If you’ve been juggling information from multiple checklists looking for answers to your leaking condenser or dead AC unit, but all you can find is generic info that ended with a sales pitch, we totally understand your pain.
We want to help you with your HVAC questions. Sometimes there’s an emergency that needs to be addressed right away and you don’t have time to call a certified HVAC contractor. Other times, you’re fighting with the thermostat to get it to the right setting. Wherever you are in your journey, we’ve got you covered.
This is for true beginners who have never had to deal with an HVAC issue before. If you already know what a furnace looks like or where to find your ductwork, skip ahead to the more technical tips and tricks.
#1 What does HVAC stand for?
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.
#2 What are the components that make up an HVAC system?
There are 9 basic components that make up a complete central air and heat system – the furnace, heat exchanger, evaporator coil, condensing unit, refrigerant tubes, thermostat, ductwork, vents, and the heat pump.
#3 What is a Furnace?
The furnace is the heating unit, they usually run off electricity or natural gas. You can find your furnace hiding in your basement, garage, or utility closet. Its main function is to heat up air and move it into your ducts to warm your house. Furnaces are commonly mistaken for boilers, but they’re totally separate appliances.
#4 What is a Heat Exchanger?
This is not part of your furnace although you can find it nestled inside your furnace. While the furnace pushes hot air into your ducts, the heat exchanger is the one actually converting cold air into hot air.
#5 What is an Evaporator Coil?
Also inside the furnace, the evaporator coil absorbs any heat from air passing over it in order to blow cool air through your vents and into your home.
#6 What is a Condensing Unit?
Your condensing unit serves a similar purpose as your evaporator coil but you can find the condensing unit outside, usually on the side of your house. However, as the evaporator coil absorbs heat, the condensing unit gives off heat; think of it as the exhaust pipe for your home when you’re trying to cool it.
#7 What are Refrigerant Tubes?
Refrigerant tubes connect your evaporator coil to your condensing coil. They are typically made of metal and are designed to hold refrigerant and they connect the indoor and outdoor units.
#8 What is a Thermostat?
A thermostat is that little device mounted on the wall somewhere inside your house that allows you to control your home’s temperature (there’s not really a rule as to where they’re placed – they could be anywhere). Did you know you can get a smart Wi-Fi connected thermostat that allows you to program the temperature of your home from your phone?
#9 What is Ductwork?
Your home’s ductwork is what allows the conditioned air from your furnace or AC unit to be distributed around your house. Ductwork in Southern California homes are usually found overhead, running through attic and ceiling space.
#10 What are Vents?
Air vents allow your heated or cooled air to enter your living space from the ductwork.
#11 What is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump works for both heating and cooling. In the summertime, heat pumps pump hot air out of your home and in the winter, they do the exact opposite.
#12 You should know what type of HVAC system you have
If you’re a new homeowner, you need to know what kind of system you have. The typical system is a central air conditioning system which has all of the components listed above in the HVAC tips for Beginners section. Your home could also have a ductless mini-split system or even a window attached wall unit. You should also know whether your furnace is electric, natural gas, or if your home uses a heat pump or boiler system.
#13 Change your air filters regularly
If you’ve just moved into your home, change the air filter. Your home was most likely listed for a few months before you purchased it, and even though the air conditioner probably wasn’t running all that often, it’s still a good idea to start with a fresh air filter.
#14 Make sure your condenser is clear of debris
Your condenser is usually in your side yard, and is easily forgotten. Overtime, shrubs and debris can grow or build up around your unit, limiting its air flow, making it work harder to cool your home.
#15 Don’t close your vents
Many new homeowners are guilty of this one. In order to save energy, homeowners close the vents in rooms they don’t use thinking it will save them energy. In reality, this actually makes your HVAC system less efficient; heat likes to distribute itself evenly within an object, when that object is your home, heat will get into that closed-vent room anyway, but it means your HVAC system will work harder to create an even temperature around the house.
#16 Clean your ductwork
Did you know most home inspectors don’t check ductwork? What this means for a new homeowner is that you won’t know if your ducts are dirty or in need of repair. If your home seems dusty, or you notice your HVAC system making loud noises as if it is working harder than it should, you should check your ducts. Chances are, they’re just dirty, but on the off chance that your ducts are leaking air, you need to make sure to call an HVAC technician to patch or replace your ducts.
#17 Know Manual J
Manual J is the calculation used to make sure you’re getting the right sized HVAC system for your home. It’s a very complicated calculation and we don’t expect you to know how to do one, but you should definitely expect your HVAC contractor to know how to do it. Running a manual J for your new home is extremely important so that you can install the right HVAC system, otherwise, your system may not run efficiently and will have trouble heating or cooling your home.
#18 Clean your HVAC unit
This goes without saying, but sometimes it’s easy to forego proper maintenance on an HVAC unit when it’s not actually your HVAC unit. Clean your HVAC unit when you move into your new rental. Make sure the air filter is clean and all the moving parts are lubricated and operating smoothly.
#19 Take photos of the system
As soon as you move in, take photos of your furnace, condenser, vents, and even ducts if you have access to them. This gives you some photo evidence for your landlord in case there’s ever an issue with the unit down the line.
#20 Close your gas valve
If your furnace runs on natural gas, make sure you close your gas valve in the summer when you don’t need to heat your home. Natural gas can leak from your unit.
#21 Clean your vents
Southern California areas have mild winters, this means you’re probably not using your HVAC unit at all, allowing your vents to accumulate a lot of dust. Before it gets hot enough to have to turn on your AC, you should do a quick check-up on your vents and vacuum off any dust that has accumulated.
#22 Invest in a smart thermostat
Investing in a smart thermostat can add peace of mind when it comes to staying cool as well as saving money because your thermostat can be programmed to maximize your HVAC unit’s efficiency.
Ever wonder what all the hype is about smart thermostats? Wi-fi connected thermostats can save you a lot of money on utility bills and offer you a greater level of control over your home’s climate.
#23 Schedule a tuneup
Your AC unit will be working its hardest during summer. Make sure you call an HVAC tech to give it a quick tune up before you fire it up and run it all summer long. The last thing you want is to find out your HVAC unit isn’t working on the hottest day of the year.
#24 Check your AC’s drainage hole
Most air conditioners have a drainage hole for fluid buildup from condensation to clear out. If your drainage hole is clogged up, you may end up with a lot of water buildup and a damaged AC unit.
#25 Don’t forget about Your dehumidifier
If you live in a humid climate, your dehumidifier is your best friend. Spring is a good season for performing preventative maintenance on your dehumidifier. Take the case off of your unit and let it dry out completely. Take the extra step to vacuum it to make sure it’s extra dry and free of debris to make sure it stays working properly.
#26 Add some insulation to your home
Your HVAC system works really hard to warm up your home. If all the heat that your furnace generates escapes your home, why even bother with heating your home? Invest in some quality insulation to get the best HVAC heating experience in winter.
#27 Cover your outdoor AC unit
You’re most likely not blasting the AC in the winter time. To make sure your dormant outdoor AC unit stays in top shape, consider covering it up to protect it from any unforeseen damage.
#28 Schedule furnace maintenance
Call up your local HVAC technician and do a quick check up on your furnace. If it has been off all year, you may want to do a small tune up before keeping it on all winter long.