Preventative HVAC maintenance checklist: 16 things you should do now

Jason Van Steenwyk
Jason Van Steenwyk | 6 min. read

Published on June 3, 2024

Major winter storms are still months away, but as the weather changes, it’s important to pay attention to your property’s HVAC units, furnaces, and related systems. Starting preventative HVAC maintenance now will help you avoid costly repairs and pay off when the weather gets frigid.

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Read on for a list of the 16 most important items to cross off your maintenance checklist and, if you’re looking for a more extensive season-by-season breakdown on property maintenance, check out our guide on the topic here.

Why Preventative HVAC Maintenance Is a Must

Regularly cleaning your HVAC systems can be a time commitment, especially when you’re juggling all the other aspects of property management—but it benefits your bottom line in the long run in several ways:

Efficient Energy Consumption: One of the most significant advantages of maintaining your HVAC system is reducing energy consumption. Through routine check-ups and cleaning, technicians can identify and fix issues that cause inefficiencies such as dirty filters, clogged ducts, or faulty thermostats.

Comfortable Spaces to Live: An adequately functioning HVAC system ensures the temperature and humidity levels are optimal, creating a comfortable living environment for your tenants. Routine professional maintenance prevents issues like overheating, breakdowns, or complete system failure, ensuring tenants enjoy a comfortable indoor environment all year round.

Prolong Equipment Lifespan: HVAC systems are expensive investments that require regular maintenance to ensure longevity. When HVAC units run under poor conditions or without regular maintenance, they tend to break down more often due to increased wear and tear resulting from neglect. Regular cleaning removes dirt, debris, and build-up from all parts of the system, including coils, condensers, and evaporators, which in turn avoids overworking motors, compressors, and other components.

Health Benefits: Unclean HVAC systems can lead to health issues such as allergies, asthma, and respiratory infections caused by dust, allergens, and pollutants circulating through the property. Regular maintenance helps prevent the buildup of these harmful substances. The result is healthy indoor environment for your tenants that also limits potential complaints or even legal disputes.

Cost-effective: Preventative maintenance involves detecting minor issues before they escalate into substantial problems, which may require significant repairs or replacing the entire system. With a service contract, your maintenance costs become predictable, and you can budget accordingly so there’s no surprises or tough conversations with owners.

Now that you know the benefits, let’s jump into what to look out for.

Annual HVAC Maintenance: What to Include in Your Checklist

There are any number of ways that the elements can test your HVAC systems, but certain actions can prevent the vast majority of issues that typical arise for residential rental properties.

To cover all your bases, a yearly HVAC maintenance checklist should include the following items:

1. Inspect Rooftop AC Units and Vents

Remove leaves, debris, and obstructions that can accumulate over time. These can block airflow and reduce the efficiency of the unit. It also creates adequate space for melting snow and ice drainage. Blocked drainage paths can lead to water damage and affect the integrity of the roof and the HVAC system.

During your inspection, also check for damage or wear. Look for signs of rust or corrosion on the unit and vents, which can indicate moisture issues that need to be addressed. Look for signs of rust or corrosion on the unit and vents, which can indicate moisture issues that need to be addressed. Check that all panels and covers are secure to prevent water ingress and protect the internal components of the AC unit.

2. Clean Around Outdoor Units

You should always clean around your outdoor HVAC units as part of regular maintenance. Keep them clear of leaves, dirt, and debris, maintaining at least 2-3 feet of clear space around them. This clearance prevents blockages that can restrict airflow and reduce your system’s efficiency, leading to higher energy bills and potential system damage.

Regular cleaning also helps to spot any potential issues early, avoiding costly repairs. So, take the time to inspect and clean around your outdoor units; it’s a simple step that can save you money and extend the life of your HVAC system.

3. Purchase and Install High-Efficiency Pleated Air Filters

Purchasing and installing high-efficiency pleated air filters. These filters have a larger surface area to capture more contaminants like dust, pollen, and mold spores, improving your indoor air quality. They are especially beneficial for those with allergies or respiratory issues. They help your HVAC system run more efficiently by reducing the strain on the unit, which can lower energy costs and extend the lifespan of your system.

New filters feature electrostatic charges that attract particles, rather than allowing them to pass through. They’re far more effective at filtering air particles, dust, pollen, mold, and dander.

4. Turn on Each Heater/Furnace and Do a Ducted Heating Cleaning

Turning on each heater/furnace and performing ducted heating cleaning to ensure that your heating system operates at peak efficiency, providing consistent warmth throughout your property. You’ll know immediately if there’s a serious problem. If you wait until the first freeze (or wait until your tenants turn them on for the first time) you’ll be dealing with cold, unhappy residents and a long wait for a technician. Keep your ducted heating system clean and ready for future use.

5. Schedule a Combustion-Efficiency Test

Schedule a combustion-efficiency test as part of your HVAC system’s maintenance. This test assesses how well your furnace converts fuel into heat. An inefficient combustion process can lead to increased fuel costs and potential safety hazards, such as carbon monoxide leaks.

A qualified technician can accurately measure your system’s efficiency and make necessary adjustments or repairs. By hiring a professional, you can count on the test being conducted correctly, maintaining your system’s performance and your safety.

6. Inspect Refrigerant Lines

Inspecting refrigerant lines is also important. These lines carry the refrigerant necessary for the heat exchange process, and any leaks can significantly impact the efficiency of your system. Leaks can lead to higher energy consumption and reduced cooling capacity, resulting in discomfort and increased utility bills.

Refrigerant leaks can even harm the environment and pose a risk to the health of your tenants. .Ideally, you’re doing these checks every month every month, so make it part of your regular property maintenance services.

7. Check Heat Exchangers for Leaks

Check your heat exchangers for leaks. Heat exchangers are responsible for transferring heat efficiently. Leaks can also lead to dangerous situations, such as the release of harmful gases or a drop in air quality. If you notice your boiler leaking water, it’s a clear sign that your system requires immediate servicing. A professional technician should address this issue promptly to prevent further damage.

8. Replace Humidifier Filters

Replacing humidifier filters is often overlooked, but it’s important. These filters trap minerals and pollutants, ensuring clean moisture circulates through your home. Over time, filters become clogged and less effective, compromising air quality and humidifier efficiency.

Proactively replace them now, rather than in the cold of winter. This spares you a chilly trip to the basement or attic and ensures your system is ready to provide comfortable, clean air when you need it most. Don’t delay; the health of your home’s air and the performance of your HVAC system depend on it.

9. Set Your Humidistats

Setting your humidistats allows you to control the moisture levels in your home, which helps to prevent mold, protect woodwork, and create a comfortable environment. Properly adjusted humidistats can also help alleviate symptoms for those with respiratory issues and can save on energy costs by making the air feel warmer, reducing the need for high thermostat settings.

Depending on where in the country your properties are, this may vary: The Florida Solar Energy Center recommends an RH setting of 62 percent, but those in northern climates may be more used to something below 55 percent.

10. Take Care of Insulation Issues Now

Fall or spring are the best time to do this work, but if your residents are unhappy and cold this season, you don’t want to be dealing with it in the dead of winter. Proper insulation helps retain heat during winter and cool air in summer, leading to significant energy savings. It keeps your HVAC system from getting overworked, extending its lifespan and reducing maintenance costs. Good insulation contributes to a comfortable, consistent indoor climate, preventing drafts and cold spots.

By tackling insulation problems today, you avoid the rush and potential discomfort of winter repairs. Don’t wait for the cold to set in; act now and your tenants can enjoy a cozy, energy-efficient home all year round.

11. Upgrade Insulation Material

Upgrading your insulation material is a smart move in HVAC maintenance. Investing in better insulation now means long-term savings and comfort for your property.

Newer materials are far more efficient than older, legacy insulation, offering superior thermal resistance and lower energy bills. If you’re already planning insulation work, seize the opportunity to upgrade. This will not only enhance your home’s energy efficiency but also improve indoor comfort. Modern insulation materials are designed to be more effective, durable, and environmentally friendly. They can also contribute to a healthier indoor environment by reducing the risk of mold and allergens.

12. Install Heat-Resistant Radiator Reflectors

Install heat-resistant radiator reflectors. By placing them between the exterior walls and your radiators, you create a barrier that reflects heat back into the room, rather than allowing it to escape through the walls. This simple action maximizes the efficiency of your heating system, leading to more heat staying where you need it—inside your property. It’s a cost-effective upgrade that can lead to noticeable improvements in your property’s warmth , especially during those chilly months.

13. Check Pipe Insulation

Exposed pipes are vulnerable to freezing temperatures, which can lead to bursts and costly water damage. Wrapping them properly safeguards them against the cold, maintaining the integrity of your system. Proper insulation also helps in energy conservation by minimizing heat loss, leading to more efficient heating and lower utility bills. It’s a preventative measure that not only protects your pipes but also enhances the overall efficiency of your HVAC system.

Don’t wait for the freeze; inspect and wrap your pipes to ensure they’re well-protected for the winter season.

14. Do a Thorough Air Conditioner and Air Duct Cleaning

Over time, dust and debris accumulate in these areas, which can obstruct airflow and reduce your system’s performance. This not only leads to higher energy consumption but can also strain your HVAC components, potentially resulting in costly repairs. Moreover, clean air ducts mean fewer allergens and pollutants circulating in your home, contributing to a healthier living environment.

Regular cleaning is a proactive step towards prolonging the life of your system and providing a comfortable, clean atmosphere for tenants. To clean your units, dump a cup of bleach and water (50-50 mix) into each air conditioner condensate drain. This will kill algae and mold and help prevent clogging.

15. Have Chimneys Cleaned

If your property has chimneys, flues, vents and fireplaces, it’s critical to have them cleaned and serviced every year. Having your chimney cleaned prevents the build-up of soot and creosote, highly flammable substances that can cause chimney fires. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that more than 20,000 residential fires per year can be traced back to fireplaces and chimneys.

These cleaning also helps in detecting any structural issues early on, preventing expensive repairs. For safety, efficiency, and peace of mind, chimney cleaning should be a non-negotiable part of your HVAC upkeep.

16. Inspect All Alarms

Winter poses heightened risks for fires and carbon monoxide incidents, meaning residents’ safety could depend on the proper functioning of your alarms. As temperatures drop, heating systems work overtime, increasing the chance of malfunctions that could lead to dangerous situations.

Check and replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are operational when you need them most. Don’t wait for a warning chirp. Act now, replace batteries, and regularly test your alarms to protect your property and tenants from potential hazards.

Make Your Annual HVAC Maintenance Plan Today

Use the 16 items above to create a yearly HVAC maintenance checklist you can rely on to stay ahead of the curb. Of course, HVAC systems aren’t the only part of a property that need regular inspections and repairs. You can explore our seasonal maintenance checklists for spring, summer, fall, and winter to prepare your properties for whatever the changing weather may bring.

In addition to these steps, you should also set up a way for your tenants to contact you and request repairs promptly. Services such as Buildium’s Maintenance Contact Center offer 24/7/365 support for residents, managing service requests for you, reducing your workload, and delivering prompt responses to residents, all while giving you full visibility into the status of each ticket.

Buildium not only includes tool such as the Maintenance Contact Center, but also makes it easy to manage your vendors and track the status repair requests from residents in one place—no more lost tickets or missing updates.

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Jason Van Steenwyk

Jason is a freelance writer and editor, as well as an avid fiddler. His articles have been published in a number of real estate publications including Wealth and Retirement Planner and He lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his cat, Sasha, and an unknown number of musical instruments.

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