When it comes to keeping your furnace and air conditioner in tip-top shape, you might not worry as long as you have replaced your air filter and your system switches on. However, your entire HVAC system will function better if you take the time to perform these key maintenance tasks:

1: Cleaning Your Evaporator Coils

Have you ever wondered why most air conditioning technicians are also trained on heating systems? Although you might assume that your outdoor air conditioner is completely responsible for cooling your home, the process wouldn't be possible without the help of your indoor heating unit. Most central air conditioning units rely on the air handler, typically located inside of your furnace cabinet, to cool and circulate air inside of your home. As air is pulled in from outside, refrigerant is pumped to the evaporator coils inside of your air handler or furnace. The refrigerant circulates as air passes through the coils, so that humidity and heat are pulled away.

Unfortunately, over time, this crucial coil can become riddled with dirt and debris—even if you replace your filter regularly. If the evaporator coils are dirty, it can impede airflow and strain your entire HVAC system. Fortunately, you can clean your evaporator coils by following these five steps:

  • Step 1: Turn off your furnace or air handler. Most systems contain a simple on/off switch that looks like a light switch near your air handler. However, if flipping that switch doesn't work, you can always turn off the electrical panel breaker that controls your furnace.
  • Step 2: Using a socket wrench, remove the access panel screws to expose the evaporator coil.
  • Step 3: Using a flashlight, identify the dirty sections of your evaporator coils.
  • Step 4: Spray coil cleaner directly onto the dirty sections of your evaporator coils. Coil cleaner, which can be purchased at most hardware stores, is an aerosol spray that liquefies dirt and grime. Some versions don't even need to be rinsed away. As soon as your air handler starts operating again, the condensation will rinse the system. 
  • Step 5: If one application of coil cleaner doesn't do the trick, repeat the process. If grime remains after a few applications, use an old toothbrush to gently whisk away tough dirt. As you work, pay special attention not to bend the fins of the evaporator coil. When fins are bent, they provide an easy place for future dust and dirt to accumulate.

When you are finished cleaning the coil, replace the access panels and turn back on your system. Before you know it, you might notice cooler air and a system that regulates humidity a little better.

2: Checking the Drip Pan

Before you leave your utility closet or climb down from your attic, take the time to check the drip pan located underneath your evaporator coil. As humidity condensates and is removed from your air, it drips into a collection pan where it can be drained. Unfortunately, if your drip pan is full, damaged, or dirty, it might flood nearby areas, damage electrical wiring, or make your house smell terrible. Here are a few things to look for when you inspect your drip tray and why they matter:

  • Signs of Corrosion: Look for signs of rust, cracks, or pinhole leaks. If your drip pan is damaged, it might need to be replaced or repaired to prevent water leaks.  
  • Obstructions in the Drainage Pipe: Sometimes, debris like loose insulation or dust balls from your evaporator coil can become lodged in the drainage pipe, making your drip pan overflow. If your drip pan is full or doesn't seem to be draining well, snake a long pipe cleaner or a metal hanger down the drainage pipe to free the clog. If you can't access the obstruction, ask an HVAC contractor to replace the pipe. 

By taking the time to maintain your HVAC system, you might be able to enjoy fewer problems throughout the year.