A few things you should know about your heating/cooling system

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Cornerstone Business Group Inc 0225086119

I have no problem having a "hot" wife, but when that means the air conditioner is not working correctly it can be a problem. I just spent my Thursday servicing our heating / cooling system and there are a few things the average homeowner should know about his/her HVAC system. Every repair is not a replacement. 

  • Most problems with your HVAC system are electrical, not refrigerant based. Periodically, refrigerant will seep out of your system, but that means you have a leak. Most problems are related to things like sequencers, switches, transformers, capacitors, etc.
  • If you change your filters regularly, you will lengthen the life of your air handler. I would encourage you to avoid the Hepa filters that are designed to keep allergens down. They starve your air handler of the vital air it needs to thrive. I had to replace my office rooftop unit a few years ago because I installed two of the most restrictive Hepa filters I could find. My secretary had allergies. So, I changed them to assist her. It cost me $10,000 in replacement costs. Now, I change the filters every month or two, and I have no problem. A $1 filter will last 30-60 days. You can buy them in bulk and change them regularly. Air is the lifeblood of your system. Cut if off, and you're setting yourself up for big bills.
  • If your AC suddenly seems to not work, place your hand over a vent and see what the air flow feels like. If the air is barely coming out, you may have an A coil plugged. If you checked your filters and they were clean, look to the A coil for a blockage. If you have a dog that sheds, he might be the culprit. Hair that passes the filter will pack on the bottom side of the A coil (inside your air handler). AC works when the refrigerant coil (A coil) cools and then air passes by it to bring cool air to your rooms. If dog hair passes your filter, it will pack on the bottom of the A coil. When enough packs in that area, it will restrict air flow. Before a technician replaces your blower motor (which will not solve the problem), have him check the A coil for blockage.
  • If you see water on the floor around your air handler, you likely have a condensate blockage. On many systems, there is a condensate line which collects the water the unit is pulling out of the air. The water is sent to a drain, directly outside, or it is sent to a condensate pump which will pump it outside or into a drain. There is a tendency for mold to form in the opening of the line where it meets the air handler (most likely a white PVC line). If that line is installed correctly, it is likely to have a cap on top that can be removed for cleaning. You can pull that cap off and use a small tip to vacuum out any mold build up (a typical pipe cleaner will work too). If you can drop a small piece of a chlorine tablet in that line (don't block the water flow, keep it small) it will keep the mold from forming.
  • If your air handler (inside unit) and your heat pump or air conditioner (outside unit) are running smoothly and it's still not cooling inside, it may be refrigerant. 
  • Check the visible coils to your exterior heat pump or air conditioner. If you see a build up of dirt, leaves or other substance on the coils, you can purchase a can of an aerosal coil cleaner at most big box home improvement stores. Turn the system off, spray the coils, let it foam and then rinse it off with a garden hose. You don't want to have the spray on full force. Let the cleaner just rinse it off. Let it dry, and turn the system back on.
  • If you see ice on the outside unit, turn it off and let it melt. Check your filters on your inside air handler to make sure they're not plugged. If the filters are clean, your outside unit probably needs to be charged with Freon.
  • Don't put a cover directly above your outside unit. It needs room to let air escape through the top.
  • Don't pack boxes and other storage items around our interior air handler. This is especially important if it is a gas unit. The unit needs to breathe. If you rob it of air you stand the chance of releasing carbon monoxide into your home. Don't ever block the unit. I'm installing a door in a rental we manage because whoever finished the basement put a wall 10" in front of the unit. It's nearly impossible to change the gas igniter.
  • In the cold months, if you have a gas furnace and you notice that you suddenly have no heat, it is most likely a gas igniter. They tend to crack during the summer cooling period. If you pull the door off the front of your unit, you will see multiple ports where long tubes run from front to back. They are the gas tubes. In one of those ports is a little gray/black porcelain igniter. If it has formed a crack, it will have a faint white line across it. It's a $20 repair if you do it yourself. It's $150+ if you have it done.
  • If the system is not working at all, check the breaker. They do go bad. We inspected a client's system last summer. The HVAC tech that he called wanted to replace it at $3000. He asked us to give him a second opinion (we don't service HVAC equipment typically, but this was a old client). The breaker running the system had gone bad. It was a $75 repair.
  • If you hear a banging outside when your outdoor unit is running, your fan motor or fan blades have likely gone bad. It will normally be obvious. 
  • Pay the bucks to have your system serviced once a year by a good tech if you feel uncomfortable doing it yourself.  

If you are handy with tools, many of the items listed above are simple enough that the average homeowner can do them. If you're uncomfortable doing your own repairs, keep the info above so you can ask the tech questions. They will be surprised that you know anything about your system, and they will less likely to take advantage of you.


Re-Blogged 2 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Kate Elim 08/24/2013 02:43 PM
  2. Roy Kelley 08/25/2013 09:12 PM
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Ralph Gorgoglione
Maui Life Homes / Metro Life Homes - Kihei, HI
Hawaii and California Real Estate (800) 591-6121
Thanks for the excellent post Mike. I didn't realize Hepa filters could contribute to hefty bills down the road.
Aug 23, 2013 04:04 PM #16
Sally K. & David L. Hanson
EXP Realty 414-525-0563 - Brookfield, WI
WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce

Whether you choose to do the work yourself or not...having a heads up as to possile causes for problems is certainly very helpful.

Aug 23, 2013 08:06 PM #17
James Dray
Fathom Realty AR LLC - Bentonville, AR
Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results

I buy the moderate filter as I have found where I replace them (hallway) the air makes even the moderate ones bow.  I'm concerned about the amount of dust it will collect. 

Aug 23, 2013 09:02 PM #18
Scott Fogleman
New Home Team 804-573-9592 - Richmond, VA
New Home Team

Mike-Great tips. You are right about getting the unit serviced each year. 

Aug 23, 2013 09:29 PM #19
Michael Setunsky
Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

Mike thanks for the tips. A lot of good information here. It really doesn't take much to keep the system maintained on a regular basis.

Aug 23, 2013 11:15 PM #20
Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

Cool, got heated up on this HVAC blog post.

Aug 23, 2013 11:19 PM #21
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

Congratulations on the feature recognition. This is very good information for home owners.

Aug 24, 2013 12:29 AM #22
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

The system itself is not complicated but when they break down they attract..."deer in the headlights" until a pro is called in

Aug 24, 2013 12:47 AM #23
Edward Gilmartin
CRE - Boston, MA

Heating an A.C is something you definitely want working because if it is not working life can be quit uncomfortable....


Aug 24, 2013 01:29 AM #25
Angela & Stephen Hardiman / HouseTie.com
HouseTie.com - Spokane, WA
When first impressions count...

Mike, thanks for all the great advice. I guess it's time to get someone out to service our unit. 

Aug 24, 2013 01:42 AM #26
David Shamansky
US Mortgages - David Shamansky - Highlands Ranch, CO
Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg

Yes I dont mind the opening line part either, I actually like it. However when it falls into your category of actually being hot form AC not working then thats a problem lol.


On that note THANK YOU going to change filters right now as I think its been 2 months not 1

Aug 24, 2013 02:03 AM #27
zeta cross
Smart Green Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Getting Greener Makes Your home worth more!

Great tips, Mike! Thanks.


Aug 24, 2013 02:33 AM #28
Juan Jimenez
A House on a Rock Home Inspections LLC - Richmond, VA
The Richmond Home Inspector
Excellent tips!
Aug 24, 2013 03:06 AM #29
Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED
RETIRED / State License is Inactive - Portland, OR

Thanks Mike.  The tips can be something so easy to fix, and just might mean a simple adjustment.  I've seen inspectors call out "blue" flame on the furnance and it's just a little adjustment because too much oxygen is coming in.  

Aug 24, 2013 04:11 AM #30
Matt Kombrink
RE/MAX All Pro - Saint Charles, IL
Your #1 Source For Real Estate
Some excellent solutions a common homeowner can use to help diagnose problems. Anything that can be done without having to call a pro is good!
Aug 24, 2013 04:35 AM #31
Brian Sharkey
SharkeyRE LLC - Port St Lucie, FL
SharkeyRE - #SouthFloridaBroker

Mike, Here in Florida, we could never live without a AC guy, and there are hundreds around, but few you can really trust.

Aug 24, 2013 06:00 AM #32
Jean Hanley
Coldwell Banker Kivett Teeters - Hemet, CA
Specializing in Folks Who Want To Buy/Sell Homes

Mike, this is interesting information.  I am going to pass it along to my clients.  I think the part about the hypo allergenic filters is fascinating, as well.

Aug 24, 2013 06:14 AM #33
Susan Jacobsen
The Alliance Group Realty - Hilton Head Island, SC
20 Years Providing WOW Real Estate Service

Mike - what a great list and simple clear explanations of how to identify really what's potentially going on and how to report to an HVAC company if you really do need to call. Really good information!

Aug 24, 2013 08:40 AM #34
Dinah Stallworth-Lewis
Priority Real Estate LLC - 800.978.4847 - Natchitoches, LA


I didn't know the inside unit was called an air handler.  This is very useful information for just about anyone.  Great post.

Aug 24, 2013 08:48 AM #35
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

All good info Mr. Mike!

And as to hot wives, well...


When they say they're hot, they're hot!

Aug 24, 2013 11:02 PM #36
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