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HVAC preventative maintenance guide for DIY homeowners

Regular HVAC preventative maintenance extends the life of systems and reduces costs. Learn what tasks to perform, why they're important, and when to do them.

Lee Huffman
January 1, 2024

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Your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system keeps your home comfortable throughout the year. Annual HVAC maintenance keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer without experiencing unnecessary costs or breakdowns. There are numerous moving parts in an HVAC, so performing regular maintenance service is essential so it runs efficiently. Learn more about HVAC preventative maintenance, when to perform each task, and the average HVAC yearly maintenance cost for homeowners.

Understanding HVAC maintenance

The primary goals and benefits of regular maintenance

HVAC preventative maintenance involves different tasks throughout the year to maintain your unit's energy efficiency. When AC systems operate efficiently, they take less time to cool your home, which cuts down on your electricity bill.

The average cost of an HVAC replacement is $5,000 to $11,000. Regular maintenance of your air conditioner can also extend its useful life, so you don't have to replace your HVAC as often.

How maintenance affects the HVAC system's performance and lifespan

When homeowners perform regular HVAC preventative maintenance, they receive numerous benefits. Whether you're doing the maintenance yourself or hiring someone else, the return on investment of time and money is well worth it.

Performing monthly, quarterly, and annual HVAC maintenance provides the following benefits:

  • Fewer repairs. During HVAC system maintenance, small problems can be found before they become larger. This reduces your overall cost and minimizes periods when the unit isn't operating. Deferring maintenance for too long can shorten the lifespan of your equipment.
  • Safer equipment operation. HVAC units can be dangerous if they aren't serviced regularly. Fires can start due to bad wiring, overstressed motors, and similar situations. Regular maintenance can spot problem areas before they become a hazard.
  • Longer lifespan. On average, an HVAC system has a lifespan of 15 to 25 years. However, this can vary widely based on the type of system purchased, how it is used, and whether the owners performed regular HVAC preventative maintenance.
  • Lower energy consumption. AC systems and heaters perform more efficiently when they are properly maintained. Homeowners are rewarded with lower energy bills when their HVAC is serviced on a regular basis.
  • Improved air quality. Small HVAC maintenance tasks like changing air filters can provide a drastic improvement in the air quality of your home. Additionally, when your AC system is operating efficiently, it can exchange the air in your home more quickly to provide better air quality.

HVAC maintenance checklist

The good thing about HVAC preventative maintenance is that you can spread out many of these tasks throughout the year while performing other seasonal home maintenance tasks. Some tasks should be performed monthly, while others can be done quarterly, semi-annually, or once per year.

If you're struggling to pay for HVAC repairs and maintenance, these tips can help you get the money you need.

HVAC monthly/quarterly maintenance

The most frequent tasks are fairly simple for the homeowner to perform. By doing these yourself, you can reduce your HVAC maintenance costs by avoiding service calls by a technician.

  • Air filters. Check and change air filters every three months to ensure proper airflow and system efficiency. You can buy air filters online or at your local hardware store. Most filters can be replaced within a few minutes.
  • Keep indoor vents clean. When replacing your air filter, take time to vacuum and wipe down indoor vents. Also, make sure they are free of debris and are not blocked by any furniture.
  • Wash outdoor unit. Dust and debris can affect the efficiency of your outdoor unit. Once a month, clear debris and cut back plants that are too close. Then, wash it down with a hose to remove dust and dirt.

HVAC seasonal maintenance (Spring and Fall)

Twice a year, your HVAC requires seasonal maintenance to keep it operating efficiently. Typically, these tasks are performed when the weather starts to change in spring and fall. A licensed technician should perform this seasonal maintenance because they have the tools and experience to spot minor problems before they become expensive repairs.

  • Refrigerant Leaks. Refrigerant enables your HVAC to properly cool your home. Have a professional check refrigerant levels and address leaks during seasonal tune-ups.
  • Thermostat malfunctions. A malfunctioning thermostat causes the HVAC unit to misunderstand the temperature inside the home. This can lead to your HVAC not understanding how much heat or cool air to send to your living space. Check thermostat operation and calibration before the start of each heating and cooling season.
  • Electrical issues. Electrical issues can lead to fires, burnt-out equipment, or inefficient operations. Inspect electrical connections, relays, and capacitors as part of seasonal maintenance.
  • Ductwork leaks. Leaks cause the HVAC to work harder to deliver hot or cold air to your living space. Perform inspections and repairs on ductwork before each cooling and heating season.

HVAC annual maintenance

Annual HVAC maintenance involves a deeper inspection of your heating and air conditioning units to ensure they're working properly. In most cases, these tasks are best performed by licensed HVAC contractors. However, some homeowners have the time and skills necessary to do DIY maintenance.

  • Compressor problems. Check compressor health and functionality during yearly HVAC maintenance.
  • Frozen evaporator coils. Regular maintenance helps prevent frozen coils and ensures optimal cooling performance.
  • Condensate drain clogs. Clear condensate drains during annual HVAC maintenance to avoid water leakage.
  • Blower motor and fan issues. Check blower motors and fans during yearly inspections for proper operation.
  • Strange noises. Address unusual noises during yearly maintenance to prevent potential system breakdowns.
  • Uneven cooling or heating. Investigate and resolve temperature distribution issues during yearly maintenance. Homeowners can survey their vents to isolate which ones aren't working efficiently. Then, share that information with the licensed technician so they can focus their efforts quickly to address the issues.
  • Short cycling. Identify and rectify short cycling problems during annual HVAC check-ups.
  • Dirty condenser coils. Clean condenser coils as part of yearly maintenance for improved cooling performance. Skilled homeowners may feel comfortable cleaning the condenser coils on their own versus hiring a technician.
  • Aging equipment. Assess the overall health of aging equipment during annual HVAC inspections.
  • Carbon monoxide leaks. Check for carbon monoxide leaks as part of annual safety inspections. Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as a silent killer because these noxious fumes are often undetectable by a human nose. They can poison or kill homeowners if the leak is large enough. It is wise to install a CO detector in the home to protect against carbon monoxide leaks.

The cost of HVAC maintenance

The typical HVAC maintenance costs vary depending on when they are performed and who is doing the work. Many homeowners choose to handle simple tasks themselves to save money. Then, they hire an HVAC technician to perform more complex preventative maintenance and repair issues. Signing up for a maintenance contract can also reduce the overall cost of HVAC maintenance.

Ideally, HVAC preventative maintenance is completed on a schedule of monthly, quarterly, and annually. Some tasks need to be completed more regularly, while others can be done every three, six, or 12 months.

HVAC maintenance costs also vary based on the type of HVAC system you have and what the problem is. Here's a sample of average maintenance and repair costs you may see:

  • AC unit: $150 to $650
  • Furnace: $125 to $480
  • HVAC ductwork: $200 to $700
  • HVAC coil cleaning: $100 to $400
  • HVAC duct cleaning: $300 to $700
  • Tune-ups: $150 to $300

The typical costs for HVAC maintenance drop considerably when performing proactive maintenance. Proactive maintenance on a regular schedule reduces the potential for large repair bills. When your AC system is broken, not only will you have a large bill, but you also may be without air conditioning or heat for several days or weeks. The parts may be unavailable due to supply chain issues, or the service technician may be busy with other customers.

If you don't take care of regular maintenance, you may have to replace your HVAC system early. When it's time to replace or upgrade your HVAC system, consider a shared equity agreement. This financing option does not require proof of income, has no monthly payments, and is available for people with less-than-perfect credit.

Tips for maximizing HVAC efficiency between maintenance

Lowering your energy bills and getting the best efficiency out of your HVAC goes beyond routine maintenance. By implementing energy-saving practices in your home, you'll keep your HVAC running smoothly and save money.

Many homeowners leave their thermostats set at one temperature all year long. According to Energy Star, you could realize huge savings by adjusting your temperature settings according to the season. Using a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature when you're not at home can also reduce energy bills. Creating zones within your home so you're only heating or cooling the areas you're using maximizes comfort and reduces energy costs.

Cleaning your air filters and replacing them on a regular basis is a simple HVAC preventative maintenance strategy that yields big results. A dirty air filter restricts airflow and makes your HVAC unit work harder than it needs to. The extra effort required by your HVAC to circulate air can increase utility bills and shorten your HVAC's lifespan.

To enhance your HVAC's airflow, make sure that there is proper ventilation inside and out. Do not allow furniture or other household items to block air vents or intakes inside your home. Keep items away from your HVAC unit outside, including overgrown bushes, accumulated leaves, or other debris.

Final thoughts

Your home's HVAC unit is essential to keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Regular HVAC preventative maintenance and tune-ups keep your unit operating efficiently and catch problems before they become major expenses. With the average cost of a new HVAC at $5,000 to $11,000, you want it to last as long as possible.

Following a regular maintenance schedule extends the life of your unit and keeps your energy bills lower throughout the year. Many maintenance tasks, like replacing an air filter or washing the HVAC unit, can be performed on your own. However, you may want to hire an HVAC contractor to handle tune-ups and other repairs.

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