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Guest Post: Taking care of your A/C is easy, and worth it.

by on August 6, 2015

The following is a guest blog written by active ecobee community member David Innocenti. Let us know if you would like to write for the ecobee.com blog!

I’ve always believed that with careful maintenance any expensive piece of machinery can stay a well-oiled machine. We know this to be true for our vehicles when getting regularly scheduled oil changes every 3,000 – 5,000 miles. It helps keep the engine cool, removes grit, dirt and sludge from internal parts, and improves overall performance. This simple and usually inexpensive maintenance can prevent possible major (and costly) repairs in the future.

What if we applied this same thinking to the HVAC furnaces we have in our homes? Does the potential exist to reduce major repairs and keep it running smoothly for most of the season? In a word – Yes – and anyone can do it simply and easily. Think of it as an “oil change” every month and a “tire rotation” every three months. Here are the three steps: 

  1. Change the air filter (once per month or every three months for higher end air filters)
  2. Flush condenser drain line (once per month)
  3. Unclog condenser drain line (every three months)

The benefits of changing your air filter are many and important to effective heating and cooling. A dirty air filter can spread dust, dirt, and allergens throughout the home and into the ducts. It can also reduce airflow, minimize cooling and heating efficiency, and cause electric or gas bills to increase because the system has to work harder. The ideal air filter is between 8 and 12 MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value). Fiberglass and lower ratings have better airflow, but may not catch dust and allergen particles. Higher rating filters catch all the fine dust and allergen particles, but may restrict airflow. The MERV chart may help determine what’s best for your situation. 

Bee Alert: Enable the ecobee3 Furnace Filter Alert and set the frequency based on your own air filter’s replacement recommendations. 

After changing the air filter, it’s best to flush your condenser drain line at the same time. You already received an alert to change the air filter so use this opportunity to perform this next crucial step. You can use two different liquids as your main concentration, but I prefer a less corrosive one – white vinegar. This will help kill off any mold, mildew, and algae produced by the system. Make sure to power off the furnace before flushing the drain line (your ecobee3 may turn off during this process). Your ecobee3 will save all of your settings even when turning off your HVAC and ecobee3, so you won’t have to reprogram them. Look for a plug near the PVC piping near the front or side of the furnace and remove it. Take either one cup of white vinegar or one cup of bleach and pour it down the condenser drain line with or without a funnel. Follow this up with one cup of warm water after a few minutes. Replace the plug and turn the furnace back on. More detailed directions can be found here

Bee Proactive: Enable or check the ecobee 3 HVAC Maintenance Alert to notify you when your next regularly scheduled HVAC maintenance should be. I have mine set for every 6 months due our subtropical weather almost year round.

The last step is often overlooked and usually only done by a licensed HVAC technician when servicing your furnace and compressor. However, anyone can do it and it may prevent huge repair costs for clogged drain lines, condensate overflow, or system shut down. The condenser drain line, usually found on the outside of the home near the compressor, is made of a smaller type PVC pipe and can be seen with water dripping often. Due to its placement so low to the ground the potential for grass, dirt, and sometimes insects and lizards to accumulate inside is common. The best way to unclog this drain is to use a ShopVac or any other wet-dry vacuum every three months. For this type of suction to work best you may need to purchase an adapter that will match up the ¼” size of the PVC pipe. Tape the end to the PVC pipe for a tightly sealed connection. Turn on the ShopVac and keep it on for about a minute or two. Turn it off, open the ShopVac and take note of all the liquid and debris that accumulate. The process can be shown here

Bee Smart: By following these three simple maintenance steps you can potentially save hundreds of dollars on future repairs and keep your furnace running like a well-buzzing beehive machine