Imagine a friend tells you that she’s about to start a project, and is looking up how-to videos. Great, you’ll say! We live in the age of DIY. Why, I myself have changed the oil in my car, built a cabinet, and replaced my leaky faucet (a must during Sacramento’s drought). You’ll ask, what is your project?—and then be surprised to find out she’s going to do gall-bladder surgery on her husband.
Repairing HVAC systems isn’t quite like performing surgery, but they are complicated—and DIY “quick-fixes” could actually be hurting your home, and budget, more than they help. We’ll tackle a few of these fixes below and show you some of the long-term impacts they can have. And, if you’ve succumbed to a “quick fix” in the past, don’t worry—we get calls every day from our clients who opted for one of these easy solutions and now needs our help. It’s what we’re here for. They call it “life-hacking”, but sometimes the only thing it hacks is your wallet.
Don’t Shut Those Vents
It can be a challenge to balance out the temperature of your home between floors, or even from room to room. The easy fix—shutting an air vent or two. If you don’t want hot or cold air in a specific room, you should just turn off the air at the vent so it can’t enter, right? Unfortunately, that’s not a good idea. While this does prevent air from entering the room, it also causes the system to work too hard—it will still try to blow it through the closed vent, which overworks the motor.
Varying temperatures throughout your home are often caused by your house being improperly zoned. A home that’s been properly zoned will be comfortable and remain at the same temperature in every room and from floor to floor. We recently had a home in Sacramento with a living room that was chilly and upstairs bedrooms that were overheated. We rezoned the HVAC system and now each of the living spaces is a consistent temperature, making the home much more enjoyable.
Don’t Cover Your AC
It hasn’t rained recently, but come fall we’ll see plenty of another kind of DIY project: AC condensers covered with plastic garbage bags, painter’s plastic, or a heavy tarp. Folks know that water and debris can turn into sludge in a condenser and that sludge can, in turn, eat away at the fins and other small parts that can be expensive to replace. Recently, we saw a Citrus Heights homeowner construct an elaborate cover using a heavy plastic tarp and plywood. While we appreciate the ingenuity, all of these plastic-wrap covers have one problem: they don’t breathe very well! That means the condenser won’t be able to blow as much air as needed to cool the refrigerant, and a motor burnout is often the result.
The good news is that you can have us install a condenser cover that’s permanent, tough, protective, and designed to fit your condenser perfectly.
These covers are designed with a plastic latticework pattern that allows for breathing, but keeps sludge out. What’s more, you can pick out a style that suits you best. If you have a cabin-style home in the foothills, you don’t want a clunky plastic-looking cover. You can find one that fits your aesthetic, and saves money, while not hurting the efficacy of your AC. Best of all, these covers don’t ever need to be removed, but easily can be if necessary.
Don’t “Blow Out” Your HVAC
Like many quick fixes, this next one has its roots in saving money. Too often, though, the only thing you achieve with these so-called DIY fixes is to save a dollar now so that they can spend a hundred later. That’s certainly the case with the idea that you can “blow out” your HVAC air filters with a vacuum, air compressor, or by beating it on the ground.
First off, let’s look at the money you’re saving: 20 bucks at most every few months. Sure, the filter looks cleaner, but as one Elk Grove homeowner found out, looks can be deceiving. The dust and dirt that’s really ingrained in the filter can’t always be seen, but it will make your blower motor work harder. And in the case of this homeowner, his air filter housed mold which quickly spread to the rest of the system. He cleaned the whole ductwork, but then just blew out the old filter and put it back. Two weeks later, the mold was back—and this is where we had to step in, to properly clean the system.
This isn’t just a waste of time and money: you can be fooled into thinking that a problem is gone, but when it comes to mold, this is a health hazard, and can set your equipment up for more damage, or even total failure. There’s a saying about being “penny wise and pound foolish”, and pounding your air compressor on the ground to clean it is pretty foolish.
Don’t Fall for Budget Installations
Finally, we’ve seen an uptick lately in “budget installations” by homeowners sourcing new HVAC equipment from big-box hardware and appliance stores. If you are considering this route, we recommend you think about all the facts. Many of the systems sold in these stores aren’t the top-of-the-line, but they might be priced like it. It’s one thing if you’re having them put in a window unit, but a full HVAC system is an expensive purchase that should be ordered through a professional HVAC company, not bought off the shelf. Installation is one of those things, like gall-bladder surgery, that you should leave to the pros. It might not be life or death, but doing it incorrectly can cost you a lot in the near or medium term. And since the whole point of DIY is saving money, it just doesn’t seem to make much sense.
You will also want to consider making sure you get the best warranty in the business. Many big-box store jobs are only warrantied for labor for one year, but your HVAC system should last fifteen years, or more, and the labor should be warrantied for just as long. The fact that they only warranty for one year tells you all you need to know about the faith they have in the product, and in their installation job.
Don’t get fooled by any of these DIY “quick fixes” that turn into big costs down the road. That’s not to say there aren’t some home repairs and updates you can tackle on your own, but before you start a new HVAC project, give us a call and ask a few questions. We’re an open book—and we’re happy to answer any of your questions to help you get the result you want.