When All Else Fails

\"typewriter_instructions\"An HVAC system is a meaningful investment and important part of your house, and it offers many a financial lesson that can be applied to a broader base.

My HVAC has already taught us to beware of something too good to be true and consider worst-case scenarios when making decisions. It’s not done teaching, though, and today, we’ll learn from it as we consider the very basic question, “Why should I hire someone to do seasonal maintenance on my HVAC system?”

Some of the reasons could include:

  • Your dad did it
  • Your favorite blogger does it and you want to be more like him
  • Routine maintenance may be required under any warranty you have on your system
    This is an important point I’ll just make once, but I’ll put a note below it in bold italics so you know it’s really important
  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
  • An HVAC system costs several thousand dollars and is designed to receive routine maintenance
    Would you buy a car and then skip oil changes?
  • The folks over at Energy Star recommend it
  • It may save your life

That’s a lot of reasons to do seasonal HVAC maintenance. But perhaps you’re a stubborn one, and need one more final nudge? Welcome to lesson #3 from Paul’s HVAC.

Lesson #3: When All Else Fails, Read the Instructions

An HVAC systems comes with tons of different parts, including compressors, condensers, control panels, blowers, electric ignition system, burners, heat exchangers, and ductwork.

There’s one more thing that comes with it, but it’s oft ignored and gets no respect. It may be called an installation guide, maintenance guide, or owner’s guide (or a combination thereof). However it’s styled, you can simply call it “the instructions”.

I know when you install a new HVAC unit (or buy a house with an existing one), the normal inclination is to toss the instructions, pat the unit on the head, and tell it, “Thanks little buddy – you go work hard, and I’ll see you in 10 years.”

But the instructions are a veritable cornucopia of valuable information and make for fascinating reading. I recommend it for the entertainment value alone, but there’s also some specific points within that relate to today’s topic. I’ve got a pile of HVAC manuals for new and old units, but let’s take a look at excerpts from just two of them:



Boom! So there you have it. You should hire a professional for seasonal maintenance because the instructions say you should.

OK, wonderful. You’ve made your point. We’ll do our HVAC seasonal maintenance and will start reading instruction manuals for fun in our spare time. Is that it?

No, there’s more. We need to apply this lesson more broadly so my HVAC gets its teaching credit for today.

The Lesson, Applied

Reading the instructions isn’t always necessary – I think if you’re dealing with an inexpensive product that has no real risk associated with it, you can probably skip them. However, I have found that the length of instructions are often directly related to the complexity + risk of the product, so the return on your time is self-balancing.

You should always read the instructions when you’re dealing with things that are:

  • Expensive (HVAC, car, refrigerator)
  • Important with scary potential downsides (HVAC, baby car seat, parachute)
  • Complicated and/or likely to have cool secret features (computer, phone)

Reading the instructions is an important part of the purchase process. If you bought something and someone removed one of its nifty features or banged it up a bit so it’d have a shorter life, you’d be pretty steamed. Skipping the instructions could land you in exactly the same spot.

And remember instructions can take many different forms. One of the most powerful is known as “books”. You can find instructions on topics even more important than HVAC maintenance – things like investing, parenting, and career guidance.

For any asset, you should educate yourself on how to maximize its value to you, and taking a quick spin through the instructions can go a long way to doing just that.

There you go – financial lesson #3 from my HVAC. Read the instructions.

And you don’t have to just take my word for it.


As unbelievable as it sounds, there is at least one more financial lesson lurking within my HVAC. Stay tuned for lesson #4!

Picture courtesy of Mike Kanuta

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