Why should I do Maintenance on my HVAC System?

March 7, 2023
HVAC Technician Performing HVAC Maintenance in Kansas City, MO

As we continue to increase the number of modern conveniences in our homes, we need to remember to take good care of these increasingly expensive components. Our cars need oil changes, phones need updating and charging, our Roomba needs emptying, and unfortunately, our HVAC systems still need routine maintenance. In this article, we will be discussing all the reasons why we need to keep up with this important task.

What does a quality maintenance program consist of:

Visual Inspection

1. What is the age of the equipment? Has it been properly maintained?
2. What is the condition of the electrical wiring and switch; 230,115 and 24 volt?
3. Check the thermostat operation & AC function for any problems.
4. What is the noise level of the blower and outdoor condenser/heat pump?
5. Is the blower wheel balanced?
6. Inspect the outdoor fan blade.
7. Check air filter, humidifier panel, and UV lamp(s). (Close humidifier damper).

Electrical Checks

8. Check the line voltage (+/-10%), and tighten all connections.
9. Check the secondary voltage, and tighten all connections.
10. Inspect the circuit board, and tighten all connections.
11. Check that the condenser total amperage matches the nameplate.
12. Check that the blower amperage matches the nameplate (inspect, clean, & oil if necessary)
13. Check the blower motor capacitor.
14. Check the compressor run capacitor.
15. Check the condenser fan motor capacitor.
16. Inspect the contactor and voltage drop.

Performance Checks

17. Clean outdoor coil, and clean exterior cabinet.
18. Inspect the evaporator coil if possible.
19. Check blower motor bearings (oil if required).
20. Open all supply registers and check for return grille blockage.
21. Check refrigerant pressures (superheat or sub cooling method).
22. Check the temperature drop and adjust if necessary.
23. Check Total External Static Pressure.
24. Check all high & low pressure controls.
25. Clean condensate and (humidifier) drain lines.
26. Wipe down furnace and water heater with cleaning solution.
27. Record maintenance information on maintenance log.
28. Check final AC operation, check batteries and set thermostat to owner’s preference. Advise homeowner to close basement registers if applicable.

Gas Fired 80% and 90% Furnaces

Visual Inspection

1. What is the age of equipment? Has it been properly maintained?
2. What are the clearances to combustibles?
3. Check for proper combustion air (water heater) and use the smoke puffer test.
4. What is the vent piping condition and is there a proper slope (water heater)?
5. What is the 90% exterior vent termination clearance & condition?
6. Is the gas piping condition to code and leak free (shut offs)?
7. What is the electrical wiring and switch condition? 115 and 24 volt.
8. Check thermostat operation & furnace sequence for any problems (advise customer).
9. Check and replace air filter, humidifier, and UV lamp(s).

Electrical Checks

10. Check the line voltage (+/-10%), tighten all connections.
11. Check the secondary voltage, tighten all connections.
12. Inspect the circuit board, tighten all connections.
13. Does the total furnace amperage match the nameplate?
14. Check that the blower amperage matches the nameplate (inspect, clean, & oil if necessary).
15. Check the blower motor capacitor.
16. Check that the inducer motor amps match the nameplate (inspect & clean if necessary).
17. Check the inducer pressure control (cold & hot).
18. Is the flame sensor micro-amps (Sl 1 to 5 min .45) (HS .5 to 2 min .9)? Clean sensor brush.

Performance Checks

19. Inspect burners, flame & heat exchanger, clean if necessary.
20. Adjust manifold pressure (only if necessary) 3.5” NG 10.5 LP.
21. Open all supply registers and check for return grille blockage.
22. Check temperature rise and adjust to nameplate if necessary.
23. Check CO PPM content of flue gases (OD termination for 90%).
24. Check all high temperature and roll out safety controls.
25. Clean the humidifier drain line, 90% trap and drain line.
26. Wipe down the furnace and water heater with cleaning solution.
27. Check the final furnace sequence of operation, check batteries and set thermostat to owner’s preference.

One of the most important reasons to do routine maintenance is to prepare your system for the upcoming season, and to know its condition. Regular maintenance can decrease downtime and reduce the risk of costly breakdowns by as much as 95%. While this is still important for newer equipment, it is critical for equipment that is over 15 years of age. Having someone look over all the components in the system will give you the knowledge of the condition of your equipment. Often smaller repairs can help your equipment with its longevity. On a condenser, small repairs like replacing capacitors or contactors, tightening up your wiring, or installing a hard start kit can add years to the life expectancy. These are all issues that should show themselves with thorough maintenance and will protect the longevity and efficacy of the major components within your HVAC system. This will also reduce the quantity and size of future repairs. Running a system to failure can cost 10 times more than the additional life you can get out of your equipment from performing the routine maintenance. According to Finance Online, the top 4 reasons for HVAC equipment’s downtime is 34% Aging Equipment, 20% Mechanical Failure, 11% Operational error, 10% lack of Maintenance. That means that 10% of all HVAC equipment that is currently not working is due to lack of preventative maintenance. It is also said that 60% of all maintenance performed is reactive maintenance, where someone is having to perform maintenance anyway because the equipment has failed. It is also said that Reactive Maintenance is 4-6 times more labor intensive than preventative maintenance. This is likely due to excess debris and the decreasing condition of poorly maintained equipment. These factors lead to a significant decrease in the life expectancy of your HVAC equipment. Average Residential ACs generally last 14-17 years, Heat pumps 12-15. Poorly maintained systems typically last 8-14, whereas well maintained Heat Pump systems can last 15-20 years, and for well-maintained Air Conditioning systems, 17-25 is not out of the question. HVAC systems that have regular, routine maintenance can last 40% longer.

Another overlooked benefit of preventative maintenance is maintaining efficiency. The efficiency of equipment is based on a brand-new unit, no ductwork, in a horizontal position. As equipment develops debris on motors, condenser or evaporator coils and filters, the air that the system is moving begins moving at less than optimal levels. Blowers begin to use more electricity, AC’s must work harder and don’t deliver the same capacities as when they were shiny, new, and clean. This causes them to work harder and thus less efficiently. This can also contribute to shorter life expectancy for the system. Mechanical components also need adjustments. Blower settings, gas pressures, and refrigerant levels are all things that are checked on a quality maintenance visit. Maintaining your system is the most cost-effective way to make sure that your system is operating as efficiently as possible for as long as possible.

One of the most basic forms of HVAC maintenance is also one of the most misunderstood as well. It is very important that you have the correct filter and change it at the appropriate time. It is good practice to establish a routine for the changing of your filter. Any 1” filter should be changed every month. We suggest you pick a memorable day of the month and just know that you change it that day; say the 1st or whatever is your favorite day. Some manufactures of 1” filters claim that some of their filters must only be changed every 60 or even 90 days. The truth is that the material will last up to 90 days, but these filters are designed to collect debris. After a month of operating, they have collected enough dust, dander, and other particles to begin impacting the blower. This can reduce comfort, operating capabilities, and longevity of the system. If you have a 1” filter, you do not want to purchase a very high-quality filter. In lieu of the space necessary to properly filter your air, these “higher end” filters us a denser fabric. This denser material is restrictive, increasing the static pressure on your ductwork, and can limit the life of your equipment. Your best option is to purchase a mid-tier paper baffle filter, around MERV 8. Most newer systems should have 5” filters, especially now that only highly efficient blower motors can be produced in 2019 and newer furnaces. 5” filters do a great job of filtering the air, with MERV ratings of 8 to 16, as well as not being as restrictive on the blower motor and static pressure on your ductwork. They do this not by being thicker but buy having more square feet of fabric within them. This makes it so it can allow appropriate airflow and still pick up more debris than a conventional 1” filter, kind of brilliant really.

The most important component of routine maintenance is safety. With gas furnace maintenance, making sure that the furnace is firing properly, the flue is in good condition, the flue is exhausting correctly, there are no cracks in the heat exchanger, and that no CO is entering a living space is the most important part of the job. According to Forbes every year 20,000 to 30,000 people in the US are sickened from Carbon Monoxide poisoning and approximately 500 people die. The best way to prevent this from happening is to have a trained technician inspect your flues, do a visual inspection of the operating furnace, and perform a combustion analysis to ensure that the equipment is operating properly. This part of maintenance is the most serious and should be performed annually by professional. At Summit Heating and Cooling we take no short cuts with safety. If we find components that have gas related safety issues for our coworkers, homeowners, or tenants, we will red tag and shut off the system until repairs are made.

Anyone who has gone to Jiffy Lube will attest to their consistent approach of reporting the condition of components within a vehicle. When you go there you are not only getting your oil changed, but also to get a report on the condition of things like your air filter, wiper blades, and all sorts of other accessories that we need to maintain. We take a similar approach to the maintenance of your HVAC system. There are Primary repairs; repairs that need to be performed for the unit to work. There are also secondary repairs; issues with components that are worn or in doubt. Secondary repairs are those that can be addressed before you have costly repairs in emergency situations. Secondary repairs usually show signs long before you have system failures. At the very least, performing routine maintenance alerts you to issues that will likely come about during the season or in the years to come. This gives you a certain level of expectation as well as allowing you to budget accordingly, either for future repairs or potentially replacement. It also gives you the option of handling the repair before the situation is desperate and heating and cooling companies are busy. All in all, routine maintenance will be giving you the peace of mind about what to expect from your system.

There is a kind of sneaky, infrequently discussed legal nuance that most manufacturer’s have in their warranty language. This little nugget doesn’t come out very often, but when it does, it can fire up tempers quickly. Technically, to keep the warranty on your HVAC equipment, you must have a provable record of annual maintenance. Almost all manufacturer’s have this line in their warranty literature somewhere. Truthfully, in most situations, manufacturers won’t enforce this clause, but its there and has been used. Either way, it’s a good idea to annually utilize preventative maintenance as a tool to keep your new system operating at its best and most efficient.

Annual maintenance also Improves in home comfort by making sure your equipment is operating at its optimal levels. When debris builds on coils, blower wheels and housings or drains, the system will lose capacity, dehumidification, and filtration. This causes the air that your unit is conditioning to not provide the level of comfort that you are accustomed to and should expect. This is especially true of older equipment. During maintenance we also check any Indoor Air Quality items to ensure that they are operating properly as well. Items like UV lights and HEPA filters have replacement components that usually last between 1 to 3 years. It’s a good idea to keep up your maintenance so you don’t have equipment failures or inefficiencies so you can maintain the level indoor comfort you deserve.

Summit Heating and Cooling prioritizes our maintenance customers above all else. They are our most loyal customers, and we aim to take care of our Peak Performance Members (PPM) first. Priority service may not be top of mind when considering preventative maintenance, but you will be glad to have that status on a hot day when your AC goes out. Our PPM customers are our first priority. So much so that we offer a 15% discount on services, repairs, IAQ products, and most full system installs. This allows homeowner and contractor to maintain a good, trusting relationship together. It develops a history of trust and loyalty that both can rely on for years and put you in a better, more comfortable position when services are needed. WE can work together to keep your family safe and comfortable in your home throughout the seasons and the years.

When should I do maintenance?

The simplest way to answer the question of when to do maintenance is annually. There are some caveats. First, its best to perform maintenance for heating and for cooling. Some systems have adjustments that are made in heating mode and others in cooling mode. 2 visits mean we are checking the blower settings and static pressures, filters, electrical connections, and for heat pumps the condition of the coils twice a year. Debris can form quickly, especially in areas with cottonwood. Summit has a wash program you can ask us about where we come out and wash your condenser coil once a month. It is especially important for older equipment to have twice year maintenance as debris blockages wear out major components like compressors. Whatever your preference, establishing a consistent annual preventative maintenance schedule is the key to keeping your HVAC equipment operating factory fresh.

As we have discussed, keeping up on the maintenance of your heating and cooling system is the most effective way to maintain the efficiency, longevity, and comfort that you can get from your system. A preventative maintenance plan will increase your knowledge of your system, how its operating, and what to expect for repairs that may come along. It is also a great way to keep peace of mind knowing that your system is running correctly and most importantly, safely. Summit Heating and Cooling has exceptional service and maintenance technicians who are trained to be able to cover all the issues we have discussed. We have high quality maintenance programs that you can choose from to find what best suits your needs. Contact us today or any time with questions or to schedule your maintenance, service, or FREE in-home comfort consultation. Remember if you’re looking for the top REACH for the Summit!!!

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