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Keeping your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system clean saves money, energy, and inconvenience. When equipment functions efficiently, it lasts longer. Keeping the unit in good working order can cut energy costs by as much as 30%. In contrast, poorly maintained systems can use up to 60% more energy. Maintenance also enhances indoor comfort.

Experts recommend having seasonal tune-ups to keep the air conditioner and furnace running smoothly and safely all year. There are also important tasks that homeowners should do between tune-ups to prevent breakdowns and improve energy efficiency. For components that you cannot service yourself, call a certified HVAC contractor.

Clean or Replace Air Filters

Dirty air filters are the primary reason that air conditioners and furnaces stop working. Dirty filters allow airborne particulates to circulate through ducts, over coils, and into your home. When dust and grime coat coils, heat transfer is affected, which makes the compressor work harder. If the compressor becomes overtaxed, the system loses efficiency and may eventually stop working. Cleaning filters regularly can lower the amount of energy the unit uses by as much as 15%.

Some filters can be cleaned, but others must be replaced. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how often to clean or replace filters. Under normal conditions, filters should be cleaned every two to three months. However, how often you clean them depends on several factors. If you have pets, live in a dusty area, or run your unit constantly, you should clean or replace your filters more often. A visual inspection will let you know when a filter is dirty and should be cleaned.

Standard HVAC filters are designed to keep debris out of the system. Upgrading to a filter with better filtration captures smaller particulates and can help to keep your indoor air clean. Filters are rated by a minimum efficiency reporting value. The higher the MERV number, the better the filtration. Experts recommend MERV 8 to 11 for household use. However, if members of your household have asthma, allergies, or other respiratory problems, MERV 13 filters may be needed.

Higher-rated MERV filters capture more airborne pollutants. However, they can affect the performance of your unit because they may limit airflow. To find a filter that works best with your system, contact a licensed HVAC contractor. An experienced professional will recommend a filter with a MERV value that provides adequate filtration without compromising performance.

Clean Registers, Grilles, and Vents

Keeping registers, grilles, and vents clean allows conditioned air to flow freely through ducts and into your living space. When registers get dirty, hair, dust, animal dander, and other pollutants block airflow. When these particulates settle on the joints of ducts with vents or registers, they attract and hold moisture. Mold, mildew, and rust can develop. As air blows over these pollutants, indoor air quality declines.

Regularly vacuuming and washing registers and grilles removes spider webs, insect parts, dust, and other accumulated debris. To check for mold, unscrew the grille and examine the inside of the ducts with a flashlight. If moisture or black spots are present, there is a problem. If moisture or mold is present, a professional should examine the entire duct system to determine the extent of the issue and recommend how to correct it.

Make sure furniture, curtains, carpets, and other objects do not obstruct registers and vents. When an HVAC system is installed, the system is balanced so that air flows evenly and freely throughout the living space for optimum comfort and system performance. If registers are blocked, you may experience hot and cold spots within a room or uneven temperatures throughout your home. Blocked registers affect the pressure of a system, which can make the compressor work harder.

Clean Outside Housing

Keeping filters clean helps to keep coils clean, too. However, over time, coils will accumulate dust and debris. The outside component of your system consists of a housing that contains a fan and condenser coils. Experts recommend keeping vegetation trimmed back approximately two feet from the housing. Leaves, grass clippings, dust, and other debris can get sucked into the housing and clog coils. Clear leaves, twigs, grass, and other vegetation from around the outside of the unit. This allows air to flow freely through the housing and across the coils.

To clean the housing, first shut off the power to the unit. There may be a power box outside near the unit. Also, turn off the power at the breaker box. Open the grille around the condenser. You may need a screwdriver to remove screws to open the grille. Gently clear leaves, debris and dust from inside the cage either by hand or with a shop vacuum. After you finish, remember to turn the unit back on. Experts suggest that cleaning the coils should be done by trained professionals to protect the fins and other elements of the condenser.

Clean the Condensate System

Air conditioners not only regulate temperature; they also remove humidity from the air, an important factor in indoor comfort. This moisture is collected by the condensate system, which consists of tubing and a drip pan. If the drain on the pan is blocked, water can overflow the pan and damage your home. If tubing is blocked, moisture can backflow into the system and damage it. In addition, moisture creates an environment for mold to grow. Clean the drip pan, and make sure water flows freely through the hoses.

Schedule a Professional Tune-Up

The Department of Energy recommends having a tune-up in the spring for the air conditioner and in the fall for the heating system. Most heating and air conditioning manufacturers require seasonal maintenance to keep warranties valid.

During a preventive maintenance checkup, technicians will examine, clean, and calibrate each component of the entire system. An air conditioning maintenance session includes:

  • Cleaning or replacing standard filters
  • Cleaning the condensate system
  • Cleaning the compressor coil
  • Cleaning the condenser coil
  • Adjusting the blower
  • Lubricating all moving parts
  • Checking wiring, voltage, and amperage
  • Checking refrigerant levels
  • Calibrating the thermostat
  • Ensuring the unit cycles properly
  • Inspecting the condition of ducts, grilles, and registers

Heating tune-ups also include:

  • Inspecting the ignition system and pilot on gas furnaces
  • Checking for dangerous gasses
  • Inspecting the heat exchanger
  • Inspecting gas piping and connections

If small problems are identified during a tune-up, technicians should discuss them with you and recommend cost-effective ways to correct them. Tending to small issues quickly prevents larger problems later. If major issues are found, the contractor should evaluate whether repairing the unit is cost-effective. If your system is old or breaks down frequently, replacing it may be a better option.

JW Plumbing, Heating and Air provides HVAC maintenance, new installations, and repair services for residents in the greater Los Angeles area and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. We are an authorized Lennox dealer, and our technicians train on sophisticated Lennox equipment. In addition to Lennox products, we service all brands of heating and cooling equipment. We provide duct cleaning services, too, to clean and seal dirty ducts and resolve moisture issues within the air distribution system. We also undertake indoor air quality assessments and provide recommendations to improve the quality of your indoor air. Our company offers annual maintenance plans that include two tune-ups each year, discounts on repairs, and no overtime charges. To find out more about the importance of preventive maintenance and ways to improving energy efficiency, contact JW Plumbing, Heating and Air today.