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The Ultimate Guide to Heat Pump and Furnace Maintenance: Tips to Keep Your System Running Smoothly
By Mike Holmes
Friday, July 14th, 2023 @ 9:30am
What You Need to Know About HVAC Maintenance
Most homeowners have a good idea of what is required to maintain their HVAC system. However, some may not, but the most straightforward thing any homeowner can do is regularly change or clean the filters. While I highly suggest considering getting an annual service package there are other things that homeowners can do to get the most out of their HVAC systems. This includes proper maintenance of your main systems like your heat pump and furnace.
But let’s break it down, especially since today’s homes are incorporating new systems.
HVAC Maintenance Checklist for Homeowners
Proper HVAC maintenance is essential for keeping your house comfortable energy-efficient, and healthy. Here are some HVAC maintenance items to keep your system functioning properly all year long, saving both money and giving you peace of mind your system is working as intended.
- Locate and replace air filters on a regular basis (this also relies on the filter’s quality, whether you have pets, smoke, just renovated, live next to construction, have asthma, etc.)
- Change at least every three months is recommended, but more if any of the above factors apply.
- Dust and vacuum the air returns and heat registers; they also shouldn’t be obstructed by toys or furniture.
- Maintain a clean exterior condenser that’s free of debris like twigs and leaves.
Pro Tip: Maintenance vs. Inspection/servicing
When you say you need heating and air conditioning service, you mean you need a repair completed. Hopefully, it’s not an emergency, like your furnace stops working when the temperature is below freezing.
The term “heating and air conditioning maintenance” refers to preventative actions that can increase the efficiency and lifespan of your HVAC system. This is typically done on an annual or bi-annual basis to ensure your HVAC system is working properly and ready for the coming season.
How To Troubleshoot Common HVAC System Issues
Lack of maintenance is the number one cause of any HVAC malfunctions.
Other causes are:
- Dirty filters
- Pilot of ignition issues
- Thermostat malfunction
- Mechanical wear and tear
- Unusual noises
- Breaker and fuse issues
- Dirty condenser or evaporator coils
- Blower runs continually
- Water leaks
Benefits of Regular HVAC Maintenance
Your family and you rely on your HVAC system to stay comfortable all year round. Your system produces and distributes warm or cool air more steadily and evenly with regular maintenance.
Additionally, regular maintenance will lower your utility bills, improve air quality, and drastically reduce the chance that your system will one day just not work! Plus, a well-maintained system will last longer, if you look after it.
Cleaning of HVAC system
Condenser and evaporator coils
Even though there are several commercially available coil cleaning products on the market, you can clean air conditioner coils by mixing water and a little household detergent. Using a low-pressure sprayer, the detergent and water mixture is applied to the coil. Let it soak for a few minutes and then rinse with a low-pressure sprayer. Do not use high pressure as this may damage the coils and will affect the performance of your system.
Air filters come in two versions – permanent and semi-permanent. This means some air filters can be reused when cleaned regularly with soap and water or just rinsed with clean water, and some air filters must be disposed of and replaced. This will depend on what type and brand of HVAC system you have.
You could also have a combination of air filters. Follow the manufacturers’ guidelines for optimal performance and maintenance.
Your HVAC system’s fan and motor will be cleaned by a specialist using a special brush and hoover. The hoover will remove the dust from the blower cabinet and the brush is small enough to clean the fan blades, motor housing, and squirrel cage.
I like to think of the ductwork and the HVAC system as the lungs of your home. Often I feel it might benefit the home to get your ductwork professionally cleaned, particularly if you have recently had a poor indoor air quality assessment, you’ve experienced a recent home trauma like a fire or water damage, insect infestation or high mold counts.
HVAC cleaning is done using a negative-pressure duct cleaning process and high-pressure agitation cleaning instruments. The cleaning process included the air handling unit, supply and return ductwork, interior components, registers, and air filters, and typically a cleaning solution is used in the process.
If none of the above situations apply, then consider getting your ducts cleaned every three to five years, preferably in the springtime. Depending on the size of your home the cleaning process takes two to three hours.
Services in HVAC Maintenance
HVAC service calls are essential to getting the most out of your HVAC system, which a licensed service technician must do.
An HVAC technician ensures your system is providing optimum performance and airflow. They will conduct a thorough inspection of the coil and drain and clean all parts of your HVAC, including inspecting the thermostat, the motors and connections are working correctly, and measuring the static and refrigerant pressure.
Gas Furnace Service
A gas furnace inspection includes checking the thermostat and making any necessary adjustments. Lubricating all of the heating system’s working parts. Examining, cleaning, and replacing the air filter as necessary and examining and testing the startup process and safety features of the system.
System services typically include:
- Tightening electrical connections
- Examine piping for leaks or cracks
- Clean and examine blowers and fans
- Inspect and clean gas burners
- Examine ignition switch
- Examine heat exchanger
- Inspect and clean the flue
- Replace components that are showing wear and tear
- Inspect system controls
Electrical Furnace Service
Electric furnaces still need to be properly maintained and serviced just like their gas counterparts. Dust and grime are your furnace’s worst enemies. Fortunately, electric furnaces have few moving parts and are simple to maintain.
Electric furnaces don’t have any fuel piping or burners that need to be maintained, but you do need to regularly check the following items on your list to ensure it’s working properly:
- Replace the air filters
- Furnace Blower Fan and Motor Maintenance
- Humidifier Maintenance
- Check the Heating Elements
- Check the Thermostat
- Check the Ductwork
How Do I Maintain My Furnace?
- Replace or clean your filters
- Ensure your blower is functioning correctly
- Reduce your home heating load (by sealing up any major heat loss areas)
- Ensure all your vents are free of obstructions
- For gas furnaces, verify the exhaust flue to the outside is clear
- Remove all objects (including flammable ones) from around your furnace
- Clean your heating system vents and ductwork
Heat Pump Service
Taking care of your heat pump is a no-brainer if you want a comfortable and energy-efficient house. Trust me, I’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years, and routine maintenance is the key. But don’t worry, it’s a lot easier than you think!
A little cleaning and filter changing can go a long way in making sure your system is working properly and efficiently, which in turn for you means more cost savings as you’re not overworking your system.
A yearly service call with a licensed technician will include the following:
- Inspect ducts, filters, blower, and indoor coil for dirt and other obstructions
- Diagnose and seal duct leakage
- Verify adequate airflow by measurement
- Verify correct refrigerant charge by measurement
- Check for refrigerant leaks
- Inspect electric terminals, and, if necessary, clean and tighten connections, and apply nonconductive coating
- Lubricate motors, and inspect belts for tightness and wear
- Verify correct electric control, making sure that heating is locked out when the thermostat calls for cooling and vice versa
- Verify correct thermostat operation
How do I maintain a heat pump?
At least once a year, make an appointment with an HVAC specialist for heat pump maintenance. To maintain proper performance and energy efficiency, a heat pump should be tuned up twice a year, in the spring and autumn.
Here are some other maintenance items you can do to make sure your system is in top shape:
- Clean or replace filters once a month or as needed (reduced airflow makes your heat pump work harder)
- Clean the supply and return registers and make sure they are not closed
- Avoid using “auto” mode and only use “heat” in the winter and “cool” in the summer, as you run the risk of toggling unnecessarily between heating and cooling.
- If you have a central heat pump use “circulate” mode to distribute the cool air from the basement through your home without using the AC mode.
- Always ensure there are no obstructions with the airflow and clear dirt and debris from around the coils and the outside part of the unit.
AC Systems Services
Your AC should be serviced on a yearly basis – even if it gets properly inspected at the end of the season – it should always be serviced before the warm weather approaches, which is about now!
System services include:
- Electrical connections should be tightened
- Examining system controls.
- Examining and cleaning the coils
- Lubricating moving components.
- Replacing components that are showing wear and tear.
- Cleaning or replacing filters.
- Cleaning and inspecting the blowers and fans.
- Checking refrigerant and pressures.
- Check the temperature settings
Tip: A broken capacitor is one of the most common reasons why your AC fails in the summertime and should be checked regularly so you don’t have breakdowns or a reduction in capacity.
Gas Boiler Service
Want to prevent cold shocks and high heating bills? It’s time to look after your gas boiler with regular servicing and maintenance. When you know what to do, maintaining your boiler is simple.
How Do I Maintain A Boiler?
Homeowners can look for leaks by the heat exchanger, which are typically identified by small puddles of water. Also, ensure the circulating pump is well-oiled all year long to keep it operating effectively.
Filters must be free of rust and dirt, so ensure they are cleaned every month. Filters can be cleaned by using a hand spray. Here are some additional items steps every homeowner can do to keep their boiler running at peak efficiency:
- Clean out the boiler and remove any dirt, dust, or debris
- Test the boiler pressurization level, and thermostat level and confirm both can keep up with the output
- Check pressure release safety valves and other seals for signs of leaks
- Check the temperature difference between supply and return water lines
- Thoroughly clean the water lines, tubes, and tube sheets
- Check for oxidization or corrosion on the inside of the gas boiler
- Inspect the water cut-off bowl, and drains & confirm electrical wiring is ok
- Check the pump alignment, combustion & ignition systems, and test safety CO sensors
Finally, homeowners should never close their vents or registers completely – leave them open at approximately 25% for optimal performance and heat distribution.
- Bleeding the radiators – open the values to let out any air
- Ensure your radiators are clear of clutter
- Check the pressure gauge often (2 months) to make sure it is in the right percentage
Tip: Power flushing should be done by a technician – it’s a cleaning technique that flushes out debris and rust (A water softener will also help reduce build-up in your pipes and mechanical systems)
How Do I Maintain An ERV?
ERVs have a core that should be serviced on a yearly basis and the two pre-filters that should be cleaned at least once a month, and more often if you notice a large build-up of dirt and grime. All you need is soapy water and pressure from your tap – don’t use any kind of pressure washer as this can damage your filters.
Scheduling HVAC Maintenance
No matter what kind of HVAC system you have, it should be properly maintained and that includes an inspection and cleaning at least once a year by a professional technician. However, I think it’s best to do an inspection twice a year, once in the early fall and once in early spring. One for heating and one for cooling will ensure peak performance and comfort throughout the year.
By doing this your HVAC system will never let you down. But also keep in mind that some things need replacing or cleaning more often, that includes filters in your HVAC, and possibly your HRV or ERV.
What Is A Hybrid HVAC System?
An electric air source heat pump and a gas furnace are combined to create a hybrid heating and cooling system, which maximizes efficiency while using the least expensive fuel source.
Like hybrid vehicles, hybrid heating systems are more costly than their traditional counterparts. They promise long-term savings by lowering your recurring energy costs. According to best estimates, a hybrid heating system can reduce a homeowner’s annual energy costs by 30 to 50 percent.
When a low-temperature heat pump cannot cover the property’s heating needs, the oil or gas furnace is used to “top-up” the heat pump. However, there are several cold climate models available for our Canadian climate. Under the federal Canada Greener Homes Grant, heat pumps must have a coefficient of performance (COP) of 1.8 or greater at -15 degrees Celsius to qualify as cold environment heat pumps. This means that at -15 degrees Celsius, the heat pump’s efficiency must remain at least 180%.
HVAC Maintenance and Repair Costs
An HVAC tune-up typically costs between $90 and $200, plus parts. An HVAC expert will examine your HVAC system, clean the filters, clear out any dust and debris, and repair any worn-out parts.
As an alternative, an HVAC annual service contract that may include one or two tune-ups costs $150 to $300. For an additional charge for parts, the technician will swap out the fan blades and refill the refrigerant if necessary.
The majority of HVAC service visits cost between $90 and $200, although most businesses will take this amount off your bill or apply it to the first hour of labour.
It costs between $150 and $300 to replace fuses, breakers, or thermostats, and between $200 and $1,500 to rectify refrigerant leaks or replace evaporator coils for an HVAC system. While the majority of furnace repairs cost $125 to $350, the majority of AC repairs cost $150 to $450.
The cost will vary depending on the amount of work and complexity of the job required, and the brand of HVAC.
Should You Hire a Technician To Do The HVAC Maintenance?
Absolutely! A licensed HVAC technician has taken the necessary steps and education to do the job right and is an expert with various heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
They are able to identify and diagnose equipment maintenance issues, perform warranty services and fix or repair any equipment issues. Of course, with more experience the more educated they become.
No matter what, almost all manufacturers provide at least a 5-year warranty on their products, with authorized installation. However, most of the high-end quality brands offer extended warranties especially if you register the product or buy into a home maintenance or protection plan.
Signs That You Need to Replace HVAC System
It may be time for a replacement if your HVAC system is over ten years old, your energy bills are rising, your system keeps malfunctioning or requiring repairs, it’s getting louder than usual, or you hear banging and clunking noises.
Your HVAC system is probably the most complex system in your home and homeowners rely heavily on it to provide year-long comfort so it makes sense that you look after it. We all know that regular maintenance is the best way to preserve the longevity of your system and by knowing the signs of potential problems homeowners can help prevent any major issues.
Due to the complexity of HVAC systems, it is essential that you engage with a licensed HVAC professional to ensure your system performs optimally and can help you manage your system and integrate any new mechanics for optimal performance.