Your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system might be the hardest working system in your entire home. In the heat of the summer and the chill of winter, it provides a comfortable internal climate. That said, you need to watch its back as it keeps your home comfy. Here are four ways to protect your HVAC system from damage. Some may seem obvious, while others are less so. Make a habit of employing these to ensure years of pleasant and unimpeded service for your furnace, and keep an eye out for common air conditioner problems.

Clean or Replace the Filter

Something as simple as cleaning or replacing the filter can go overlooked, which is a shame because it’s an important task. Your HVAC system pumps out cool and warm air while filtering the dust and other unpleasantness from the air you breathe. Check with the manufacturer about how often you need to change or clean the filter and stick to that schedule. A permanent filter just needs hosing down, but it’s wise to clean it with a vinegar and water solution. Also, vacuum the vent cover because dust can build up there.

Watch Out for Critters

Animals can damage your HVAC system, especially wall mounted units and vents. They can invite birds, who love to nest in hidden spaces, which can mess up the internal workings. Rats, mice, and other rodents look for warm spaces to set up a home, often gnawing wires, dragging in trash, and leaving behind food, feces, and urine. Even your pets can mess up your HVAC system with their hair and dander, so keep them clean to prevent your HVAC from working twice as hard to filter the air.

Keep the Air Flowing

Is your HVAC system having trouble “breathing”? Look around the house to make sure nothing is blocking the vents. Curtains are common culprits, as are poorly placed pieces of furniture. Dust buildup can choke the system, as well. Your condenser—the unit with the big fan outside—also needs unimpeded air flow, so trim surrounding greenery and keep leaves, grass, and other debris from blocking the vents.

Thermostat Thoughts

Your thermostat is the HVAC control center. Keeping the temperature cooler during winter puts less stress on the unit and helps you save money. Keep the fan setting on automatic; a constantly running fan will burn out the unit that much more quickly. If the thermostat has a programmable feature, set it to operate on a low setting when you’re not at home.

Those are just four ways to protect your HVAC system from damage. With just a little effort, you can ensure years of peak performance and few to no repairs!