensate drain line may plug up with debris and prevent the condensed water from draining. This will result in the water building up in the evaporator pan and then overflowing down into the furnace. As there are mechanical and electrical components within the furnace that are susceptible to damage from water intrusion, it is important that this condensate drain line be kept clear to allow free flow of water. Dust and lint particle from the air can accumulate on a moist refrigerant coil and then drip down into the evaporator pan. The dust and lint particles then accumulate over time into a muck that may pose a clog hazard to the drain tubing or piping. It is also possible for biological growth to build up in this moist environment leading to a greater possibility for plugging the drain line. Occasional monitoring of this drain line is helpful as is performing an annual flush of this line. Once per year, pour a capful of bleach into the drain line to kill any biological growth and then follow the bleach with a glass of warm water to flush the line.
The photo above shows a capful of bleach being poured into the condensate drain tubing coming out of an indoor refrigerant coil case. Follow the bleach with a glass of warm water to flush the drain line.
Clean outdoor Air Conditioner Coil is Important Homeowner HVAC Maintenance
Another homeowner HVAC maintenance item is to keep the outdoor air conditioner condensing unit coil clean. The condenser fan on the outdoor unit pulls air across the outdoor refrigerant coil, across the compressor, and then out the top of the outdoor unit. There are small air passages around fins in the coil and these small air passages can be plugged by dust and debris in the air. Cottonwood seeds in particular can form a dense matte of debris that prevents air flow across the condenser coil. If the air flow is restricted enough, the air conditioner will shut down and the compressor may draw enough current trying to stay running when it is working so hard with a plugged condenser that the main breaker in the electrical panel may trip. Keeping this outdoor coil clean is an important part of the maintenance that must be performed on an air conditioner. We clean the outdoor air conditioner condensing coil as part of our a/c system clean & check though, so if you have the clean and check performed by Accurate Heating & Cooling, we will do this for you.
The photo above is of one of the sides of the outdoor condenser of a residential air conditioner. The black foam insulation on the lower left of the photo is insulation that covers the refrigerant lines connecting the indoor evaporator coil with the outdoor condensing unit. The louvered panel is a metal cover that is installed over the portion of the condenser coil on this side of the air conditioner. The louvers allow air flow to pass into the unit while providing physical protection of the coil. This cover protects the coil from hail or footballs or pets or people or tree limbs that might damage the coil.
The photo above is a close up of the louvers. The actual coil can be seen through the louvers. The coil consists of metal tubing that is connected by metal fins. The fins increase the surface area of the condenser to help to maximize heat transfer to the passing air. The photo shows a clean coil. The metal tubing and fins are clearly visible in the photo. This is a clean coil and provides optimum air flow and optimum heat transfer.
The photo above is of a dirty coil. Looking through the louvers, one sees a matte of dense material that has accumulated on the condenser coil. The layer of material is so thick that air flow is restricted across the coil. This restricted air flow prevents the air conditioner from operating correctly. If the unit even runs, it may cycle on and off and may be very noisy. It may not be putting out cold air through the supply vents in the house. A coil this dirty will likely not run. It will likely try to run but pull a high enough amp draw that the main circuit breakers in the breaker panel will trip. Then the air conditioner will not run.
The photo above is a different angle of a plugged condenser.
The photo above is of a different model of air conditioner condensing unit that is also very dirty.
The outdoor condensing unit coil can be washed down with water from a garden hose. We recommend using a straight stream nozzle on MEDIUM water pressure. High water pressure can bend over the fins on the coil. Bent fins can and should be straightened using a fin comb. Bent fins from a hail storm, for example, can be straightened. It will be a tedious time consuming process, but it can be done. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the outdoor coil by directing water from the inside of the unit out the coil. This is difficult for the average homeowner to do and we would recommend a homeowner clean the outdoor unit coil by spraying down the coil from the outside of the coil. It the coil is washed carefully and thoroughly in this manner, the coil will be adequately cleaned.
For most homes, the outdoor coil can be cleaned annually in spring before the air conditioner is started for the first time. In dusty areas like where construction activities are underway nearby, or in more rural areas, or when there is a lot of cottonwood in the area, more frequent condenser cleaning is warranted. It may be necessary to clean the outdoor coil three times over the cooling season or more.
While we are on the topic of the outdoor unit. It is important to also keep shrubs and brush at least a foot away from the outdoor condensing unit. This is important to ensure adequate air flow through the condenser. It is also recommended to keep a barrier up where pets are kept in the part of the yard with the condensing unit. A fence enclosure should also be kept at least a foot away from the unit to provide adequate air flow.
The photo above is of an outdoor condensing unit that we replaced that was damaged from pets. The unit had been operating for many years and was near the end of its life, which was why it was replaced. The damage from the animals did not help the unit any. The urea from dogs or other animals can corrode the metal fins from the condensing unit. Obviously, repairing damage to units caused by animals is not on the list of homeowner HVAC maintenance items, so give us a call and we can help with some options.
Keep High Efficiency Furnace Combustion PVC Piping Clear of Snow
One final homeowner HVAC maintenance item that people can help with is for high efficiency furnaces. These high efficiency furnaces use PVC combustion air piping that often terminates out the back or side of the house near ground level. During snow season, it is essential that these PVC combustion lines are free from snow buildup. The need to be dug out if snow begins to cover the PVC lines. The furnace will not operate if the combustion lines are blocked.
The photo above is of the PVC combustion lines for a high efficiency furnace. The snow level is high enough to obstruct the lines. The snow must be dug out to allow the lines to freely pass supply and exhaust air.
Periodic Professional HVAC Service and Maintenance Beyond Homeowner Items
Even for residents who perform their own homeowner HVAC maintenance on their equipment, it is a good idea to have the professional technicians at Accurate Heating & Cooling out to perform periodic maintenance on the equipment. There are tests that we can perform on components to gauge the health of the component and we can identify when a part is beginning to fail so that it can be replaced before a more expensive breakdown happens. Plus, these costly breakdowns often happen on the hottest day of summer or on the coldest day of winter. That is the worst time for the home owner to have a breakdown and it is the worst time for us as well as we will likely already have a backlog of no heat calls or no cool calls on our schedule when your HVAC system decides to fail. Scheduling routine maintenance lets us catch a part when it is starting to go bad and we can also have local parts warehouses open during this time in case a part fails that we don’t have on our trucks.
Please continue to perform homeowner HVAC maintenance on your equipment and then give us a call for all your residential and light commercial HVAC service and replacement needs. And when your older HVAC system begins to wear out, count on the professionals at Accurate Heating & Cooling to replace your older, less efficient unit with a new furnace or air conditioner from our flagship Trane line of HVAC equipment. We also offer a second line of furnace and air conditioners manufactured by Armstrong. The Armstrong brand will also provide many years of reliable performance. For more information on the benefits of upgrading to a new higher efficiency Armstrong air conditioner, refer to this blog.