Maintenance Basics In Layman’s Terms:
What can you do to preserve the life of your HVAC systems? A quick Google search will give you 100,000,000+ results for fast, simple, and cost-saving methods you can employ to extend the life of your unit. So go grab that toolbox, and let’s go to town! It is on the internet, so it must be true. Right?
Of course not. That is what brought you here. You would not pop the hood of your car and start taking apart your transmission after watching a YouTube video. That is a job for a professional. Just like your car, your HVAC unit needs the ‘hood popped’ and some TLC to keep operating reliably. So before ripping everything apart, you want to turn to the experts, just to stay on the up and up.
Now, we will not say you cannot do any maintenance yourself; but first, you need to ask yourself some hard-hitting questions.
Why should I care about maintenance? It is just a filter getting changed here, a light dusting off the vents there, checking to see if the air is, in fact, blowing—no big deal. This Venus Flytrap of thinking traps has caught many victims, believing that there is no practical use for working knowledge if you have a fail-safe, a service plan, and a warranty. Let the experts handle it, no need to stress. Except, there is no check oil light on an HVAC system. Without the proper knowledge base, a seemingly trivial issue can slip right through the cracks completely unnoticed, becoming a massive pain down the line.
Here is reason number 100-A on why this is faulty thinking. How can you stop a simple issue from spiraling into criticality? Cross your fingers and hope? First, let’s set the scene for situational context:
You live in this desert hellscape, where summer-light has just started.
It is hot.
It is dry.
It is generally horrific.
There’s steady wind gust blowing sand and dust everywhere. The wind itself is mocking you, blowing 97-degree literal hot air straight into your face. The very concept of “The Outside” is pure nightmare fuel.
Now, this heat is just cruel and unusual punishment because even with the AC is on full blast…
…it refuses to get any cooler.
While this probably sounds like a bad, overly dramatic PSA circa 1954 warning you about the follies of complacency. Since no one wants to be the bearers of bad news, only showing up to rub salt in wounds, here at Las Vegas Mechanical, we want to give the necessary information to best keep your AC this summer from breaking down. (Also, we would prefer to keep you and yours from melting.) We are here to supply you with a few tips on the sexiest topic of 2021, the Importance of Upkeep and Maintenance!
Were there any warning signs? Would you have known them if they came and introduced themselves? In all seriousness, could you have prevented this disruption without having any HVAC experience? Preventive maintenance is having your AC Unit regularly serviced to lower the likelihood of having any significant malfunctions, degradation of parts, and maintaining refrigerant levels, among other checks. All these working parts keep your unit running at optimal peak levels, thus saving your AC from toiling away under pressure and keeping your energy bills down a little lower.
You, personally, don’t ever have to do any maintenance-we recommend steering clear from any internal components. This ensures smaller fragile pieces are not damaged, and homeowners don’t interact with any hazardous material. A UV-C Light is an upgraded feature installed in some HVAC units that is used to scrub the air from harmful bacteria and viruses. These may contain mercury, which is exceedingly toxic, and the light itself can cause radiation burns and cataracts (generally from improper installation) from direct exposure.
Some UV Lights in HVAC systems are harsher than others and can cause even more severe long-term illnesses to the person exposed. Radiation burns are not the business and have long-lasting adverse health risks, so it is in your interest to ensure that the installer has been adequately trained and certified before contracting them to perform this service. In addition, your system’s coils are not always replaceable (In both a cost-effective sense by driving up your energy bill by not functioning at its’ best or by needing to replace both the inside and outside coils) and are relatively easy to accidentally damage.
Knowing these little details can help any homeowner save time and potentially saving you spending thousands on an entirely new unit. General wear and tear can require a minor repair, even without constant use, now and again. Now, take away all preventive measures; the AC units’ lifespan will degrade exponentially quicker when left to run for years without any services. Years of potential use lost from waiting for a critical failure to have a technician come even to refill the refrigerant. It is possibly the costliest way to maintain any appliance when most manufacturers require annual or semi-annual maintenance not to void their warranty. It makes no sense not to have any unit serviced once a year from purely a cost analysis perspective.
Tip: Manufacturers have checklists of services that are specific unit, double check their list to your service plan to ensure you don’t need additional work.
According to The Department of Energy, most HVAC in residential homes have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years, with the manufacturer’s recommended routine maintenance and typical use by a family. After four years of pushing a new air conditioner much farther than it can effectively operate, effectively running into the ground, it breaks down—critical failure and needs to be replaced. A well-maintained unit should have at least another nine years. Not only are you going to be one sad panda if it is the middle of a dry Las Vegas summer, you essentially set a few thousand dollars on fire for the fun of it, seeing that most American families spend around $4,600 on a new HVAC system.
Let us round up that number up (We are HVAC experts, not Mathematicians) and say you spent 5,000 on this AC Unit. That unit should still have nine years’ worth of use. Taking $5,000 and multiplying it by the nine years a standard unit would have left $4,500. You are now out thousands of dollars over the years. With reported data from The US Travel Association, the average American spends just over 6 grand on an international vacation; you could travel domestically for the same length of time and still have money left over from that $4,500. To add insult to injury, the cost of the AC unit was a dizzying amount more than its’ return value. Do yourself a favor and spend that money on a nice vacation this summer instead. Think of it as self-care; after all, you are being an extremely responsible adult by doing your homeowner’s homework.
We will take it a step farther; imagine if you did the manufactures recommended preventative maintenance twice a year. We are going to pretend that the air conditioner stays blasting all year long. You’re a rebel, and you don’t even turn the temperature down when you leave for work in the morning. While it is true that it is less strenuous on AC unit to maintain than to cool down your home, but that is not taking the cumulative damage. The former will put more stress on the unit over its lifespan and will undoubtedly need some extra TLC. Even these additional measures don’t completely stop the possibility of parts or the unit needing to be replaced earlier than the industry norm.
We get wanting to be comfortable at home. It is hard for an HVAC system to maintain 72 degrees inside when it is over 100 degrees outside. Consider turning the thermostat up a few degrees before going out for a lengthy period during the day. It is a happy medium that saves money and lessens the chance that the air conditioner will give out during the hottest part of the day. Why stain the HVAC to keep itself at 72 degrees if no one is home to enjoy it? You want to be extra thrifty, consider a programmable thermostat. Change of plans? Turn your thermostat down later in the day if staying late to prepare for a meeting. This being the greener option can give that warm self-righteous feeling and save your wallet.
AC units work in two different ways to cool your home. The first is transferring heat using coolant to cool the air before cycling it back into the outdoor unit to the compressor, which does all the heavy lifting. The compressor uses pressure to change that air into a liquid state before dispersing the hotter heavier air outdoors. Thus, an air conditioner is less making the air inside your home cold, but more so the heat transfer. Unfortunately, in this desert climate, your compressor is more likely to burn out when minor routine maintenances are overlooked.
There is poor airflow from dirty filters, inadequate insulation in the air ducts letting cold air escape, and possibly the most atrocious, disconnected, or leaking ducts. The US Department of Energy,
Office of Scientific and Technical Information in their publication on Best Practices
Guide for Residential HVAC Retrofits says that it is “surprisingly common” to find disconnected ducts. During these specific home renovations, homeowners consistently had issues regulating and sustaining comfortable temperatures not just throughout the home but even within the same room. If the ducts were found to be completely intact during a diagnostic and not leaking, it might signify that the HVAC system itself is too tiny even before an extension. An alternate problem could be the sizing of the ducts themselves. Sizing issues can cause airflow and air pressure complications leading to having temperature differentials in each property
Note: Talked with your HVAC Technician regarding plans to increase the square footage of your home with the existing unit; it may be an inadequate size and will increase energy consumption from five to fifteen percent.
There are multiple ways that a technician might diagnosis a leaky duct. It would be unlikely a test has never been performed within a standard service being a commonly pervasive occurrence if the service call pertains to quandaries widely attributed to improper airflow. However, if the climate is on the sticky humid side, then it is prudent not to ignore any musty smells in the air. There is a reasonable probability that that smell is from mold and mildew growth.
A clean unit reduces stress on your AC, which in turn causes minor wear and tear. Not only are you improving your unit’s lifespan, but you’ll see a decrease in the amount you spend on your energy bills. Clean vents and filters don’t just do wonders for your pockets either; they can be crucial for your health, mainly your lungs. Mold can begin blowing through your vents, covering every inch of your home. While the CDC says, there is contradicting research if toxic molds cause horrific sounding health problems, bleeding in the lungs for one. However, the CDC has looked over significant amounts of research from illness mold does cause, which still isn’t any prettier. The CDC also links poor air quality in most buildings to inadequate maintenance and operations of HVAC systems. Proper installation is also very crucial to preventing mold growth. If they are ill-fitting, water and condensation can build up in and around your unit—literally the ideal environment for this fungus to grow.
The CDC has more helpful information on mold in HVAC systems in commercial buildings and other air-based pollutants. If you would like to learn more from the CDC, be sure to click here.
While mold is the most noted problem online with indoor air quality, numerous academic journals report on the correlation between HVAC systems, inadequate servicing, and health problems like Sick Building Syndrome or SBS. These seemingly mishmash of unrelated health problems are linked together due to the poor air quality within a building’s HVAC system. While I will not be the one saying your AC is killing you, it isn’t doing you any favors if it is left to become a breeding ground for pathogens and fungi.
So far, we have covered maintaining components for an AC inside the home itself, both the expense involved and possible health risks with doing nothing. However, we have not yet covered much to do with the fabulous outdoors. Want to keep your HVACs’ outdoor housing unit well-kept and maintained between scheduled services but are worried about maiming your AC unit right before the summer? Don’t know where to start? Have no fear, dear savvy homeowner; you want to read a bit on maintaining the area around the outside housing unit, keep it free from possible hostile plant coups, wildlife wanting to be roommates, and Mother Nature’s extreme climates from ruing your day? That is an exceptional place to start! I’m glad I brought it up.
Maintain a clear perimeter between the outdoor housing unit and any animal feeders or vegetation. Every HVAC system can have different requirements for the clearance they need to function. If you are unsure what the manufacturer gives for their specs, a quick google search can help find a PDF of the user manual; use this as the standard plus a half foot if you’re planting something unfamiliar. It is better to be on the side of caution with plants that proliferate at a quicker rate. Plants like these would restrict airflow quickly when not trimmed back; the potential damage from this may cause units to overheat or freeze over, leaving them unusable. Depending on the other types and varieties of plants and how close they are growing to your unit, transplanting them, or moving their planter might be the easiest, most straightforward route if unsure.
Did you know some plants can grow right through concrete slabs? Which is more probable than not, keeping your unit level and on steady ground. When clearing weeds and overgrowth, be sure to check for secondary cracks that can splinter and cause damage to your foundation. Certain plant types and shrubbery grow massive roots before flowering up through these imperfections in the concrete, making the removal difficult and cumbersome. Also, in your best interest to check while still in the planning stage of replacing or retrofitting your existing unit.
Invasive plant species cause absurd amounts of property damage around the world each year. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that over 120 billion dollars of revenue are lost each year. For example, Kudzu, an invasive vine from Japan, can down miles of powerlines and telephone lines from their weight alone. According to a US. Government Publication from the early 2000s Kudzu is estimated to have caused the US Southern States property damage exceeding 100 million USD. So do yourself a favor and consider removing all invasive species to mitigate any potential damage or oversights.
Take a moment to look for signs that animals live within or close to the housing unit; if possible, identify what attracts these furry or scaly friends and remedy them. I, personally, would not want to fight any animal(s) myself for a plethora of reasons. A frightened animal can lash out, causing you, those in the area around you, and the animal itself harm in the process of being evicted. Another is live wires chewed through or otherwise. Smell that? Smells like an electrocution risk to me. Like the PSA about down powerlines, if you suscept rodents in your home, the chance for live wires from appliances goes up, and you should call a professional.
Clark County Animal Control <– So you don’t have to go through the eviction process alone.
Wildlife should not be making itself a home within your unit; small rodents can fit just about anywhere and are known to frequently chew on household appliances’ rubber and plastic, destroying them in the process. They can do the same thing inside of HVACs’ outside unit. Keeping fruits, trees, planters with veggies, and other vegetation those tiny terrors eat away from your unit will lessen the chance of them seeing your AC unit as an ideal place to nest. Additionally, making the area around your unit less appealing for rodents will not only potentially save your air conditioner but any electrical wiring in the home, saving your wallet from having a massive bill or from driving up the cost of homeowners insurance.
Likewise, keeping deer and bird feeders a reasonable distance from your air conditioner keeps birds from defecating into the unit. I’m positive no one wants to have to clean that up, but more importantly, rodents are also attracted to accessible food sources. It is a neon sign for chaos and havoc until they are convinced to stop coming back for free food and board. Chewing their way through a system’s electrical components, exploiting small gaps in vents to nest in the installation of a home, is not only disruptive for air pressure but can be noisy, costly, and overall a nuisance. If unnoticed, those gaps in the ductwork can grow from shifting under their weight. The air conditioner may not keep the internal temperature reasonable despite everything else being in working order—cool air leaching into attics and crawl spaces instead of the parts of the home you use. Adding to the pile on, the miniature thieves take installation to build a nest, in turn causing even more cool air to escape. Having an HVAC system serviced at regular intervals will give anyone a much-needed second pair of eyes. Preventing costly repairs or replacements from everything from general wear and tear to an unwelcomed house guest.
Bring it back home; your outdoor unit has internal components left partially exposed after having a considerable gap marred into aside. The recent uptick in the amount of dust around your home has you searching for a solution. After changing the filters, you go outside and build a brand-new cover for the unit around it out of scrap wood. Thinking that this will help solve the dust storm plaguing your home until it is replaced. Since you cannot know what you don’t know, you didn’t realize that covering the system entirely without proper spacing and airflow is an issue. While that in and of itself may not cause your HVAC unit to burst into flames, it could very well cause the unit to overheat, burn out the compressor, and other problems. A simple sizing misstep could ruin that chance at going abroad.
To sum up, in the best way I know how there is a reason that it is called preventive because it is just that—preventing future problems. Don’t let the slow inability to regulate the subpar temperature control, poor performance, higher energy bills, and having to worry that your HVAC will just break down when it is most needed is not the answer. Simply knowing about your HVAC unit can improve your quality of life as a well-maintained unit will keep your home cooler than one left neglected.
Feel free to email us with your maintenance questions and if we get enough questions regarding your topic, we’ll cover it!
Written and researched by: Emma Ruddock
Las Vegas Mechanical – HVAC Mechanical Contractor
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