Maintain Your Home’s HVAC System for a Comfortable Summer

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by Phillip B. Burum, DR Horton,

President, Building Industry Association (BIA) Baldy View Chapter

One of the key points at which a home’s comfort and value converge economically is in the physical maintenance of the home. Here in the Baldy View Region where we enjoy a Mediterranean climate, that means maintaining the HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning system). In California, over one third of all household energy use is consumed by HVAC systems and the bulk of that use occurs over the summer and early autumn months. Maintaining an efficient HVAC system will result in a more comfortable living experience and reduce the homeowner’s carbon footprint while also saving substantial costs on the monthly electric bill.

     The most common cause of air-conditioner problems and inefficient operation is dirty or worn filters. Dirty air filters, which restrict air flow and place unnecessary strain on the fan motor, are the number one reason for HVAC system failure. HVAC system repair could run into the thousands and, even prior to causing a system failure, the extra work put out by the motor will consume more energy, costing the homeowner hundreds in unnecessary utility expenses.

     Unless the home has a much older HVAC system, homeowners won’t even have to shut down the house’s power for the few minutes it will take to check and clean the HVAC unit. Please note that homes utilizing room-based air conditioning units require the same basic maintenance but should always be unplugged before performing any service.

     To clean filters, vacuum the front grills, air registers and return air vents. Then, remove the grill to check the air filter. Before removing the filter, look at how it is held in place. That information will be helpful at re-installation time. Many filters simply slide in and out or are draped from prongs on the air conditioner body or the back of the grill.

     With the filters out, clean the unit’s fins and coils. Check the condition of the evaporator fins or coils (which are normally exposed by removing the filter). Warm air drawn into the air conditioner passes through the filter and then over the fins or coil, where it is cooled and blown back into the room. Vacuum the fins or coils with soft brush attachment. Avoid bending the fins. Damaged fins may block the flow of air and cause the air conditioner to whistle. If bent, you may be able to straighten by inserting a putty knife between them and prying gently.

     After the fins are cleaned and straightened, look underneath fins or coils for a small drain hole. This is used to channel condensed water to a drip pan in the rear of the air-conditioner. If the pan is holding any water, it is a sign that there is blockage in the drip pan. If there is a musty smell accompanying the water, it may be an indicator of mold or bacteria growth in the water drip pan.

     Carefully poke a length of wire or straightened paper clip through the drain hole to clear it and see if it drains out right away. If the musty smell persists after the drain hole has been cleared and the unit cleaned, professional servicing may be necessary.

     To clean a washable filter, brush it free of lint, and then wash it in warm soapy water. Squeeze and let the filter dry completely before reinstalling it.

     Even with regular maintenance, HVAC systems should be checked and cleaned periodically by a professional.  The unit’s owner's manual will have the recommended frequency of this care.    

     In California today, ‘going green’ is the aspiration of every producer and consumer. Going green, however, is only effective if we strive to stay green. Buying Energy Star-rated appliances but failing to maintain them is akin to dieting with cheat days. If you want to lose weight, stay on your diet. If you want to stay green, maintain household components so they operate as they were designed to. 

     For more details about smart maintenance of your HVAC system, visit the Energy Star www.energystar.gov website.

The BIA Baldy View Chapter seeks to advance the opportunity to attain the American Dream of home ownership. For additional information on homebuying, home improvements or the benefits of homeownership, go to www.biabuild.com on the web.

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