Guide and Checklist for HVAC Preventative Maintenance

Josh Mitchell

Written By

Josh Mitchell

Expert Reviewed By

Holly Curell

Last Updated On

“If you make a purchase using our provided links, we may receive a commission. Learn more here.

Key Takeaways

  • It is recommended that you perform preventative maintenance bi-annually.
  • Depending upon what kind of HVAC system you have and the devices attached to it, the preventative checklist may differ.
  • Some parts of the preventative maintenance can be performed by yourself. Others require the help and service of an HVAC professional.

Being a homeowner comes with a great deal of responsibilities, and that includes looking after your HVAC system.

Whether cleaning dirty air filters or clearing drain lines, regular HVAC maintenance is a must.

In this guide, I’ll provide readers with a complete maintenance checklist for keeping up with your HVAC needs.

By following this guide, you’ll be able to improve your home’s HVAC performance, lower utility bills, improve air quality, and even reduce the risk of costly repairs in the future.

Annual Preventative HVAC Maintenance Checklist

I typically recommend bi-annual HVAC preventative maintenance, but if you have a newer machine that’s been well-maintained thus far, you can get away with annual HVAC maintenance.

Before checking off any of the tasks on this HVAC maintenance checklist, always refer back to your HVAC warranty and hire an HVAC technician when necessary.

Some of these tasks can be completed on your own, but for several things, it’s better to have a pro on your side.

1. Air Conditioner & Heat Pump

One of the main jobs of your HVAC unit is to provide cold or hot air to the home based on the outdoor temperature.

I've had to deal with a non-functioning air conditioning system in the sweltering heat, and it's no fun.

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, regular maintenance of both cooling equipment and heating equipment is a must.

Important Note:

Air conditioner and heat pump share many similarities, but they also differ in some aspects. Their maintenance schedule and checklist may differ slightly and hence it is better to check with the unit's manual or with an HVAC professional.

Here are the main tasks to add to your maintenance checklist when it comes to the AC and heat exchanger:

  • Optimize the system for better energy efficiency [1]
  • Check for oil and refrigerant leaks
  • Check the wear, tension, and alignment of all blower components
  • Clean the condenser coil if it appears dirty
  • Secure all electrical connections (you might need a pro for this one)
  • Check temperatures of the expansion valve and coil

2. Humidifier

If your HVAC furnace is built with a connected humidifier, that’s next up on the annual preventative maintenance checklist.

A humidifier is super helpful, especially for cold weather.

It controls the moisture levels throughout your home, making the air feel warmer and less dry.

This ultimately means that your HVAC can operate smoothly at lower temperature settings to save on energy costs.

Useful Note:

A humidifier does not cool or dry the air. It only adds humidity to the air. The relative humidity, however, can impact the perceived temperature.

Here are a few essential yearly tasks for maintaining your HVAC humidifier:

  • Check the drain lines and remove any visible clogs
  • Replace the evaporator pad if necessary (you can find this at any hardware store)
  • Make sure everything is working properly
  • Check the settings on the controls and damper, and make adjustments if needed

3. Furnace

The furnace is an essential part of any HVAC system, and planning ahead is important to keep your furnace operating for the long run.

This component of HVAC blows heated air through the ducts, delivering warm air to rooms throughout the home.

Furnaces can be powered by 4 different fuel types: gas, electricity, propane, or solar energy.

If you have a traditional gas furnace that connects to gas lines, I suggest hiring a pro to perform any furnace-related services.

There are a few maintenance tips you can follow to ensure that your furnace operates for a longer period of time, including:

  • Adjust burner combustion to get the most out of your fuel usage
  • Lubricate any moving parts of the furnace
  • Inspect the furnace for any signs of combustion
  • Evaluate the safety shut-off feature to ensure it’s working properly
  • Check the blower belt for any wear-and-tear
  • Examine the flue system for proper ventilation
  • Confirm that all automatic controls are working as they should
  • If the burners are dirty, clean them with furnace-safe products
  • Replace the furnace filter as needed

4. Electronic Air Cleaner

Many HVAC units are built with an electronic air cleaner to promote a healthier environment throughout the home.[2]

Sometimes referred to as ionizers or purifiers, air cleaners are essentially just filters that use electrically charged material to reduce the risk of airborne contaminants.

There are a few things you can do to keep your air cleaner effective, including:

  • If the filter is washable, remove it from the HVAC and wash it as needed
  • Confirm that the cells are working as they should
  • Check all electrical components, making sure that everything is connected properly

5. Schedule Annual Servicing

Most of the tasks listed so far can be performed by an HVAC technician during yearly inspection.

Even if you choose to do maintenance on your own, you should still have your system checked every year.

During a professional inspection, the tech should provide reliable and efficient service, providing you with a full evaluation of the entire system, ranging from the AC and heat pump to the furnace and air cleaner.

If you have a newer HVAC system, inspections should be included in your warranty policy (at least for the first few years of usage).

Useful Tip:

Even if you have to pay out-of-pocket, inspection costs aren’t too bad, typically ranging from $75 to $150.

TL;DR: Depending upon the device you have, its maintenance schedule and the checklist can vary. Bi-annual maintenance is recommended for most HVAC systems.


Seasonal Maintenance Tips Homeowners Should Be Following

Because I live in a climate that has significant spikes in temperature depending on the season, I perform seasonal maintenance on my HVAC system - once in the spring/summer and once in the fall/winter.

Even if you live in a temperate climate that stays consistent throughout the year, biannual regular maintenance is a good idea.

Here’s the full checklist for HVAC preventative maintenance based on the season:

Spring & Summer Maintenance

Depending on where you live and the typical climate, spring is the perfect season for a biannual maintenance plan.

You can check that everything is working properly before the summertime heat hits, particularly when it comes to HVAC cooling systems.

Here’s a complete list of cooling maintenance tasks to ensure proper operation during the hotter months of the year:

  • Replace all of the HVAC system’s filters for improved air quality.
  • Remove any clogs within the drain lines.
  • Clean the condenser coils and evaporator coils.
  • Check for any water buildup in the drain pans, and remove standing water to prevent mold.
  • Remove any dust, mold, or other debris from the air ducts.
  • Confirm that the air conditioner has enough refrigerant.
  • Check the programmable thermostat to confirm that they’re set properly.
  • Inspect the blades and blowers of the fan motor.
  • For an outdoor unit, remove any surrounding leaves or debris.
  • Use a lubricant on all moving parts of the system, including motors and bearings.
  • Call in a professional for an annual inspection of the air conditioning system.

Useful Tip:

Depending on your experience with HVAC, many of these tasks can be completed on your own. Still, if you're not comfortable or you don't have the time, you should hire an HVAC pro to help.

Fall & Winter Maintenance

Fall is another great time for performing preventative maintenance on your HVAC system.

This gives you the chance to check the heating system and make sure it’s ready to take on the colder climate conditioners.

Here’s a full list of fall/winter preventive maintenance tasks.

You’ll notice that it’s very similar to the spring/summer maintenance checklist, but there’s a greater emphasis on the heating components of HVAC systems:

  • Inspect your filters and replace them every 60-90 days throughout the winter to maintain proper airflow and ensure clean air within your home.
  • Inspect all heating elements to ensure they’re in tip-top shape.
  • Confirm that the flue system is properly attached to the furnace.
  • Inspect any moving parts for damage, like belts and pulleys, and replace them if needed.
  • For gas furnaces, call a professional to check for gas leaks or gas pressure problems.
  • Check for any water buildup in the drain pans and remove standing water.
  • Check the wiring and any electrical connections for damage.
  • Confirm that the heat pump system works properly.
  • Use a lubricant on all moving parts of the system, including motors and bearings.
  • Replace batteries in the thermostat if needed, and change the settings based on your heating preferences for a comfortable temperature.

TL;DR: For optimal performance on AC units in summer, spring maintenance is recommended. For optimal heating performance in winter, fall maintenance is recommended.


Things To Consider Before Attending To Your HVAC System

There’s one big question to ask yourself before performing a tune-up to your HVAC unit: Can I do this job myself, or is it necessary to hire a professional?

While many HVAC maintenance-related tasks can be done as a DIY job, some require special skills and tools that the average homeowner doesn’t have.

Here’s a quick rundown of the maintenance tasks that typically require professional expertise:

Cooling Coil Cleaning

Compared to most homeowners, professional technicians have the expertise, equipment, and resources to complete this task thoroughly.

They use high-pressure water to remove any sediment built up on the cooling maintenance coils.

Drainage System Inspection

Built-up condensation can cause major problems when not properly removed from the drainage system.

If the excess fluid seeps out of the drainage tube onto wood flooring, it can cause permanent damage.

A trained service technician can inspect the drainage system thoroughly and has the tools and equipment needed to clean it up quickly.

HVAC Maintenance Tasks To DIY

While some services are best left to the pros, there are a few tasks you can do on your own so that your HVAC continues to run at peak efficiency.

  • Change thermostat batteries when necessary
  • Keep the area surrounding your HVAC cabinet clean (there should be a clear pathway)
  • Monitor your energy bills for any unusable energy consumption
  • Clear any debris from the area surrounding the outdoor unit (there should be at least 18 inches of clearance around the unit’s base)
  • Check your filter every month, replacing or washing it when necessary

TL;DR: There are some tasks that you can DIY; whereas, there are others that require professional service.


How Often Should You Do HVAC Preventive Maintenance?

Every HVAC system requires regular maintenance, but the frequency of your maintenance plan depends on a few things.

While I suggest biannual maintenance to ensure that your system is working properly, you can easily get away with an annual maintenance regimen depending on a few key factors:

  • HVAC System Age
    Brand new HVAC systems require less frequent preventative maintenance than older systems. For a new system, maintenance is recommended once per year, but for older systems, twice-yearly inspections are best.
  • Typical Running Hours & Usage
    Some homeowners are comfortable with less frequent use of their cooling or heating system. If that’s the case for you, there’s no need for biannual maintenance checks; a yearly inspection of the system’s ability will suffice.
  • HVAC System Size
    The HVAC unit for a standard-size home requires less maintenance than a unit designed to run an entire commercial building.
  • Climate & Weather Conditions
    The spikes and dips in temperatures for heating and cooling seasons play a huge role in whether or not it’s important to check the system regularly.

TL;DR: While biannual preventative maintenance is recommended, you can get away with just annual maintenance, depending upon the age and size of the HVAC system as well as the overall climate.


Why It’s Important To Keep Up With HVAC Maintenance

With HVAC components tucked away and out of sight, it's easy to neglect routine maintenance.

This won't do you any favors, and there are several reasons why it's important to perform maintenance on the reg:

  • Lower Energy Costs
    Failing to maintain your HVAC system means it won't run as efficiently as it should. Essentially, it needs to work harder to function, and a harder-working HVAC is likely to reflect higher energy bills.
  • Reduces Repair Costs & Emergency Repairs
    No matter how often you perform HVAC preventative maintenance, there’s always a chance of having to pay for repairs. The good news is that regularly inspecting and maintaining your HVAC system greatly reduces that risk, and catching problems early on can help to lower the risk of emergency repairs.
  • Improves Lifespan Of Your System
    Replacing your heating and cooling system altogether is a costly endeavor. By performing regular HVAC preventive maintenance, you can experience longer equipment life by several years, so you won’t have to pay for an entirely new system as often.
  • Promotes Health & Safety
    A properly functioning HVAC unit can significantly improve indoor air quality. However, this is only the case if regular maintenance is performed on the air filters and other system components.

TL;DR: Regular maintenance can improve the longevity and performance of the HVAC unit thus reducing your bills and promoting good health.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

How Long Does HVAC Maintenance Take?

HVAC maintenance typically takes between 1 and 2 hours for a professional technician.

However, if you’re doing it on your own with no professional help, expect it to take longer.

What Parts of Your AC Need Preventative Maintenance?

Air conditioning components that require proper maintenance include the filters, coils, and fins of the system.

Paying close attention to these parts will not only prevent AC system failure but also lower energy bills.[3]

What Happens If You Don’t Change Your Air Filters?

If you don’t change your HVAC air filter, you could be looking at complete HVAC system failure.

The build-up of dirt and debris can lead to several potential problems, including poor air quality, increased monthly energy bills, and even complete failure of heating and cooling systems.

References: 

  1. https://www.energystar.gov/saveathome/heating_cooling
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4587002/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4587002/
  3. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/maintaining-your-air-conditioner
Was This Article Helpful?
YesNo

Josh Mitchell

Founder

Josh Mitchell
My name is Josh and I am obsessed with home appliances. From portable AC units to heaters and air purifiers, I enjoy testing, learning and using these devices to improve the air quality inside my family home.

My Favorite Home Appliance?

Midea U Shaped Window Air Conditioner

See Our Editorial Processes

Meet Our Team

Share Feedback