Did you know that your heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system is not only the single most expensive “appliance” you have in your home? Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive to operate. When it breaks down, it can cost a lot to repair or replace. If it’s working inefficiently, you’ll feel the pain with higher utility bills.

Either way, once you have your HVAC in place, your goal should be to keep it in top working condition for as long as possible. Here’s how:

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Schedule an annual tune-up

Faulty electrical connections may cause safety hazards and reduce the life of both your furnace and the air conditioning unit. A trained technician can tighten all electrical connections, measure voltage and current on motors, check refrigerant levels on your AC and oil or gas connections on your furnace, and look for other issues that might not yet be apparent to you, but that are slowly becoming problems.

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A technician will also clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. That’s important because the coils reduce efficiency and cause the system to run longer. Blower components may also need to be cleaned, and moving parts oiled. You can hire a company on an ad hoc basis, or enter into a service contract, which you’ll pay for up front but may result in discounts later if your system needs repairs and parts.

Compare local contractors with our HVAC Installers Near Me page to compare quotes from reliable heating and cooling contractors and average costs in your area.

Check the condensate drain; add liquid bleach to keep the condensate from getting too sludgy to move out the drain tubes.

I honestly never realized I was supposed to do this, until my drain started leaking all over the floor around the HVAC unit. A repairman had to replace the old drain with a new one, at a cost of $335 (parts and labor). He showed me how to unplug the drain on top and pour in maybe a quarter cup of liquid bleach, which he recommended I do a couple of times a year to keep the system working properly.

Clean your air filters

ENERGY STAR recommends checking them monthly. I generally end up cleaning mine every time the season changes, based on my experience with my own system. I have a removable filter that I can simply take outside and hose off. This is a very inexpensive and simple action that can save a lot of money over time, since dirty filters can reduce efficiency of both your heating and air conditioning components.

Rinse off your outdoor air conditioning unit.

Ideally, your unit is situated well above the ground and somewhat protected from damage from falling branches or twigs and debris. If your unit is sitting on a cement pad right on the ground, you may need to wash it off with a hose a few times a year to keep it running at optimal performance.

Keep indoor vents open.

Closing vents puts extra pressure on your system’s electronically commutated motor, or ECM, which reduces energy efficiency and can wear out the motor.

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Use a programmable thermostat

Such a thermostat will turn the heat or AC on and off only as needed, which will reduce wear and tear on both the air conditioner and the furnace.

Improve your home’s overall energy-efficiency

A well-insulated home will require less heat in the winter and less cooling in the summer. The less you demand of your HVAC system, the longer it will last!