The Importance of Regular HVAC Maintenance

–Philip J Reed, on behalf of Redstone College

“A stitch in time saves nine.” “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Almost everyone has heard these or similar sayings, yet many fail to realize that such warnings also hold true for heating and cooling systems. Regular HVAC maintenance can help prevent costly repairs and system failures, which often occur at the absolute worst possible time.

When an HVAC system in a home fails, it may mean that the family is too cold to be comfortable or too warm to get a good night’s sleep. However, when a commercial heating or cooling system fails, the consequences can be even more serious. Hospitals, for example, need proper temperature control, not only for patient comfort but to safeguard the expensive, often delicate equipment in use.

Virtually any business that houses a lot of computer equipment can find itself in trouble if the cooling system fails. If the heating system fails in a cold climate, the damage can be just as bad and may even include frozen water pipes and additional damage. Temperature-sensitive inventory can be lost to extreme cold or extreme heat. Furthermore, working conditions may become so intolerable that staff cannot conduct business as usual.

A poorly maintained HVAC unit can not only incur wear that could have been prevented but also typically functions at less-than-peak efficiency. This means higher energy bills, because the unit must work harder to control the temperature. The good news is that, even if a system has been neglected for years, if a regular HVAC maintenance program is begun it is often possible to bring the system back to its normal efficiency.

In most HVAC training courses, technicians are taught to service both indoor and outdoor units. Although the exact checklist may vary, there are certain steps that are virtually universal for seasonal maintenance.

For outdoor units, typical steps include

  • Check level of refrigerant and, if necessary, adjust it.
  • Clean out the inside cover to remove any leaves, trash or dirt.
  • Clear any obstructed drains.
  • Check fan blades and motor and lubricate if necessary.
  • Clean coil if needed.
  • Visually inspect compressor, controls, wires and other parts.

For indoor units:

  • Inspect filters and replace if necessary.
  • Inspect blower assembly and clean if necessary.
  • Inspect gas units for possible leaks.
  • Inspect drains, coils, wires and other parts.
  • Verify that ductwork is properly connected.
  • Check safety controls and adjust or clean if needed.

Other steps may be included in a routine HVAC maintenance inspection. It should also be noted that, especially on older, neglected units, the inspection may reveal problems that need to be repaired but are not included in the cost of the inspection. However, even if potential problems are found, knowing about them ahead of time allows the opportunity to schedule repairs before the system fails completely.