How to Prepare Your Heating and Cooling System for Summer – the Complete Guide

Before the hot, summer weather sweeps through the Midwest, make sure your home’s heating and cooling system is prepped and ready for its busy season! Williams Comfort Air shares the steps to take right now to get your HVAC equipment ready for heavy operation over the coming months. 

In addition to the steps below, schedule a professional HVAC maintenance tune-up for your cooling system each year. The best time to do so is before it’s time to use the system for regular cooling so that any necessary repairs can be made and the air conditioner or heat pump receive the needed care to operate reliably and at best energy efficiency levels. 

Filter Checks and Changing Your Air Filters

During the spring when your heating and cooling system doesn’t experience as much use, the filter may not require replacement as often as it would in the summertime or winter months. No matter what time of year it is, it’s wise to visually check the filter once a month to assess its condition and determine if it needs to be changed – don’t rely on the general recommendation given by the filter manufacturer, as conditions in your home or the usage of your HVAC system may cause the filter to fill with contaminants at a faster rate. 

To determine if your filter needs to be changed, follow these steps: 

  1. Locate the filter compartment on your indoor HVAC equipment – it is typically located on the intake side of your furnace or air handler, where the return duct connects to the blower compartment. 
  2. Remove the access panel if necessary and carefully slide out the filter. Some units may have a removable frame that the filter sits in. 
  3. Take a look at the surface of the filter media – is it completely covered in gray matter? If so, it should be replaced. 
  4. If you aren’t sure whether or not the filter should be replaced just by looking at it, try holding it up to a light or shining a flashlight through it. If you can see light on the other side, the filter has some life left in it – if not, a replacement is needed. 

Replace the filter by disposing of the old one and inserting a new filter of the same dimensions. If your HVAC unit includes a removable filter frame, place the new filter into this guide. Note the arrows printed on the side of the new filter which indicate airflow direction – insert the new filter into the filter compartment according to the direction indicated here. Make sure the filter fits snugly into the compartment and replace the access door if necessary. 

Clean Household Vents

The vent covers throughout your home collect dust as air flows from the ducts into living spaces. Cleaning these components helps keep rooms looking nice and improves indoor air quality by eliminating contaminants that can recirculate with air movement. 

  1. Remove vent covers, using a screwdriver if necessary, and set aside. 
  2. Use a vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment to clean out any dirt or dust at the connection and near the duct outlet. Also, use the vacuum and a brush attachment to clean off any dust that has collected on the vent cover. 
  3. If the vent cover has caked on dirt and grime, vacuuming may not be enough to clean it. In this case, use warm, soapy water and a scrub brush to thoroughly wash the cover. Allow it to dry completely before reinstalling. 
  4. If your vent covers have louvers that open and close, make sure the louvers are in good working order and not stuck in a closed or partially closed position. All vent louvers throughout the home should be turned to the open position (closing vents to save money can actually cause harm to your HVAC system). If there are stuck louvers that cannot be freed, replace the vent cover completely. 

Some supply vent covers and return air grilles have filters that sit just behind their metal grates. These filters help collect dust and debris from the air to improve air quality and become dirty over time just like the HVAC system’s main air filter. These filters should be regularly changed (or washed, for reusable filters) just like the main system filter. Take care of this step as you clean vents and remember to also do so periodically throughout the season. 

Check Ductwork for Wear

Duct leaks are a significant energy waster found in most homes, responsible for 20 to 30% heating and cooling energy loss on average. To control energy losses and improve indoor comfort this summer, inspect your ductwork now and make sure air leaks are sealed before the cooling season starts. 

In most homes, the duct system is hidden out of sight either in the ceiling or below the floor. However, if your home has accessible attic or basement space, it is possible to access some of the ducting to assess its condition. While you may not feel comfortable crawling into tight spaces, start by inspecting the visible portions of your duct system – a professional can safely assess ducts in areas that are difficult to access so you don’t have to risk damaging ductwork or hurting yourself in the process. 

Start with a visual inspection of the ductwork you can see in the attic or basement. 

  1. Check for major signs of duct leakage. Look for damaged sections, flattened sections and tears in flexible ductwork, and sections of ductwork that have become detached from their connections. 
  2. Take a closer look at the ductwork sections to identify obvious holes and gaps between duct connections. 
  3. Look for the presence of duct tape. Duct tape actually isn’t meant to fix ducts – if someone has attempted to seal a duct leak with duct tape in the past, chances are the area will leak again as the tape degrades. 

Next, return to your living areas. 

  1. Check the vent connections in rooms throughout your home. Gently remove the vent grille so you are able to see how the duct connects behind it. There should not be any gaps between where the duct’s metal sides meet the woodwork surrounding it. 
  2. Turn on your HVAC system and move from room to room. Check for good airflow from each vent and assess the temperature of each room. Vents that don’t emit much airflow or areas that are significantly hotter or colder than others are indicators of duct leaks affecting the supply ducts that extend to that specific supply duct. 

If you find damage or other indicators of duct leaks, contact your trusted HVAC technician to make repairs now. By sealing duct leaks, more of the heated and cooled air produced by your HVAC system makes it into your living areas so you receive the full benefit of its energy use and limit wasted utility resources. 

Reprogram and Test Your Thermostat

When it’s time to switch from heating to cooling, your thermostat needs to be reprogrammed with your preferred cooling schedule. Consult your thermostat’s manual to adjust temperature settings programs – take into account your household’s schedule and energy-efficient temperature setpoints to create these schedules. 

Thermostat batteries should be changed once per year. If you did not do so in the fall, go ahead and do so now. Even if your thermostat is hardwired for electrical power, batteries serve as a backup should an electrical malfunction occur – it’s a good idea to install fresh batteries just in case you ever need them. 

Make sure the thermostat will work properly when it’s time to start using your cooling system by testing its function: 

  1. Turn the thermostat function to HEAT or COOL mode, depending on current conditions. 
  2. Set the temperature a few degrees higher for HEAT or lower for COOL than the current room temperature. 
  3. Listen for a brief clicking sound from the thermostat, which indicates it is signaling the HVAC system. 
  4. Listen for the furnace or AC blower to also come on. 

If no signal is sent and your HVAC system does not turn on, remove the thermostat faceplate and check to see that all wired connections are tightened. If they are loose, tighten the connections with a screwdriver. You can also clean dust away from contacts and sensors with a can of compressed air. If the thermostat still doesn’t signal your HVAC system to start, it may be time to replace it. 

Clean Outdoor Unit

In order for your air conditioner or heat pump to properly cool your home, the outdoor unit must receive adequate airflow. The fins along the unit’s exterior should be unblocked to allow the unit to emit heat into the surrounding atmosphere. After several months’ rest, be sure to clean the outdoor unit before it is time to use it again. 

  1. Turn off power to the outdoor unit at the electrical panel as well as the exterior power switch, which is usually positioned nearby on the exterior wall of the home. 
  2. If you used an air conditioner cover to protect your unit over the winter, remove it now and store it for the season. 
  3. Gently brush away any grass clippings, leaves, mulch bits, and other outdoor debris that have collected on top of the unit or along its fins. You may use a gentle stream of water from a garden hose and a soft-bristled brush to remove tough deposits. 
  4. Clear away any debris that have piled up along the bottom of the unit. 
  5. Remove any weeds, vines, or other vegetation that has grown along the perimeter of the unit. Weeding around this area now can prevent these troublesome plants from growing too tall later on and blocking the unit. 
  6. Trim tree branches that extend over the unit as well as bushes or shrubs growing nearby. Give the unit at least two feet of clear space on all sides. 
  7. Remove any outdoor items that have been stored up against the unit or in the nearby area. 
  8. Clean out and examine overhead gutters to prevent leaks that drip onto your outdoor unit. 

Examine Refrigerant Lines

Air conditioners and heat pumps have indoor and outdoor equipment that are connected by refrigerant lines. The refrigerant lines run between the two units through a small opening on the exterior wall. 

For the cooling equipment to operate correctly, the units must have the proper refrigerant charge. Leaks in the refrigerant lines can cause refrigerant to leak out, which impacts system performance and may be an environmental hazard if you have an older unit that still uses R-22 refrigerant, commonly known as Freon. 

Refrigerant leaks are not always obvious and you may not know you have one until you notice your cooling system doesn’t keep your home comfortable. Spot refrigerant leaks through these methods and call your trusted technician for repairs. 

  1. As the cooling system runs, listen for a bubbling noise coming from the outdoor unit or the refrigerant lines. A leak may also produce a noise that sounds like hissing. 
  2. Look for dirty spots along the refrigerant lines, as dirt and grime can stick where a leak occurs. 
  3. If you find a spot where a leak may be present, apply a soapy water solution to the area. Watch the spot as the system operates to see if the soapy water starts to bubble, which indicates an opening. 

Test the HVAC System

Once the above maintenance steps have been completed, test out your cooling system to make sure it runs properly. Many homeowners receive an unwanted surprise on the first hot day when they go to turn on their air conditioners – the system doesn’t work! By testing the cooling system ahead of time, you’ll be able to find out if repairs are needed and have this work completed prior to warm weather. 

  1. Check your electrical panel to make sure all breakers for circuits controlling the outdoor unit, indoor unit, and thermostat (if hardwired) are not tripped – reset them if necessary. 
  2. Check the ON/OFF switches on or nearby both the indoor and outdoor units and make sure they are switched ON. 
  3. Set your thermostat to COOL mode and set its temperature a few degrees below the current room temperature to activate the cooling system. 
  4. Allow the air conditioner to run and walk through your house, checking the vents in each room for cool airflow. 
  5. Go to where your indoor unit is located and take a few minutes to listen as it operates. There should be no loud, unusual noises coming from the equipment. 
  6. Go outside and listen as the outdoor unit operates. You shouldn’t hear any unusual noise, like a rattling or banging – just the normal hum of operation. 

Need Summer HVAC System Help?

If you need assistance preparing your heating and cooling system for the hot summer season, call Williams Comfort Air today. Our NATE-certified technicians are able to make repairs to ductwork and refrigerant lines, install new thermostats, and perform any installation or repair work your home’s HVAC systems may need. 

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