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HVAC Preventive Maintenance Is Essential: Here Are the Facts

Regular HVAC tune-ups and maintenance help air conditioners and furnaces save energy, run safer, and can prevent premature breakdowns. We look at the evidence.

HVAC Preventive Maintenance Is Essential: Here Are the Facts

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Scott Gowans


May 3rd, 2023

You can find any information on the internet. Whether it’s true or not, that’s a different story.

Here’s a head-scratching tidbit from a site called “We found that dirty air conditioner condensers often perform better than clean ones. The change in condenser coil heat transfer performance ranged from a 7 percent increase to a 7 percent decrease for the coils we tested. The average change was … none at all.”

Their “research” looked at a whopping sample of nine condensers that were at the end of their usefulness. After testing, the results “show that the fouling has a negligible effect on the system performance on most of the coils, and, unexpectedly in some cases, the fouling can improve the performance of the system.”

It would be funny, except that their research was printed in a scholarly magazine called Taylor and Francis online. It is now being quoted by a few websites as definitive proof that taking a hose to your air conditioner and washing away grass clippings, dead leaves, and other airborne debris is pointless.

Following this logic, some sites suggest that annual tune-ups and maintenance are a waste of money, and that the increased energy efficiency from a clean system won’t equal the initial cost.

Here at Fire & Ice, we’ve worked on thousands of systems and can say without question that the best-running ones are the clean ones.

Live in Columbus or its immediate surroundings? Talk with a specialist today!

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Regular HVAC Maintenance Can Solve Several Issues

Here are ways HVAC preventive maintenance benefits your bottom line. 

●        Prevent costly breakdowns

●        Reduce energy bills

●        Extend the life of your system

●        Stay protected under warranty

Regular HVAC maintenance can reduce the risk of breakdowns by as much as 95%. Chances are you wouldn’t drive your car for 30,000 miles without getting an oil change; you’d be asking for trouble. This analogy holds true for your heating and cooling system. It’s a much better idea to schedule regular HVAC and have the tech find and fix something small instead of waiting until it becomes an emergency repair.

Reduce energy bills: Preventive maintenance helps ensure that your HVAC system runs at close to peak efficiency. This can mean savings of up to 30% on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Extend system life:  Regular maintenance extends the life of your system, reducing the likelihood that you’ll need to spend big bucks on an HVAC installation soon. It’s sort of like how annual checkups can help us live longer, except your HVAC doctor makes house calls.

Stay covered under warranty: It’s important to be aware that most HVAC manufacturers require proof of annual maintenance when a repair claim is submitted under warranty. Some of the components that make your HVAC system work are expensive, so investing in annual maintenance to keep them covered under your warranty can save you a significant sum if something goes wrong.

Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

If you skip tune-ups, your indoor air quality will worsen. The worse your system runs, the less it will be able to filter the air. That can lead to an increase in dust and viruses. Allergy sufferers and those with respiratory issues will see a decrease in health.

Replacing your furnace filter can go a long way toward creating a safe indoor climate. And improving the airflow can help the indoor air go through the filter and be cleaned.

Improve Your Comfort

The furnace’s blower is responsible for distributing both warm and cool air. If it’s caked with dust, it will slow down until the point it fails. While it’s laboring, the airflow through your ducts will be less than ideal. If you notice that the air coming out of registers seems weak, this could be the cause.

Your furnace and AC will have to work harder to heat your home, which is hard on the equipment. And the reduced airflow won’t be enough to make your house comfortable. Preventative tune-ups will spot the issue before this happens. Techs can clean the blower as well as the motor, and you’ll be comfortable again.

Keep Your Home Safe

If you have a fuel-burning furnace, one of the byproducts of creating heat is carbon monoxide. If everything is working properly, this gas will be safely vented away from your home. If the mix is off, you won’t notice that this byproduct is in the air. It is odorless and colorless.

It can also seep through a cracked heat exchanger. Only a thorough inspection will detect this defect. (A carbon monoxide detector is a wise investment. The best spot for it is near your furnace.)

Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, approximately 50,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. An experienced tech will detect this gas during a tune-up and take steps to remediate it.

Give Yourself Greater Peace of Mind

Reliability is the primary concern when you’re considering routine maintenance. You can ignore your furnace until it breaks, and it’s probably going to happen when it’s cold out.

Getting routine maintenance gives you peace of mind for reliable heating and cooling, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That’s a small price to pay.

Preventative maintenance can be called predictive maintenance. When HVAC technicians can detect failures accurately and avoid breakdowns, even older units become more reliable. That means you can get more return on investment.

Energy Costs Will Rise Without Regular Maintenance

It just makes sense that clean coils outperform dirty coils. A dirty heat transfer surface will transfer heat less efficiently than a clean one.

Empirical studies show that dirty coils cost energy. It is not “conventional wisdom.”

According to the Department of Energy, a “moderately dirty” coil increases electricity use by 39 percent for a 3-ton unit and 47 percent for a 5-ton system.

The EPA reports that “a buildup of just 1/100th of an inch of dirt or film on an evaporator coil can reduce its efficiency by five percent.” Moreover, “a buildup of .042 (1/20) inches of dirt on the heating or cooling coil can result in a decrease in efficiency of 21 percent.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “a dirty condenser coil can increase compressor energy consumption by 30 percent.”

Regular HVAC maintenance will help ensure the longevity of your systems while saving you money.

Regular Maintenance Will Keep Your HVAC System Under Warranty

If you cannot prove that you’ve had regular maintenance done on your machine, the manufacturer has the right to consider it void. Be sure to save all of your paperwork after any service, tune-up, or installation done on your HVAC system. This way you can rest assured that you will have everything that will make your warranty valid.

Pro tip: If you are buying or just purchased a home, ask the seller for any documents related to the HVAC, especially if it is still under warranty.

Read more:
Annual Tune-Up Service for Your Air Conditioner

Annual Tune-Up Service for Your Furnace

Annual Tune-Up Service for Your Heat Pump

Beware Techs Who Suggest Expensive Repairs or Even Replacements

Your technician may be an honest person who has years of experience and ongoing HVAC training. And maybe they are telling the truth when they tell you an expensive piece of equipment is beyond repair, and replacement is the only route.

How do you know this person is telling the truth? You don’t.

Worse…What if they suggest that a furnace or air conditioner replacement is the only way to go? Are they perhaps working on commission?

If your system is only five years old and you are told that replacement is in order, it’s time to get a second or third opinion. Yes, you’ll have to pay for multiple service calls, but that’s a whole lot better than shelling out thousands of dollars for a new system when all it needed was a fix.

A final important point: If you want a service contract, choose the company carefully. We get many complaints from consumers who buy service contracts and find that technicians discover something to repair on every service visit—at extra cost. Some contractors seem to use service contracts as twice-a-year opportunities to squeeze customers for unnecessary repairs.

DIY HVAC Maintenance

Individuals can do a lot of helpful maintenance on their AC units.

Remove the top grate and fan unit of your air conditioner or heat pump. Take a hose (not a pressure washer!) and spray the coils from the inside of the unit out to push out any dirt that has lodged into the coils. Remove any leaves and debris from both the inside and outside of the unit’s heat exchanger. That will help it breathe better.

Also, change the furnace filter every three months and keep most of the house vents open to maintain proper airflow. (Some filters can last six months, and others can last a year. Be sure to read the recommendations.)

However, this is not a replacement for maintenance checkups by your HVAC contractor.

Do HVAC Maintenance Plans Cover Repairs?

Maintenance and repairs are separate jobs. However, some maintenance agreements will include a discount for repairs.

At Fire & Ice, we have three different maintenance plans, to meet a variety of budgets. They include 10%, 20%, and 30% discounts on all repairs.

Read more: Your HVAC Maintenance Questions Answered

Can You Opt into a Maintenance Agreement When You Need to Get a Repair That Will Be Discounted by It?

Yes, we allow this. Other companies might not. Keep in mind, most maintenance agreements are year-long contracts, at minimum, and there may be a limit on the possible discount.

It’s best to always have a maintenance agreement in place with a trusted contractor that will avoid problem situations in the first place. You’ll save money compared to waiting until you need a repair.

Can We Fix a Bad AC or Furnace Installation Performed by Another Contractor?

Yes, but…

Sometimes a poor installation can be remedied with adjustments to the system. Other times, it will require that a part or even the entire system be reinstalled from scratch. This is rare, but not unheard of.

Sometimes we go to a home where the air conditioner’s refrigerant isn’t put in properly. There’s no easy fix for that. We have to remove all of the refrigerant and recharge the system.

Other common issues can include not properly attaching the system to the ductwork, or not having the correct airflow settings on the blower motor in the furnace or air handler.

Sometimes these fixes can cost hundreds of dollars, or thousands in the worst cases. This is why it’s of the utmost importance to find a reliable contractor to install your system correctly the first time.

How best to find a reputable contractor in the first place? Check Google reviews, find out if the contractor guarantees their work, learn how they treat their employees, or see if they hire third-party contractors instead of having their own staff.

Read more: Cutting Corners: A Look at the Best and Worst HVAC Company Practices in Columbus, OH

Getting Your Money’s Worth out of Your HVAC System

When you have a new HVAC system installed, or even when you move into a home with an existing HVAC system, it’s an investment that will last you for many years.

The only way to ensure you’ll get the most out of it is with annual tune-ups that include any recommended maintenance.

If that doesn’t quite convince you, consider this: The difference in lifespan between a well-maintained system and a neglected one can be up to ten years. That’s ten years sooner that you’re going to have to buy a new system.

In the meantime, your comfort is decreased and your energy bills are higher.

Are you ready to schedule your tune-up? At Fire & Ice, we’re here to help. If you’re in Columbus, Ohio, or the surrounding areas, we’d love to be the ones to get your equipment running in tip-top shape. Schedule your service today.

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