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What Are the Best Tips for HVAC Troubleshooting?

Exterior wall vent leading to an HVAC system.
A vent cover leading to an HVAC system.
Article Details
  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 08 March 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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At the time it happens, it may seem like nothing is worse than having the heat conk out in the dead of winter, or the air conditioning stop working on the hottest day of the year. Heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are expensive, so when things go bad, many homeowners are hesitant to dish out more money for repairs. Fortunately, there are many tips for HVAC troubleshooting that may allow a “do it yourself” fix.

One side note: although HVAC troubleshooting is a cost effective and sometimes a better choice for homeowners, major repairs should not be attempted by non-professionals. This could result in serious damage to equipment, leading to pricier repairs or even having to replace the entire system. Additionally, even simple repairs are completed at the risk of the homeowner. If you want to be cautious, hire a professional.

To begin troubleshooting, power to the system needs to be turned off. Failure to take this simple step could result in serious injury. This is done by flipping the correct switch on the building’s breaker box. The box can generally be found outside toward the back of the building.

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The next step in HVAC troubleshooting is to closely inspect the unit and its parts. Although different steps will need to be taken for different problems, examining the system may give a good indication of where any issues may lie or where they may be forming. Maintenance may be done on parts that are wearing down before any additional problems occur.

Depending on the issues at hand, the next HVAC troubleshooting steps may require one of several things. If the system is making a knocking or rattling sound, check the radiator and hoses. These should slope back toward the boiler. If they slope in a different direction, this will need to be fixed to improve function and eliminate bothersome noises.

If the system seems to have a low water level, close the water supply valve connected to the system. Water levels should be monitored for the next several days and if levels drop dramatically, it may indicate that the pipes have a leak. In most cases, a professional will need to be called to fix the leak.

Another HVAC troubleshooting tip is to check the air inside the expansion tank. To do this, touch the tank with bare hands and note the temperature. The bottom should be warmer than the top. If the temperature is hot from top to bottom, there may be water in the tank that will need to drained.

Some HVAC problems can be addressed by taking the vents farther away from the radiator, rather than those close to it, and opening them widely. The air vent valve should also be opened to release any trapped air or water from the system. Finally, inspect the circulator or pump for any damage like leaks or cracks. A broken circulator will have to repaired by a professional.

Additionally, it is important to properly maintain a system in order to ensure proper function and proactively prevent future problems. Filters must be replaced regularly and air vents should be cleaned to remove any dust or dirt. Make sure no vents are being blocked by furniture or other items, and open them wide to allow proper air flow.

Most HVAC repairs will need to be handled by a licensed HVAC technician. Homeowners may be able to make minor adjustments as well as help target the root of the problem ahead of time to cut down on labor hours once a technician is called. HVAC diagnostic software is available for home use, and can really cut down on service calls if the problem is something minor and needs only slight adjustment. The local HVAC technician should have more information about this software.

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