A few things you should know about your heating/cooling system

A few things you should know about your heating/cooling system

I have no problem having a “hot” wife, but when that means the air conditioner is not working correctly it can be a problem. I just spent my Thursday servicing our heating / cooling system, and there are a few things the average homeowner should know about his/her HVAC system. Every repair is not a replacement.

  • Most problems with your HVAC system are electrical, not refrigerant based. Periodically, refrigerant will seep out of your system, but that means you have a leak. Most problems are related to things like sequencers, switches, transformers, capacitors, etc.
  • If you change your filters regularly, you will lengthen the life of your air handler. I would urge you to avoid the Hepa filters that are designed to keep allergens down. They starve your air handler of the vital air it needs to thrive. I had to replace my office rooftop unit a few years ago because I installed two of the most restrictive Hepa filters I could find. My secretary had allergies. So, I changed them to aid her. It cost me $10,000 in replacement costs. Now, I change the filters every month or two, and I have no problem. A $1 filter will last 30-60 days. You can buy them in bulk and change them regularly. Air is the lifeblood of your system. Cut if off, and you’re setting yourself up for big bills.
  • If your AC suddenly seems to not work, place your hand over a vent and see what the air flow feels like. If the air is barely coming out, you may have an A coil plugged. If you checked your filters and they were clean, look to the A coil for a blockage. If you have a dog that sheds, he might be the culprit. Hair that passes the filter will pack on the bottom side of the A coil (inside your air handler). AC works when the refrigerant coil (A coil) cools and then air passes by it to bring cool air to your rooms. If dog hair passes your filter, it will pack on the bottom of the A coil. When enough packs in that area, it will restrict air flow. Before a technician replaces your blower motor (which will not solve the problem), have him check the A coil for blockage.
  • If you see water on the floor around your air handler, you likely have a condensate blockage. On many systems, there is a condensate line which collects the water the unit is pulling out of the air. The water is sent to a drain, directly outside, or it is sent to a condensate pump which will pump it outside or into a drain. There is a tendency for mold to form in the opening of the line where it meets the air handler (most likely a white PVC line). If that line is installed correctly, it is likely to have a cap on top that can be removed for cleaning. You can pull that cap off and use a small tip to vacuum out any mold build up (a typical pipe cleaner will work too). If you can drop a small piece of a chlorine tablet in that line (don’t block the water flow, keep it small) it will keep the mold from forming.
  • Check the visible coils to your exterior heat pump or air conditioner. If you see a build up of dirt, leaves or other substance on the coils, you can buy a can of an aerosal coil cleaner at most big box home improvement stores. Turn the system off, spray the coils, let it foam and then rinse it off with a garden hose. You don’t want to have the spray on full force. Let the cleaner just rinse it off. Let it dry, and turn the system back on.
  • Don’t put a cover directly above your outside unit. It needs room to let air escape through the top.
  • Don’t pack boxes and other storage items around our interior air handler. This is especially important if it is a gas unit. The unit needs to breathe. If you rob it of air you stand the chance of releasing carbon monoxide into your home. Don’t ever block the unit. I’m installing a door in a rental we manage because whoever finished the basement put a wall 10″ in front of the unit. It’s nearly impossible to change the gas igniter.
  • In the cold months, if you have a gas furnace and you notice that you suddenly have no heat, it is most likely a gas igniter. They tend to crack during the summer cooling period. If you pull the door off the front of your unit, you will see multiple ports where long tubes run from front to back. They are the gas tubes. In one of those ports is a little gray/black porcelain igniter. If it has formed a crack, it will have a faint white line across it. It’s a $20 repair if you do it yourself. It’s $150+ if you have it done.
  • If the system is not working at all, check the breaker. They do go bad. We inspected a client’s system last summer. The HVAC tech that he called wanted to replace it at $3000. He asked us to give him a second opinion (we don’t service HVAC equipment typically, but this was a old client). The breaker running the system had gone bad. It was a $75 repair.
  • If you hear a banging outside when your outdoor unit is running, your fan motor or fan blades have likely gone bad. It will normally be obvious.
  • Pay the bucks to have your system serviced once a year by a good tech if you feel uncomfortable doing it yourself.

If you are handy with tools, many of the items listed above are simple enough that the average homeowner can do them. If you’re uncomfortable doing your own repairs, keep the info above so you can ask the tech questions. They will be surprised that you know anything about your system, and they will less likely to take advantage of you.

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