by Rusty Meador | April 27th, 2012 | Ask the Contractor


Our HVAC unit is on its last legs, and it is just a matter of time before we will have to replace it.  Any advice on giving it some more life?

HVAC units are one of the most complex parts of your home.  The typical\traditional “split” heat pump system is comprised of three parts: the compressor, the air handler, and the duct work.  Units that use gas to make heat instead of electricity have a small furnace inside the air handler, but for the sake of our conversation, we will focus on the maintenance of these three main parts.

The compressor is the large cube that sits outside of your home with a big fan in it.  It is connected to the air handler by a loop of copper tubing that is full of freon gas.  A coil inside the compressor turns the gas into a liquid which turns back into gas when it gets to the air handler.  The important thing for a homeowner to remember is that they need to keep the area around the compressor clean, free from weeds and tall grass, and never lean things against it.  The air intake requirement of the unit is high, and you don’t want to do anything to block it.

Depending on the type unit you have, the air handler will either be in the house (attic, closet, or basement) or outside.  The air handler is nothing more than a large fan unit that blows air across a hot or cold set of coils to produce hot or cold air (think about how a household fan blows cool air when it blows across a bucket of ice, and you get the picture).

The most important thing you can do to extend the life of your system is to replace your air intake filter.  If you don’t know what that is, it is definitely time to change yours!  HVAC systems pull “old” air through an intake, blow it across the coils in the air handler, and into the rooms in your home.

The filter catches all the dust and airborne dirt from your “old” air, and it keeps it from being re-distributed.  The longer you go between changing filters, the harder the fan has to work to pull the air in – and that shortens the life of your air handler.

The duct work in your home is how the air gets sucked in and blown out.  It should remain fairly well maintained on its own.  Moisture, water, and animals are its main enemies.  An annual inspection to make sure that there are no holes in the ductwork, and that they are clean and dry should be adequate.

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