We all want to save money. With all the information available online, it is easier than ever to find tutorials on basic and advanced home maintenance. Having access to this information is great – it provides home project information to a whole new generation of people who are interested in DIY projects. The trouble is that some of these videos share lousy information. We have seen many videos out there showing people how to do things you should never, ever do to your HVAC system. Another issue is people overestimating their technical skill and knowledge. Sure, it may look easy on YouTube, but when you start working on the project, it can end up being way more complicated than you anticipated.
So, what can you do if you want to engage in a little air conditioning maintenance yourself? One place to start is with your ducts. More specifically, homeowners can usually tackle a DIY duct inspection and fix minor holes and tears on your own. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Start with Regular Maintenance
The first step to keeping your air conditioning ducts healthy is to maintain them regularly. If you use our Precision Tune-Up service twice a year, we do this for you (and much more). If you are a DIY fan, you can do a simple duct inspection yourself.
First, find the duct that runs out of your outside compressor unit. Starting outside, check for leaks. With the air conditioner running, feel around the duct for air escaping. Note problem areas and continue the check throughout the house, also checking any visible branching ducts. You can come back and fix issues once you are done with your inspection. If you’re finding a lot of problem areas (more than a handful), call a professional…something isn’t right.
After checking the ducts, do a quick check of your vents. If they are dirty, give them a quick cleaning with a vacuum and low-VOC cleanser. If you notice mold or signs of pests (bugs or rodents), call a professional.
Double Check Duct Connection Points
When doing your inspection, pay close attention to duct connection points. This is where most leaks are likely to occur. If you find that you have leaks on most of your connection points, call a professional. This is an indicator of a problem that requires a little more than a DIY solution.
Tools to Solve Minor Duct Issues
Next, you need to gather your tools for repairing the small leaks in your ducts. Despite the name, do not use duct tape. Instead, you should purchase foil tape explicitly made for HVAC systems. This kind of tape is readily available at most major hardware stores. You will also need some low-VOC window cleaner, a clean microfiber towel or paper towels, and potentially some silicone caulk designed for HVAC use or HVAC mastic (also available at most hardware stores). The caulk or mastic may be useful if you have any leaks in rough areas where the tape is less likely to stick.
Fixing Small Punctures or Tears
The first thing you should do is clean the area around the duct leak. Don’t skip this step – the tape won’t adhere properly to a dirty duct. Next, cut a piece of tape that will completely cover the leak and then some. The tape should cover a few inches above and below the leak. Peel off the backing of the tape and gently start to apply it from top to bottom. You want to make sure the tape gets a good seal, so applying pressure while you put the tape over the hole is a good idea.
If you are repairing a leak where two pieces of ductwork connect, you may want to apply a coat of mastic for extra protection. The mastic dries to create an airtight seal to keep the air in your ducts.
When to Call a Professional
You may think, “But guys, the videos online show me how to do so much more with my HVAC system.” Trust us…we know, and we want you to save money too. But doing a DIY project that causes a more significant problem, in the long run, is not a wise investment.
If you find a lot of leaks in your ductwork, it’s time to call a professional. There could be problems with how your system was installed, or there could be major problems with the ducts themselves. An HVAC technician will be able to quickly pinpoint the issue and develop a strategy to solve the problem.
If you find large holes in your ductwork, it’s time to call a professional. Large holes may mean that you need an entire section of your duct replaced. A trained tech will be able to get the project done quickly and without damaging any surrounding ductwork.
If you find wet spots, mold, or pests, it’s time to call a professional. If your ductwork has mold growth or major water build-up, there is likely a problem with the air conditioner itself. In the case of mold, a professional needs to clean or install new ductwork for safety reasons. The same goes for pests – bugs or rodents in your HVAC system require a professional for safe cleanup and control.
If you think there is a problem in inaccessible ductwork, it’s time to call a professional. HVAC technicians know home air conditioning and heating inside and out. They are better prepared to handle problems in crawl spaces and attics.