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Keep HVACs in tip-top shape with our 8-step maintenance checklist

By: Mitch Mitchell
September 7, 2023

For those who aren't familiar with the abbreviation, HVAC stands for "Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning."  As a homeowner, it's the box (usually outside or on the roof) that control the temperature, humidity and air quality inside. Usually one unit, it provides warmth during colder months and cool air during warmer months — and it can help regulate indoor air quality.

However, because they’re used year-round, HVAC systems can undergo significant wear and tear.

To help your HVAC system continue to operate effectively, it needs regular maintenance. So we came up with a comprehensive maintenance checklist with eight things that should be performed at least once a year in order to keep your HVAC system in great shape and extend its lifespan.


The 8-step HVAC maintenance checklist


1 - Breathe easy with a fresh filter

Air filters prevent dust, pollen and other airborne particles from entering your HVAC system and circulating throughout your home. Over time, these filters can become clogged, reducing airflow and straining the system. To keep your space clean and fresh, you should replace your air filters every three months - at the minimum.

How frequently you switch them out will depend on the type of filter you use and how polluted the area is where you live: urban areas usually have more stuff in the surrounding air than less populated suburbs and rural homes. For better air quality, look for high-efficiency filters, and if you have pets or allergies, more frequent filter changes may be necessary.

  • Expert Tip: Consider upgrading to electrostatic or HEPA filters, which can capture smaller particles and improve indoor air quality significantly.


2 - Clean coils are happy coils

The evaporator and condenser coils are essential parts of your HVAC system that help exchange heat. The evaporator coil cools the indoor air by removing heat and moisture, while the condenser coil releases that heat outside. Unfortunately, over time, dirt and debris can build up on these coils, making it harder for them to transfer heat effectively.

To keep things running smoothly, remember to check the coils once a year and give them a gentle cleaning with a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner. If the coils are really dirty, it's a good idea to bring in professionals to clean them properly and ensure the system performs at its best.

  • Expert Tip: To protect the coils and minimize dirt buildup, consider installing coil cleaning filters or using coil cleaning sprays as recommended by the manufacturer.


3 - Remove debris from outdoor units

The condenser is the outdoor unit of your HVAC system, and it can collect dirt and debris from whatever's in the surrounding area — leaves, grass, twigs, bird nesting material, paint chips, even a squirrel's forgotten acorns. All that stuff can make it harder for air to flow properly, so make sure to check the unit regularly and remove anything that shouldn't be there. It's also a good idea to trim any plants or bushes nearby so they don't block the unit or affect how well it works.

  • Expert Tip: Consider installing a protective cover for your outdoor unit during the off-season or for extended periods when it’s not in use, like when you’re on vacation. Just be sure to remove the cover before turning the system back on. If the airflow is restricted during operation, you’ll stress the motor.
Upgrade to a programmable thermostat for more control over your energy usage and a more comfortable home.

4 - Avoid a condensation situation

Has this ever happened to you? You use the heater during the winter and everything is fine, then you turn on the AC for the first time in the spring or summer and there's water everywhere, maybe even leaking through your ceiling if your unit is on the rooftop. Look no further than the condensate drain pan. This pan is meant to collect excess water (condensation) that's created during the air conditioning process.

A drain line is responsible for removing the moisture, but it can get clogged with things like algae, mold or other stuff, which can cause water leaks or even an entire system malfunction. To prevent this, check the drain line once a year and physically remove any obstructions you see. You can also use a mixture of bleach and water to flush out any blockages you can see. You might want to call in a pro to install a condensation drain pan overflow switch for extra protection against water damage.

  • Expert Tip: To prevent future clogs, pour a cup of vinegar down the drain line every three to six months to help inhibit the growth of algae and mold.


5 - Show your thermostat some TLC

A thermostat that isn't working properly will deliver inconsistent temperatures and waste a lot of energy doing so. To avoid this, you should regularly check your thermostat and recalibrate it if needed. Clean the sensors helps, too, as that helps make sure the temperature readings are accurate. If you want even more control over your energy usage and a more comfortable home, consider upgrading to a programmable thermostat. These thermostats automatically adjust the temperature when you're not home, which saves energy and keeps you cozy.

  • Expert Tip: Take advantage of the programming features on your thermostat to create a schedule that aligns with your daily routine, saving energy, reducing utility costs and keeping you cozy.


6 - Lubricate for longevity

Proper lubrication of the moving parts in your HVAC system is key to reducing friction and wear, which helps your system last longer. Take a look at your system's manual to find out which components need lubrication, like fan motors and bearings. Make sure to use the right lubricant recommended by the manufacturer for smooth and efficient operation.

  • Expert Tip: Be careful not to over-lubricate! Follow the manufacturer's guidelines regarding the amount and frequency of lubrication to avoid any potential issues.


7 - Make a connection

Loose or faulty electrical connections in your HVAC system can be dangerous and take its toll on performance. To stay safe and keep your system running smoothly, it's important to have all electrical connections inspected — checking the wiring, terminals and contacts to make sure they are secure and not corroded or damaged in any way. If you notice any problems like loose connections or exposed wires, contact a pro right away.

  • Expert Tip: If you feel confident inspecting the electrical connections yourself, we suggest you use a non-contact voltage tester to be certain there’s no electrical current present.


8 - Leave it to the pros

While many maintenance tasks can be performed by homeowners, you'll want to schedule professional HVAC maintenance at least once a year. HVAC technicians are experts who have the specialized equipment and technical know-how to conduct a thorough inspection, service your system, identify potential issues and provide necessary repairs or adjustments. Sure. it'll cost a little more every year, but isn't year-round comfort — and safety — worth it?

  • Expert Tip: Consider signing up for a maintenance contract with a trusted HVAC care company. Recurring visits from an HVAC tech can help you stay on top of your system's needs and catch any potential problems before they escalate.
black and white photo of Mitch Mitchell
Author: Mitch Mitchell

Mitch Mitchell is a freelance contributor to Movement's marketing department. He also writes about tech, online security, the digital education community, travel, and living with dogs. He’d like to live somewhere warm.