By Lisa Kaplan Gordon
Falling leaves and budding trees are semi-annual signals to inspect HVAC systems to make sure heating and air conditioning flow freely and efficiently. Some mechanical components, like the flue pipe that expels carbon monoxide, should only be checked by a professional. But you can eyeball other HVAC parts and save money on house calls and fuel bills.
Check all exposed ductwork for loose fittings, dents, and collapsed or torn sections. Image: photine/Flickr
Air filters, which clean the air returning to your HVAC system, are the easiest and most obvious components to check. Yours should be dust and dirt-free because you’ve cleaned or replaced them once a month. (Ahem!) If you’ve fallen behind on air filter maintenance, vacuum or rinse them under a hose or faucet, or replace disposables.
Exposed ductwork in your basement, attic, or Starbucks-style loft is easy to inspect. Look for:
- Peeling duct tape and loose fittings around seams
- Dirt streaks that indicate escaping air
- Dents in metal
- Collapsed or torn sections of flex ducts.
Fire up your furnace and inspect the flame. It should be a steady blue, not a flickering yellow or orange, which indicates combustion problems that need professional help. Make sure side panels are closed and fastened.
Grills and registers
Inspect air return grills and HVAC registers for dust, dirt, and pet hair that impeded airflow. Open and shut registers to ensure they work. Make sure furniture hasn’t wandered over vents.
Air conditioning compressors
Be sure outside compressors are unobstructed by vines, shrubs, and leaves. Check that condensor unit fins are straight and undamaged. Place a level on top of units to detect a tilt, which hurts efficiency. If not level, slip a shim under the unit. Remove the top panel and inspect the fan blades for damage, but don’t repair a bent blade yourself: Call an expert to replace the blade ($200 to $300).
Inspect thermostats by removing covers to sleuth out dust and dirt that can shorten the life of mechanisms. Remove particles by gently cleaning with a Q-Tip.