During the summer months, your air conditioning system is in constant use, and rarely taken for granted. However, while it sits dormant during the winter, many homeowners won't give a second thought about maintaining their air conditioning. Periods of low use are good times to schedule a home inspection that also covers your HVAC system. Doing so will contribute to your peace of mind and keep this vital household component in good working order once it gets warm again.

Keeping your HVAC system in good working order could mean benefits to your health as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, a dangerous and potentially form of pneumonia known as Legionnaires' disease is often caused by aging air conditioning units. People older than 50 are especially prone to contracting this infection.

What inspectors check

The National Association of Home Inspectors recommended homeowners schedule an inspection for their air conditioning units twice every year. One should come in the spring, just before any heat waves occur, and another should be conducted in the fall. While the NAHI noted that most homeowners say they can handle regular checks themselves, the experience and technical knowledge of a professional inspector will vastly increase the average lifespan of the air conditioning system. While a home inspection won't diagnose advanced problems in the system itself, an inspection is a good way to stay informed on the health of the HVAC system and get an idea if and when to call an air conditioning expert.

A home inspector will look at a few attributes of the HVAC system to determine its general condition. The easiest to spot is any issues with exposed ducts inside the home. Many loft style apartments or basements will have some degree of exposed ductwork, and these issues are the easiest to detect and treat. An inspector will look for peeling duct tape or loose seam fittings around the joints of ducts. One symptom of a problem that often goes unrecognized is the presence of dust streaks. These can appear where air is leaking, which means less efficiency and more energy spent heating and cooling your home. Any visible dents, tears or other obvious damage to ducts are also sure signs that repairs are needed. An inspector could also check the furnace for combustion issues at this time as well.

Other areas to note

A professional inspector may also check the thermostat units in your home. Blockage of the small air vents on thermostat units can cause them to malfunction. Removing these is often as simple as swabbing the area with a damp rag. Excessive dirt in other areas of the HVAC system may require professional cleaning. This includes the compressor, which is the part of the air conditioning system that sits outside of the home. Any leaves, animal nests or other debris should be removed from the immediate surroundings of the compressor. Some homeowners raise their compressor on cinder blocks or wooden slats to achieve better airflow. Make cleaning the area around your compressor part of your regular yard work, even in the fall and winter.

According to the NAHI, home inspectors value the collaboration with homeowners and ability to learn something new in the process. It is important to note, however, that a traditional home inspection can only go so far in diagnosing problems with specialized systems like the HVAC unit. For any serious problems, contact a heating and cooling industry professional. With regular inspections and maintenance, your air conditioning can last almost as long as your mortgage.