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Your heating and air conditioning system is one of the most vital systems of your home, delivering and removing warm or cool air from every room and maintaining humidity levels. It also includes a great many moving parts and complex elements. This means it needs to be checked regularly to avoid a small problem escalating into a big one, or a catastrophic one.

Experts agree you should have a qualified pro check your HVAC system twice a year: in spring and fall. The change of seasons generally means you can get your system looked at during the transition between heating to cooling, or vice versa, to ensure your system is ready to work during the months when you need it most.

But don't think you're off the hook if you live in an area with a pretty consistent climate, where you really only use heating or cooling. That twice-yearly inspection is still important for making sure the main system is still in good shape.

An AC inspection should cost you between $70-$100. If you have a service contract with an HVAC company, it may already be included. And as an added benefit, an inspection and tuneup often improve energy efficiency, which can help it pay for itself in future savings on your electric bills.

Air conditioning maintenance should include checking the motor, blower, drain line, coils, operating pressures and temperatures, the return and supply lines, refrigerant levels and connections. The inspection should address every part of the system, interior and exterior. This includes the duct work; even small breaks in the seals can create significant energy loss.

A good inspector will usually also take a look at the part of your system that's not going to be in use in the coming months. If you're moving from a cold winter into the summer months, that check over of your heating system during an AC inspection could find red flags to address before they turn into real problems.

If your system seems to be working fine but your technician suggests expensive repairs or even replacing the system, don't hesitate to get a second or even third opinion before authorizing work to be done. Most air conditioners should last at least 15 years with proper maintenance.

You can also take several simple steps on your own to maintain your units between inspections. Take a look at your outside unit and make sure no objects or vegetation are getting in the way. If there are, clear them out so your unit has unblocked access to fresh air. Use a hose to spray off the coils at a 45-degree angle to remove debris in the fins. On the interior, make sure the area around your unit is clear so the technician has full access. And of course, the single best thing you can do for your HVAC systems is to keep your filter up to date. Check the manufacturer recommendations and set alerts on your calendar to make sure you're reminded to replace it.

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