The DIY Guide to HVAC Cleaning and Maintenance | 10 Quick & Easy Tips

70% of residential HVAC systems are performing below standard.[1] It’s often ignored even though the heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system is one of the most important components of your home’s ecosystem. The HVAC system helps keep you comfortable by circulating air throughout your home and filtering out allergens in the air. The HVAC system is what also allows us to maintain enjoyable indoor temperatures separate from the outside environment.

Many homeowners aren’t even aware their HVAC system is running inefficiently until it completely stops working or causes an increase in the energy bill. At this point, many homeowners will then contact their local HVAC company where they’ll be recommended to buy a new replacement system. This reactive approach to servicing your home’s HVAC system is more expensive and often times avoidable. HVAC systems typically don’t break overnight, instead, they slowly become inefficient over time with a series of small malfunctions throughout the system.

At Minnick’s, we pride ourselves on helping homeowners discover and fix these malfunctions before they can grow into more expensive problems. In fact, we’ve had the opportunity to help over 100,000 homeowners improve and maintain the performance of their HVAC systems.

Yes, some jobs did require us to recommend installing a new HVAC unit. But because of the sheer volume of homes we’ve serviced and our strong relationships with HVAC manufacturers from all around the world, we have deep knowledge on how to best maximize the efficiency and lifespan of HVAC systems.

Now we will share this information with you in hopes that you’ll never end up discovering that your HVAC unit doesn’t work when it’s already too late.

Be Proactive With Maintenance Inspections

Typically, the average lifetime of heat pumps and air conditioning units is 15 years, while the average lifetime of furnaces and boilers is 20 years. Unless you’re consistently ordering repairs, a replacement may not be needed if you’re HVAC unit is still early in its lifecycle.

We recommend performing maintenance inspections of your HVAC equipment at least two to three times a year. The more proactive you are, the better your chances of discovering and correcting malfunctions before they can cause system breakdowns or energy spikes. It’s been shown that preventative maintenance inspections can lead to improved efficiency, an extended HVAC system life cycle, and energy cost savings of up to 40%!

The good news is that not all maintenance inspections require a technician to come out to your home. There are plenty of things you can do yourself right now that are considered preventative maintenance for your HVAC unit.

10 Tips For a DIY HVAC Inspection

As a homeowner, you’re probably used to scheduling two bi-annual appointments to allow an HVAC technician to come out and inspect your home’s HVAC system. In between those two appointment times, it’s possible for malfunctions to arise that can decrease the efficiency within your HVAC system. In this article, we will share a few areas of your home’s HVAC system that you can perform your very own basic inspection to help keep your system operational year-round.

DIY HVAC Inspection Infographic

Thermostat

The thermostat should be the starting point for your DIY HVAC inspection. Like our brains, the thermostat is the central control point for many of your HVAC system functions. While extremely important, you’ll find the thermostat is one of the easiest components to inspect and maintain.

1.    Check the Battery

If your thermostat is battery-powered, the first thing you should look at is the battery life. Thermostat batteries can last up to 2 years depending on usage and device model. If the battery is low, you need to change it now. You don’t want it to stop working in the middle of unfavorable temperatures.

2.    Clean Dust and Debris

This may seem minor, but you should clean any dust and debris from your thermostat. Usually, a q-tip, small brush, or canned air are great to get the job done. You’d be surprised at the damage dust and debris can cause.

Bonus Tip: If your thermostat has a touch-screen, clean it only with products made for cleaning touch-screen devices.

3.    Test Heating and Cooling

Most homeowners test their heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. We recommend for your DIY inspection that you test both the heating and cooling functions of the thermostat to ensure they are working correctly. You want to be sure that your system is able to keep your home comfortable in all seasons.

Bonus Tip: Pay attention to if there is a delay in your heat or cooling turning on, this could be an indication of a larger problem.

Outdoor Unit

Most HVAC units are a “split system.” This just means some of your components are indoors, and some are outdoors. For the next step in our DIY HVAC inspection, you’ll be heading outside to make sure that your outdoor unit’s compressor and blower are in good condition. The outside unit can usually be found behind or to the side of the house on a small concrete slab.

Bonus Tip: Before cleaning the outdoor unit, we highly suggest turning off the power to the indoor unit and turn off the outdoor unit via its on/off switch.

4.    Clear Debris

Debris such as dirt, leaves, and twigs will build up in your outdoor unit over time and can eventually damage its internal components. Debris build-up can also clog your drainage and reduce airflow to the unit.

To begin cleaning the unit;

  1. Remove any debris in the fan cage
  2. Sweep around the unit
  3. Trim back tree-limbs that hang over the equipment.

Bonus Tip: Best practice is to provide two to three feet of clearance on each side of the unit. Once the area around the unit is clean, if you want to go a step further you can remove the fan cage with a wrench and a screwdriver. This will allow you to clear dirt, grass, and leaves from the inside of the unit. We recommend using a shop vac for this step.

5. Clear Fins

The fins of your outdoor unit are located on the side of the machine and look like a metal grill. The purpose of the fins is to provide airflow and move heat away from the system. If the fins are dirty, clogged, or bent, this will block airflow and cause a decrease in system efficiency.

If you’ve been following our steps, the unit should now be opened at this point. Now you can use a hose and sprayer to clean the fins from the inside. We recommend you use a fin spray for this step. You can find fin spray at many home improvement and hardware stores.

If the fins are bent, you will need to try and get them straightened out. You can do this by using a fin comb. Just make sure you have the right size for your unit (measured in fins per inch).

This is a more involved step, so you may prefer asking your HVAC technician to straighten the fins next time they come out for service. Most HVAC technicians readily have the tools for this

6. Make sure Unit is Leveled

Over time the concrete slab that your outdoor unit is on can shift. If your outdoor compressor is not level, this can disrupt the flow of refrigerant and oil through the system. This could lead to some costly repairs if not leveled out at some point.

If the unit is not level, you can possibly correct this by using a few rot-resistant shims. If this doesn’t work, it’ll be best to call your favorite HVAC company.

Finishing Up

Now that you’ve made sure the unit is leveled, the fins are clean, and debris is removed from the inside and out, you can now put the fan cage back on. You can still leave the power off until you’ve completed the full DIY inspection.

Indoor Unit

Your indoor unit consists of a furnace and an evaporator. Usually, these elements will be located in your attic, basement, or utility closet. The power and AC should still be turned off for the following steps. If you have a heat pump, you will not have a separate furnace component.

7. Clean Evaporator Coil

The job of the evaporator coil is to use refrigerant to remove heat from the air before circulating it through your home. This removed heat is transferred to the outdoor unit.

You can find the evaporator coils in the access panel on the air handler unit. You’ll need a socket wrench to remove the screws and panel. With the evaporator coil exposed, you can check to see if it is dirty. If it is covered with dirt and mold, it will quickly become clogged or frozen during the peak summer temperatures. Cleaning your coil now can prevent an expensive repair later in time.

It’s important that you use a spray cleaner made especially for cleaning coils. We recommend using a no-rinse foam cleaner, you can spray the evaporator coil and wait for it to liquefy and rinse itself.

8. Clear Evaporator Drain

In hot weather, the evaporator coil will produce a significant amount of liquid. When the temperature is exceptionally high, it could create multiple gallons of water each day! Naturally, proper drainage is essential to avoiding system failures during the summer.

You’ll want to make sure that the evaporator drain is free of dirt, mold, and debris. You can use a shop vac again to clear the drain. There are also specialty products designed to clear evaporator drain blockages.

Now that you’re done with the evaporator coil and drain, you can reattach the access panel and move on to the last section.

 

Throughout the House

To finish up our DIY HVAC Inspection, you are going to make sure that every indoor element of the system you can visibly see is in good shape.

9. Remove Blockage from Ducts

Each room of your house should have a vent. If these are dirty, remove them with a screwdriver and clean them with soap and water. Ignoring this for too long will block airflow and have a negative impact on your system’s efficiency. While the vent removed you can check the air ducts for any debris using a flashlight.

10. Replace Filters

Regularly changing your air filters is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to increase your energy efficiency and prevent common HVAC problems. Filters should be changed roughly every three months depending on the type.

If you have pets, we recommend that you change your filters as frequently as every month due to the accumulation of pet hair.

Bonus Tip: If you have allergies, changing your filters more often will help relieve some of your symptoms.

Now that you’ve given your thermostat, indoor, and outdoor equipment a thorough inspection and performed some simple preventative maintenance. All you have left to do is turn everything back on and thank yourself for taking the time to improve the lifecycle and efficiency of your HVAC system.

What if My HVAC Issues Go Beyond My DIY Comfort Level?

If you’re not the DIY type and would much rather have a professional inspect your HVAC system, Minnick’s offers two fantastic options for having your home’s HVAC system inspected.

Minnick’s Simple Maintenance Plan

With our Simple Maintenance plan, we’ll send a Minnick’s trained technician to come and perform a check-up on the health of your home’s HVAC system twice a year. We usually perform our inspections during the spring and fall season to ensure your home is prepared to keep you comfortable in advance of the hottest and coldest days of the year.

Remember, more frequent HVAC inspections can prevent costly system breakdowns, keeps your unit running efficiently year-round, and help maintain healthy indoor air quality for you and your family.

Minnick’s Smart Maintenance Plan

With our Smart Maintenance plan, we leverage smart home technology to automate your HVAC inspections. Our technicians will equip your HVAC system with custom sensors that analyze your system to predict and detect HVAC malfunctions 24/7.

Our smart maintenance plan is the equivalent of having an HVAC technician check your HVAC system every month of the year.

Our smart maintenance technology excels at detecting malfunctions before they can damage other components of your HVAC system. When our sensors detect a possible HVAC malfunction, we offer our Smart Maintenance clients a FREE same day service call to immediately address the problem.

Even if the sensors don’t detect any problems all year, we’ll still send you one of our technicians to perform a maintenance inspection at no additional charge. Feel confident that your home’s comfort is being protected with around-the-clock monitoring to predict and prevent disasters before they occur.

Proactive HVAC Maintenance

Being caught off-guard by emergency repairs for your HVAC system is always inconvenient and, in some cases, may even be dangerous. No matter if you choose to follow our DIY tips or opt for one of our HVAC maintenance options, any form of proactive HVAC maintenance will go a long way in saving you money on repairs and extending the lifespan of your system.

 

 

[1] U.S. Department of Energy. (2018) Residential HVAC Installation Practices: A Review of Research Findings. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2018/06/f53/bto-ResidentialHVACLitReview-06-2018.pdf