Should I DIY my HVAC Project Or Hire a Licensed Contractor?

External Air Conditioner Fans for Industrial BackgroundKnowing when to hire a professional is key when it comes to home improvement projects. There are some things that most homeowners can do on their own, but there are other things that require the skill of a licensed professional. For the average homeowner, the installation of HVAC units is just too technical, requires too much industry knowledge, and are just not projects where you can afford to do anything that isn’t 100% correct. These are projects for the professionals. What you must understand and appreciate about heating and cooling units is that they must meet certain codes and must be installed per industry standards in order to operate reliably, safety and efficiently. The professionals understand these codes and are trained and certified to handle refrigerants, acquire permits, and install HVAC systems properly.

That said, there are several maintenance tasks that a homeowner can DIY in order to save money without the use of experts. This, of course, will depend upon your skill level. Maintenance on a regular basis will generate significate dividends and many of these tasks can be tackled on a DIY basis resulting in operating costs savings.

Recommended Tasks Best Left to a Professional

Although many HVAC maintenance tasks are basic and can be handled safely by most homeowners and require no specialty tools. Certain tasks and repairs should be performed by a professional to avoid damage to the unit. Repairs and maintenance tasks that should be performed by a HVAC Contractor include:

Mandatory Annual Preventative Maintenance – Many manufacturers require maintenance to be performed by a professional otherwise you risk voiding your warranty. A licensed technician will give the unit an overall inspection, looking for any signs of trouble. They will test the voltage going to equipment, motor amp draws, test the thermostat to ensure proper operation, inspect the condition of the belts, vents, and ducts, check the refrigerant level, and examine the drainage lines. They will also lubricate any ports that may be present.

Refrigerant or Carbon Monoxide Leaks – If you suspect a leak, this is an emergency. Call in the professional, immediately.

Motor not Running or Electrical Problems – Do not assume this is an easy fix. Even if you can reset a fuse, you need to understand the fundamental cause of the problem. Time to call in the professional. A motor that is drawing too many amps may be about ready to fail completely. A thermostat that doesn’t engage the unit when it’s supposed to could need adjustment or replacing.

Cleaning the Condensing Unit – This is the big box located outside of your house. This unit contains the A/C compressor, condenser, condenser fan and various mechanical and electrical connections and controls. Regular maintenance and cleaning of your AC unit will not only save you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, it will keep you from an unexpected break down that will leave you sweating.

Furnace Combustion and Efficiency Tests – Regular maintenance can help prevent safety issues, such as the risk of fire, and the dangers posed by unhealthy gas fumes, and lethal carbon monoxide leaks.

Recommended DIY Tasks

So, which ones can you do yourself?  Here is our recommended list:

Air conditioning equipment atop a modern building - aerial/drone view of the roof with all the necessary installationsFilter Change – In general, the furnace or air handling filter is located inside the blower compartment. This will vary with the installation of the furnace or air handler. There are good reasons for changing your filters on a regular basis. If you do not change them regularly, you may be losing safety and health benefits they provide, and your furnace will have to work harder and be less energy efficient. So how do you know when to change that filter? Here are some general guidelines that can help you determine how and how often is best for you.

First, select a filter that is the correct size for your furnace. When purchasing replacement filters do not select the cheapest filter. It will not provide your family the protection they desire. The higher the “MERV” (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating, the more efficient the air filter is at catching harmful pollutants in your home’s air. A filter with a MERV rating of 1 to 4 is not recommended since their efficiency is less than 20% of any air contaminant. A MERV 5–8 is reasonably good for particles 3 to 10 microns. These filters will catch mold spores, animal dander, hair spray dust mites, dust particles and carpet fibers without any significantly airflow reduction. If your family smokes, vapes, or has allergies consider a MERV 9-12 filter. These filters are better at catching smaller particles 1 to 3 microns including auto emissions, lead, or humid dust. This is the best option for most residential use. Filters with a MERV rating of 13 to 16 should be reserved for homes with bacteria and extreme allergy issues. Consult your HVAC specialist since these higher rating filters might restrict airflow to our home. Change your filter every three months while your system is in use. If you have pets, smoke or keep your doors and window open a lot, change your filters monthly.

Remember that the filter airflow direction is important. Do not install filter backwards or your filter will work inefficiently. Make sure the filter directional air marked on the side of the filter is with the airflow, not against.

When change our air filter, remember to Turn Off Your Furnace.

To prevent the HVAC unit from turning on while you are changing the filter, make sure you turn the thermostat to the “off” position.

Replace Thermostat Batteries – The batteries should be changed approximately once a year, and a good habit to get into is changing the batteries at the beginning of the air conditioning or heating season. Depending on the model, the thermostat may take AA or AAA alkaline batteries, or possibly lithium batteries

Clean Air Handler Pan – Over time, algae and mold can build up and plug the evaporator drain. Unplug you’re A/C air handler and open the cabinet to expose the base pan and evaporator condensate drain pipe connection. With a wet/dry shop vac, clean the pan and remove any debris that would cause the drain pipe to plug and cause a pan to overflow and spill water into the unit. Plug the outside end of the drain pipe and vacuum any debris from the pipe. If your unit is in the attic, a drain float will prevent the system from cooling in order to prevent flooding. Make sure the float is functional.

Clear Condensing Unit Obstructions – Trim any vegetation away from your outdoor condensing unit. Keep anything that would prevent unobstructed airflow at least 12-inches from your unit.

Cleaning the Condensing Unit – On the outside condense unit, remove the fan cage fasteners using screwdriver or wrench, once the power has been shut off to the unit. Lift the cage or fan grill away from the top of the unit. By hand or with a wet/dry vacuum, clean the leaves and other debris from the interior. Now remove the outer cover exposing the heat exchanger fins. Remove any outer dirt and debris with your shop vac. Be careful not to bend the blades of the fins. Do not try to clean with a high-pressure hose or with chemicals. Next, gently spray water from the inside of the unit through the fins to the outside of the unit using your garden hose. Once you are done cleaning, replace the outside cover and fan cage. Your unit will be happy you did.

Vacuum Furnace Blower – Keeping the furnace blower unit free of dirt by vacuuming it periodically, but make sure you shut off its circuit breaker before you do so.

Seal Ductwork – Testing your exposed ductwork joints for air leaks. Hold up a lit stick of incense to the joints while the heater of A/C is running to locate air leaks. Then, seal up these areas using metal tape or mastic.

Check Thermostat Accuracy – Put an outdoor thermometer on the wall next to the thermostat. Run the furnace for several minutes, and then compare the thermometer’s reading to the displayed room temperature. If there is a significant difference, replace thermostat.

Call us at (408) 847-3839 extension 2 to schedule an All Serv HVAC technician for a System Tune Up or Maintenance Check. We will be glad service your systems and also walk you through the DIY tasks that can be done by you.