What I'm Seeing Now

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The AC Doesn't Work; The Heating Doesn't Work - What's The Problem?

If the thermostat is fine, the circuit breaker is on, there is electricity to the house and the AC doesn't work; the heating doesn't work - what's the problem?

Glancing into the return in the hallway might lend a clue.

We have many years of dust build up.

Now, people think this is because they don't use a good air filter in the HVAC unit, or replace/clean it enough, or whatever.

The problem in this photo is from general dustiness in the house.  If the house isn't vacuumed often, or dusted, dust happens and the dust floats easily.  Of course it will move with air and if air is being sucked into the HVAC returns the dust will accumulate over time.

Dustiness in the house has little to do with the HVAC filter!

LOOKING INTO THIS RETURN, THE ACCUMULATED BUILD UP IS FROM MANY, MANY YEARS OF GENERAL DUSTINESS!

When you see this kind of build up keep in mind, it is not simply "dust."  It also contains millions, billions probably, of living organisms.

Yummie!

What did I expect to find inside the HVAC unit, in this case a heat pump?

More of the same!

Predictably this filter (the washable kind) was so clogged the screen had been getting pulled into the unit.

The electric panel board and the blower inside were similarly caked with dust.

The house is 29 years old.  This is the "replacement" heat pump and is only six years old!

I really don't know how long a heat pump can last without a filter being changed, but could this filter have six years worth of dusty build up?

In the past I have seen the cheap, cardboard filters so caked and the unit actually tried so hard to get air that it collapsed the filter right into the blower!  Not in this case however.  This filter has a plastic frame and isn't that easy to collapse.

One of my (silly) jokes that I grace clients with on home inspections is, "How often once a month should you replace or clean your filter?" 

WOULD IT SURPRISE YOU THAT VERY FEW GET IT AND ANSWER "EVERY SIX MONTHS?" OR "ONCE A YEAR?"

There might be a month here and there when the system isn't used much and the filter does not need replacement.  But once a month is a great rule of thumb!

My recommendation:  while my joke may seem silly, it is intended to be instructive.  Clients don't forget it!  Truly, not cleaning the house and not replacing/cleaning the filter can be an HVAC system killer!  Then, when the system doesn't fire up during a home inspection, the inspector won't have to say, "I think it died from choking on dust!  It needs to be looked at by a licensed professional..."  Well, that guy is in for a good pay day!

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 31 commentsJay Markanich • September 19 2012 02:10AM

Comments

Hi Jay, Thank you for the reminder!  Seriously, it is amazing how much and how quickly dust accumulates on the filters. As always, prevention is better than cure!  Thank you for sharing.

Posted by Amada Slade (Island Realty of the Lowcountry) over 5 years ago

We change the oil on our cars frequently to help things work smoothly Amada.  Same with filters!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Great reminder on the filters.  (but I was told every 3 months).  I learned the filter thing the hard way (although thankfully, it costs me less than $200).  I have extras on hand (have to keep them away from the cats).  I need to change mine this month.  And, I guess based on this, a lot more often.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 5 years ago

Different strokes for different folks Debbie!  I am much more frequent than that but at least I don't have cats to worry about...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Someone named Pete Conquistador Xavier from California just commented and I don't know what he said as AR apparently blocked him (and/or his IP address).  I think I just might know who Pete is too...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

That's a bit more than the normal dust bunnies.

What a good way to remember... "How often once a month should you replace or clean your filter?"

What's the chances of that six year old furnace working properly after cleaning?

Margaret

Posted by Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland, Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome ( HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400) over 5 years ago

Homeowners wonder why I have the HVAC system of their home serviced semi-annually when I take them for property management...I have seen similar situations in HOMEowner occupied units and I try NOT to have this in my rental units. 

Posted by Wallace S. Gibson, CPM, LandlordWhisperer (Gibson Management Group, Ltd.) over 5 years ago

A good reminder for all of us to change the filters on a regular basis.


Enjoy the final days of summer with your camera in hand.


Posted by Roy Kelley, Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs (Realty Group Referrals) over 5 years ago

Jay, Dust on the return registers is a common thing we see and sellers forget to clean them.  Other places we've seen air filters thick with dust and amazing anything works at all.  I relatively cheap and easy maintenance item that often seems neglected. 

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) over 5 years ago

I have always found the filters for the HVAC return are a great barometer for the general upkeep of the house.

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach (GreatNorfolkHomes.com (757) 560-0881) over 5 years ago

I don't know Margaret.  It may have frozen up and died completely.

Wallace - that's because you are a diligent manager, and likely more diligent than the homeowner would be if living in the house instead of a renter!

Thanks Roy.  That's an appropriate color for the problem!

Bliz - very neglected.  Home maintenance is a regular thing.  Key word - regular!

You are right Kathryn, along with the build up in return ducts.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Good information.  That is why I change the filters when I conduct properties inspections.  The HVAC is too valuable to leave it up to the tenants.

Aaron

Posted by Aaron Silverman, Improving Real Estate Experience through Education (SuccessfulRental.com, Bluewater Property Management, LLC and Lowcountry Turnkey Properties, LLC) over 5 years ago

Aaron - that is a very smart practice!  It's a cheap way to maintain things, like the oil in your car.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Excellent tips Jay, so it has nothing also to do whether you have gas or oil heat?  I am asked that and have forgotten to get an answer?  thanks

Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) over 5 years ago

No matter Ginny.  They both pull and push air the same way!  A boiler heats and moves water, so there is no blower involved.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Jay, it's easy to forget about the return air duct. How often should the ducts be cleaned out?

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 5 years ago

I don't know Mike.  For lack of a better word, when they look dusty.  A layer of dust affects air flow, so it does affect efficiency too.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Morning Jay congrats on the feature.  You can see where the dust is being caked up on the wiring behind the filter.  Never did like those.  What is you recommend?

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 5 years ago

Thanks James.  Since the system did not work all I could do was recommend a professional to evaluate it.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

It's ironic that a several thousand dollar system can be ruined by simply not changing a part costing a few dollars. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 5 years ago

Jay, 

Great advice to avoid extra expenses of replacing a system EARLIER than needed with lack of maintenance.  While I agree once a month is awesome, at least having a plan and making it happen every three to six months keeps you on track.  Just like Wallace, we have our property management homes services routinely spring and fall to keep them going strong.  (It's the first phone call we will get when they are not working, so makes sense to keep the AC and Heat working well.)

All the best, Michelle

Posted by Michelle Francis, Realtor, Buckhead Atlanta Homes for Sale & Lease (Tim Francis Realty LLC) over 5 years ago

Not a whole lot of working moving parts in the HVAC units. But the ones that do move, need to be able to move smoothly all the time. An annual tuneup and monthly filter change will help a unit work almost forever, at least until the inspector leaves.

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) over 5 years ago

Good story, Jay. As inexpensive as the filters are, it's hard to believe we (including me) forget to change them often. It's on my list for this weekend!
Bruce

 

Posted by Bruce Kunz, REALTOR®, Brick & Howell NJ Homes for Sale (C21 Solid Gold Realty, Brick, NJ, 732-920-2100) over 5 years ago

I just replaced a blower on a AC unit recently....I learned that there are only so many working parts and things to check when the unit doesn't work...out of those things, the filter was a relevant point....Good post..."Start your day with JAY"

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 5 years ago

Jim - I think the system froze up and fried.  But I simply recommended that a pro say that!

Michelle - it certainly depends on the filter, and there are a couple filter philosphies out there.  But once a month cannot fail.

Scott - here is the blower fan, one of those moving parts!  Had to kind of stick the camera back there, so it isn't the best o' photos.

Bruce - get on it and get back to the rest of us!

Thanks Richie.  And when the blower fan gunks up it can fail too!

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Jay, another fine report!  I agree with Richie above "Start you day with Jay".  I always look forward to your perspective and what yu discover.  Valuable information.  Now I'm off to get some new filters before I need to start my heaters.

Posted by Gary Frimann, REALTOR and Broker (Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates) over 5 years ago

Hi Jay,  I love the pics, the advice and the corny joke !

Posted by Bill Gillhespy, Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos (16 Sunview Blvd) over 5 years ago

Jay, in the past, in my first home, I went a year and a half without changing my filter.... in the summer my air conditioner stopped working, it was iced up outside... we tracked it down to the reduced airflow from the dirty filter... I now change my filters every month

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 5 years ago

Wow I can't believe someone would let it go so long without changing the filter. I disagree with how often you should change the furnace filter though...I say 6 times every half year ;)

Posted by Goran Utvic, We Buy & Sell Chicago Houses Fast (606 Homes LLC | Chicagoland Brokers Inc, Chicago IL 60656) over 5 years ago

Jay:

WOW!  That is a lot of dust.  I hate to see my filter.  Oh, I don't have air conditioning.  Another chore I don't have to deal with.  Great blog with good pictures.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Alain Pinel Realtors) over 5 years ago

Thanks Gary and I'm glad you do!  Your furnace will smell funny for a while after you first turn it on.

And thank you Bill.  Corny maybe, but the people remember it!

Chris - you tracked it down to exactly the right thing.  Lesson learned, almost the really hard way.

Goran - six of one and half a dozen of the other!

It is Evelyn.  The pictures make it entirely understandable.  And thanks for the reblog!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

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