Summer Home Maintenance Plan: Comprehensive HVAC Checklist

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During hot summers, your home’s HVAC system becomes your most valuable home asset. Ensuring it operates efficiently not only enhances your comfort but also significantly reduces your energy bills. In this article, we’re sharing the top HVAC tips to keep your system running smoothly as well as an AC summer maintenance checklist. This comprehensive checklist will guide you through essential maintenance tasks to prepare your system for the high demands of the summer months.

Understanding Your HVAC System

Before diving into maintenance, it’s crucial to understand the basics of your HVAC system. The majority of homeowners have central air conditioning, so that’s where our focus is in this article. If you have a window AC unit, a heat pump, or a mini split, you won’t have all the same components or parts to your system, so take what works for you and leave the rest.

Here are all the key components of a central air conditioner and where to find them so that you can inspect, clean, and maintain each element.

  1. The compressor, which propels refrigerant through the system. It is located within the outdoor part of your unit. Remove the unit’s top and look for a large black (or occasionally red) cylinder. That’s the compressor.

  2. The condenser, which dissipates heat. The whole large unit outside your home is called “the condenser unit,” and the parts that make it work are located inside it. A condenser includes everything from the compressor (which we just discussed above) to the fan to the copper tubing.

  3. The evaporator, which cools air within your home. Also called “evaporator coils,” these are usually located in the air handler inside your home, typically right by the blower fan. It looks a bit like a triangle or a capital letter A, and it is completely lined in very thin pieces of metal.

Maintaining these components in peak condition is vital during summer when they work the hardest. Now that you know what each part does and have a rough sense of where it’s located, here’s what to do for them.

If you would rather not tackle maintenance yourself or if you suspect your system has a problem, talk to an HVAC professional.

Step-by-Step Summer AC Maintenance Checklist

  1. Schedule an HVAC tune-up. The last thing you want is for the AC to break during the hottest part of summer. Get an HVAC specialist out to ensure the parts of your system you can’t see or maintain yourself are in good working order. This professional service typically includes checking refrigerant levels, testing the thermostat, inspecting electrical components and connections, and cleaning the air handler and condenser. Below, we’ll cover how you can do several of these things yourself to help save money, but you can of course ask the HVAC pros to take care of this whole list for you. HVAC maintenance is an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” scenario. Regular maintenance will almost certainly be less expensive than fixing a major problem you didn’t catch until it was too late.

  2. Replace your filters. Ideally, filters are replaced regularly throughout the year. But during June, July, August, and perhaps even September depending on temperatures, you will want to replace your filters every one to two months. In addition to helping the air flow through efficiently, new filters will reduce strain on your system.

  3. Check your thermostat. You want your thermostat to work, but you also want it to work smarter. This may mean upgrading to a smart thermostat if you haven’t already or setting up programs to ensure the temperature is kept steady while you are home but goes up several degrees when you are away.

  4. Clear space around the condenser unit. Professionals recommend keeping a two-foot clearance on all sides of your outdoor unit. As summer storms or hurricanes blow through, ensure you check the condenser unit once the weather has cleared to remove any debris that may have fallen around it.

  5. Clean the inside of the condenser. First, make sure the circuit breaker is turned off. You don’t want to open the unit and start working on it while there is still power connected to it. Once the power is safely off, remove the side and top panels. Be aware that the fan is attached to the top of the unit, so that will be a heavier piece to lift. Using either a soft brush vacuum attachment or a specially designed coil brush, clean the condenser coils inside the unit. If they are especially dirty, you may want to buy a product specifically designed to clean them — many homeowners opt for a spray-on solution that is rinsed off after a few minutes. Be especially cautious not to damage the fins or wires on the compressor while you work. Then, check the base of the unit for leaves or other debris and clear those out, and make sure the drain line is clear. Finally, using your vacuum or a rag, wipe the fan blades clean. Put the unit back together before you move inside.

  6. Clean the evaporator coils. Inside your home, find the air handler and look for a special access door. The evaporator coils will be housed inside. Just like you did outside, you’ll use a coil brush or your vacuum cleaner with a soft brush head attached to clean the coils. Though you can spray a solution on the indoor coils, you would need a shop vac or other tool capable of vacuuming up water after you’ve rinsed them off. Once the coils are clean, close the access door.

  7. Test the system. Turn the power back on to the air conditioner and make sure it works! You may need to manually switch your thermostat(s) back to cooling mode to get it to turn on. If the system is not working or if you notice any unusual sounds, you will want to call a professional for help.

Other AC Tips for Summer

Besides maintaining your HVAC system, there are a few other ways to help keep your AC working smoothly and to help keep your home cool.

  1. Shade the condenser unit. The thinking here is the hotter your outdoor unit gets, the harder it must work to keep things cool. While the components inside your condenser are being shaded by the condenser cover, the cover itself gets quite hot. Different experts have different opinions on whether or not shading the cover would improve efficiency. However, if you have an awning, umbrella, or other shade solution handy, try keeping the condenser cooler and see if it has an impact for you.

  2. Clean the vents. When you change your air filters, you should also clean the air intake vent as well as the other vents. Removing dust, pet hair, and other common indoor debris will help your system work more efficiently.

  3. Cover your windows from the outside. Many homeowners use blinds and curtains to keep sunlight out. However, if you have older windows, then they still may be absorbing a lot of heat from the outside. Installing awnings, pergolas, and other outdoor elements that can help keep direct sunlight off your windows can keep indoor temps cooler.

  4. Apply window film on the inside. You can buy and install transparent solar film and put it on the inside portion of your window glass to help reduce the amount of heat being transferred through your windows.

  5. Check windows and doors for gaps. Anywhere you can see light or feel air around your windows and doors is an area where conditioned air is escaping out while hot summer air is leaking in.

  6. Install ceiling fans. Ceiling fans can reduce the burden on your AC. Fans help conditioned air circulate better, which means your system doesn’t have to run as long to get the temperature down inside. And all of that means your system runs less often and lasts longer.

What If My System Still Doesn’t Work Very Well?

If you’ve maintained your HVAC system as best as you can and had a pro out to ensure everything is working, then it might be time to consider replacing your air conditioning. There are a few signs to look out for:

  • Your system is more than 10 to 15 years old.

  • You are experiencing system problems more frequently and need repairs more often.

  • Energy bills are going up even though system usage isn’t.

  • The temperature never comes down to where you want it.

  • You notice loud noises or strange smells coming from the air conditioning unit.

  • Even though the air may be cooler, the humidity inside is still high.

Talk to an HVAC professional to get an expert opinion on whether it’s time to replace your unit and ask for a quote so you can budget for this necessary home improvement.

The Bottom Line on HVAC Tips and AC Maintenance

Don’t wait for a breakdown to think about your HVAC maintenance. Maintaining your HVAC system proactively will help ensure your home remains a refuge from the summer heat. Following this maintenance checklist will optimize your system’s performance, and that means you have a better chance at avoiding the inconvenience of repairs during the peak of summer.

Contact a professional today to schedule an HVAC summer tune-up or discuss upgrades to your system. Regular maintenance is your key to a cool, comfortable summer.