The quality of the air you breathe indoors is very important especially if you spend most of your time at home. As such, having your HVAC system regularly and properly maintained is vital. If the system is polluted with dust, mold, pollen or mites, these contaminants are distributed throughout the home through the air duct and can aggravate allergies. A professional cleaning company will charge around $300-$500 to clean the air ducts. Usually, a high-powered vacuum cleaner is used to clean out these pollutants. But enough with the horror stories!
The good news is you are able to clean your HVAC system yourself. This will involve clearing air ducts, grilles, registers, evaporator coils and fan motors.
When Should You Clean Your HVAC System?
Ideally, as recommended by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), cleaning air ducts should be carried out every three to five years. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests cleaning air ducts when you think there could be mold; when there’s visible dust exiting the ducts and obviously when rats and pests make a home in the ducts. Cleaning also depends on how often you use your system, which part of the country you live and if anyone in your family has asthma or allergies.
Benefits Of Cleaning Your HVAC System
The reason the very first blast of air that comes out whenever you switch on your AC smells damp is because you need the system cleaned. Aside from fresh smelling air, there are plenty of health benefits that come with cleaning not just the air ducts, but every part of the HVAC system. A good cleaning helps alleviate respiratory problems. Pollen and dander commonly found in air ducts are also removed which in turn provides a favorable environment for people with allergies. Cleaning may help alleviate lingering cigarette or other odors. Now let’s get cleaning with these 7 do-it-yourself tips on how to cost-effectively clean your HVAC system.
- Power Off
It is quite dangerous to work on the HVAC system when it is still connected to electricity. Look for a shut off box on the condenser near the unit and also turn off the power at the breaker box just to be safe.
- Registers, Air Ducts, And Fan
Take out the register to expose the air duct. Using a damp cloth, reach into the duct and wipe away the dust and debris. Clean the register too using a damp cloth and put it back. For the fan, remove the grille by unscrewing some screws and lift it out. Using a vacuum or by hand, clean out the leaves, dust or debris inside the cage. Wipe the fan blades as far as you can reach with a damp cloth. Once finished, close the fan cage.
Take out the outer cover of the unit to expose the fins. Use the brush attachment on a vacuum to remove dirt. Spray a gentle stream of water from a hose through the fins to help remove any debris or dust built up between them. You could also use a fin cleaning spray available in many home improvement stores (make sure to read and follow manufacturer’s directions). Use a fin-straightening tool also available at a home improvement store or a simple tool like a butter-knife to straighten bent fins. This opens up the air-flow and increases the system’s efficiency. Make sure not to damage the tubing embedded within the fins.
For an outdoor unit, clear leaves and debris from the top and around the condenser with gloves or if necessary, use a rake. Cut all branches and vegetation around the unit for proper airflow. Cover ONLY the top of the unit with a plywood or polythene bag when not in use and remove the cover when in use.
- Evaporator Coil
For this step, you will need a no-rinse coil cleaner spray and a drain pan tablet available at any home improvement store. Inside the furnace unit, you will find the evaporator coil. Dust off the coil using a soft brush than spray it with the no-rinse coil cleaner. The spray foams then drains into the drain pan at the bottom. Use soapy water with just a little bleach to clean the drain pan. Then, place a drain pan tablet in the pan to inhibit future algae growth.
- Plugged Evaporator Drain
The drain pan collects all liquid water that is as a result of humid air condensed on the cool surface of the evaporator coil. This water then flows out through the drain pipe ideally routed outdoors or into the home drainage system. This drain pipe may clog due to algae or mold formation. To unclog the pipe, find the finch PVC pipe, typically grey, black or white in color, inside the evaporator enclosure. Follow it to the point where it drains. Using a vacuum, first remove the paper filter and hold the hose to the end of the drain line. Fasten with a duct tape. Then turn on the vacuum for 3 minutes then turn it off. This should clear the drain pipe immediately.
- Blower Filter
The blower filter is located on the furnace where the large fresh air duct goes into the AC unit. Open the door by turning the latch.
Remove the old filter and install the new one Make sure to match the air-flow directional arrows on the filter to the ones on the unit. Close the door. The HVAC system blower filter should be changed every six months — before the summer and winter seasons begin.
Hurray! You’ve done it. Your HVAC system is now clean. The above steps will keep your unit working in top shape. However, to give your HVAC system a more durable lifespan, consider the following maintenance steps as well:
Change the AC filters at least once a month and even more often when you have pets. Visually inspect the air ducts to make sure there is no leak and listen to any unusual noises.
- Keep the HVAC system free of debris especially if it is an outdoor unit.
- Replace worn out weather stripping around doors and windows that may cause cool air to escape.
- Turn off your furnace humidifier’s water supply during the summer to give it a break.
- Keep windows and doors closed when the AC is on.
- Use ceiling fans to help circulate cool air and give your system a break.
- Call an HVAC professional when maintenance is required according to your warranty.