Avoid Costly Home HVAC System Repairs with Basic Home Maintenance Routines

avoid costly HVAC repairs featured - Avoid Costly Home HVAC System Repairs with Basic Home Maintenance Routines

Taking a few minutes to make some minor, but critical, house checks every season can save you plenty!

Your home is one of the most important investments you’ll ever make. That’s why keeping it in good, working condition – inside and out — is critical to ensuring your family’s quality of life and, when and if the time comes to sell, allows you to sell for potentially a better price. But the biggest reason to be proactive with home repairs by fixing the problem when it’s just starting to show, is that, if ignored, a small issue can easily morph into a huge expense in very little real time.

Just some due diligence performed on a routine basis, such as twice a year or before the change of each season, can provide you with invaluable peace of mind and help you avoid any substantial, unplanned expenses. And the older your home, the more important are these seasonal spot checks.

Here is one of several places in your home you’ll certainly want to stay on top of and a snapshot of the potential expense if you don’t:

HVAC Maintenance

If you haven’t kept up with it, count on your HVAC system to conk out in sweltering July or freezing January.

The best time to perform preventive HVAC maintenance is just before each cooling season begins, on a day that’s at least 60 degrees F – the minimum temp at which you can effectively test your AC servicing. Your system will consist of either a furnace and AC or a heat pump, which both heats and cools. Both types will have an interior unit (evaporator and blower) and an exterior unit (condenser coil and compressor). The following instructions apply to a whole-home air-conditioning or heat pump unit.


  1. Identify your condenser/shut off power: Your outdoor condenser will have two copper tubes running to it, one bare and the other encased in a foam sleeve. If you have a heat pump, both tubes will be covered by foam sleeves. Turn off all power to the unit: outdoors, an exterior shut-off box is located near the condenser/compressor. Indoors, turn power off at the breaker box.
  2. Clean interior leaves and other debris from condenser: Using a screwdriver or wrench, unscrew fasteners from the top of the fan cage and lift the grill away from the unit. Clean inside by hand or use a wet/dry vacuum.
  3. Remove outer covers, carefully clean AC condenser fins: Located on the outer portion of an air conditioner, a cover looks like a grill with fine metallic blades surrounding the unit. These fins move heat away from the air conditioner and get dirty because a central fan sucks air through them pulling in dust, dead leaves and other debris that clogs. Use a shop vacuum soft brush attachment to remove all outside dirt. Gently spray water from a garden hose to clean the fins and when you discover fins that are bent, use a blunt dinner knife to straighten them or a special set of fin combs available at an appliance parts store. If there are large areas of fins that are crushed, it’s best to have a professional straighten them during a service call.
  4. Test for proper cooling: Restart the condenser (outside unit) by switching power back on, then set the house thermostat to “cool” which should kick on the compressor. Check after 10 minutes that the outside insulated tube feels cool and the uninsulated tube feels warm. When finished cleaning, replace the fan cage. Rake back leaves and debris outside the condenser and clear branches and vegetation at least 2 feet in all directions to ensure proper airflow around the unit.
  5. Clean the indoor unit: Turn off the power to furnace or blower, via the toggle switch located in a metal box nearby or simply turn off the power at the main panel. Routine, year-round maintenance should include changing the furnace filter every 30 or 90 days and vacuuming out the blower compartment annually. Keep the power to the blower off when removing the filter to avoid blowing dust into the evaporator fins. A tube that drains condensation resulting from the evaporator fins dehumidifying the air as they cool it, deposits water that collects in a pan and drains out the side. Most tubes are flexible plastic and are easy to pull off and clean. But the rigid plastic kind require you to unscrew or cut off with a saw to check. Re-glue rigid tubes using a coupling or replace them with flexible plastic tubes.

Average Cost of HVAC System Replacements

What’s worse than being in your home without air conditioning or heat in extreme temps? Having to suffer in these conditions for a day or more until an HVAC pro can come out and diagnose the problem. But what’s even worse than your discomfort? The slow realization that you didn’t budget for the entire replacement of your central HVAC system when the professional breaks the news that you need a new one.

Average costs for a new HVAC system can range from $3,500 to $7,525 – and that does not include a home with lofted ceilings, that is multi-level, or new duct work that may be needed in older homes. So, it’s a good idea to maintain your HVAC system as well as you can or have a professional give it a tune-up once yearly.

IMPORTANT: Always refer to your owner’s manual if you have difficulty with any of these procedures.

This is the fourth of a five-part Freedom Mortgage Blog Series titled Avoid Costly Home Repairs. Catch up with FMC’s first, second and third blog entries: Roof Maintenance, Foundation Maintenance and Water Heater Maintenance. Also, don’t forget to check back for the fifth entry in the home maintenance tips series, Termite Damage Repairs, coming soon!