How To Care for Your HVAC and Laundry Appliances
Your HVAC system, water heater and laundry appliances are a kind of invisible operating system for the home. Unlike kitchen appliances, once installed, these appliances are “out of sight, out of mind” for the most part, but they can have the biggest impact on you and your home. You use the furnace, air conditioner and water heater on a daily basis to maintain the comfort level in your home — without even giving them a second thought. The washer and dryer may not be used every day, but they are a major convenience that you don’t want to live without!
All of these appliances are designed for years of daily use, which means they’re durable and long-lasting. That doesn’t mean you can completely neglect them, however. The following tips will help you keep these “invisible” appliances in top shape, reducing repair calls and perhaps extending their life.
The HVAC System
The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system consists of the furnace, air conditioner and other items like air filters and humidifiers. All are critical to maintaining the comfort of your home and all are designed to work with very little input from you. In fact, other than keeping them clean and inspected, there’s not much you have to do to maintain your HVAC system.
Furnaces can last from 15 to 20 years on average, though, of course, some give out sooner than that and others last far longer. There is very little you need to do to maintain your furnace. An annual inspection is a good idea to ensure the furnace is operating correctly, to check for carbon monoxide leaks and to note any wear and tear. Replacing worn parts is far less expensive than replacing an entire furnace, so if you can catch problems early, you can prevent bigger ones down the line and save money. If you are having issues with your furnace kicking on or off randomly or not operating correctly, first check the thermostat. Thermostats run on batteries and many people just never think to replace them. So if your furnace is acting up but not making any odd noises and you can’t remember the last time you replace the thermostat batteries, start there. Otherwise, you are best left leaving furnace maintenance to the pros, especially if it’s a gas furnace.
There are two types of air conditioners: 1) whole-house systems that use the home’s air ducts and furnace system to distribute cool air through the vents and 2) window units that cool an immediate area. Even when central A/C units are heavily used, you can usually expect to get 12 to 15 years out of them. Cleaning the unit and having it inspected regularly is the best way to get as close to that lifespan as possible.
Window units benefit tremendously from an annual spring cleaning. Before placing the unit in the window, take it outside to vacuum and wipe down all exterior surfaces, open the cover panel and vacuum inside and clean or replace the filter. Make sure you turn it on outside to give it a test run. That way all the accumulated dust and anything else that may be in there like dead bugs, will get blown out of the unit before it’s in the house.
Whole-house units can benefit from an annual washing as well. Use a garden hose to spray down the outside unit; this is particularly helpful for allergy sufferers as the water can remove dust and pollen from the fan. As tempting as it may be to try and hide the unit with landscaping, try to resist. Air conditioners work best when there is free airflow around the unit. Blocking that airflow can cause the unit to work harder. You can purchase air conditioner covers to protect the unit during the winter months, but they aren’t really necessary. Inside the home are the evaporator coils. These sit above the furnace. You can remove the cover panel and check the coils for leaks. Any sign of ice requires a call to the repairman, but if it’s just dirty in there, you can vacuum it out yourself.
The air filter traps dust, dirt and other particles like pet dander before they can travel through your ducts and vents. It’s the one part of the furnace that does need your attention, especially if you have pets or allergies, or both. According to the furnace manufacturer Trane, routine filter cleaning helps keep the air cleaner and reduces how hard the furnace has to work: “When your furnace circulates the air in your home, dust and dirt particles build up on the filter. Excessive accumulation can block the airflow, forcing your furnace to work harder to maintain a constant temperature. The harder your unit has to work, the more energy it uses.”
The filter is a fabric material that is designed for easy removal. It is usually located in an easily accessible location on the front of the furnace. Depending on your preferences, the furnace and the filter type, you may need to change the filter every month, every three months or every six months. As you become more familiar with your home, you’ll learn how frequently you need to replace the filter for maximum effectiveness.
Built-in humidifiers help maintain optimum humidity in a home. They are usually located on the side of the furnace in a covered compartment. They are not a standard inclusion on furnaces so you may not have one. If you do have a humidifier, you don’t need to do anything special to take care of it. Adjust the humidity to your preferred level with the seasons and change the damper from the summer to the winter when the time comes. You can generally tell if your home is too dry or too humid. Too dry and you’ll notice more static and shocks. Too humid and the air will feel heavy and moist. If this happens, go to your humidifier and adjust the humidity setting up or down as needed. Other than an annual inspection of the water filter, the humidifier does not require any other maintenance.
Washers and Dryers
Washers and dryers have a 10 to 15 year lifespan on average. High-efficiency washers actually help dryers last longer because clothes come out of the washer so dry already that the dryer doesn’t have to work as hard. Maintenance is as simple as taking care of your appliances.
“Following the manual’s advice is crucial, especially when it comes to installation, maintenance and load size,” says Richard Handel,Consumer Report’s lead tester for laundry appliances. Other tips include:
- Don’t overload the washer or the dryer. Stick to the manufacturer’s recommended load size.
- Clean the lint filter every time you put a load in the dryer.
- Clean the aluminum dryer vent pipe once or twice a year to remove build up, which can be a fire hazard.
- Don’t slam the doors.
- Make sure the machines are level to prevent excess vibration and unbalance loads.
- Replace brittle hoses to avoid surprise leaks.
- Don’t overdo the detergent. This can leave behind a film that attracts mold and mildew, especially on high-efficiency washers.
The water heater is another one of those appliances that does not require anything from you. But there is one thing you can check — the pressure relief valve at the bottom of the unit. This valve automatically gets rid of excess pressure created by hot water inside the unit, but mineral buildup can clog the valve. Opening it a couple of times a year can help prevent the valve from becoming stuck due to this build up. You might also want to drain the unit completely every five years or so to get rid of the sediment in the bottom of the tank. Neither of these chores are required and not doing so shouldn’t affect its performance.
Professional Help Pays Off
If all of this is overwhelming, look into professional maintenance contracts. HVAC companies, plumbers and local retailers where you bought the appliance all usually offer such contracts. This will ensure your appliance gets inspected regularly for smooth operation and to keep track of wear and tear before it becomes a problem. The costs are usually well worth the peace of mind and smaller repair bills when it comes to major investments like the HVAC system, and washer and dryer repair is notoriously expensive thanks to all of the electronics involved these days.
You don’t need to be handy or an electrical genius to do appliance maintenance. Most appliance maintenance comes down to simply being familiar with your appliances and knowing when they sound off or aren’t working properly. Keep the owner’s manuals handy, follow the maintenance recommendations in them, and use the troubleshooting guides to tackle any problems that come up. If something is beyond your skills, call in a pro. Otherwise, let your home appliances do their thing and they’ll be just fine.
Liyya Hassanali is a Project Manager and Content Strategist for Kinship Design Marketing, a boutique agency that provides marketing strategies and content for architects, interior designers, and landscape designers. She is a 15+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry, working closely with her clients to provide written content that meets their marketing goals and gets results.
Liyya is passionate about home design and décor and is a confessed HGTV and Pinterest addict. When not providing content writing services for her clients, she can be found browsing home décor sites or spending time with her family.