Air Conditioner Maintenance Tips
As your air conditioner gets up there in life, you should probably start preparing for the inevitable. Home and business owners that get 10-15, or even 20 years or more from their HVAC system should consider themselves extremely lucky, especially when many are only rated or warrantied for 8-12 years. Of course, as Ernest Hemingway said, “you make your own luck” and in the A/C world that comes from regular system maintenance. An air-conditioner is far from a ‘plug and play’ unit that can be turned on in the spring and put away in the fall.
Your best bet to extend the life of you’re A/C is to perform regular maintenance on the unit; these maintenance tips must be followed semi-regularly.
Your air-conditioner works in almost a 50/50 manner between the interior and exterior of the home. Located outside are a lot of the components that create intense heat or noise as they run, such as the compressor and condenser coils. The biggest threat that these outdoor parts face is the buildup of debris such as leaves, sticks, and grass clippings. Therefore one of the biggest outdoor maintenance tips is to simply clean the system.
- Clean the Compressor / Condenser Coils– the compressor is an essential part of the central air system as it squeezes gas particles to give the energy and high temperature. The condenser takes those particles and turns them into a cool liquid that is used to suck out heat and make a room more comfortable. Buildup of debris hinders the efficiency of these components though, and they should be cleaned annually (perhaps monthly during intense cooling seasons). Cleaning involves nothing more than removing the fan guard and spraying off buildup, so it’s a very simple but necessary maintenance tip that most homeowners do not do.
- Straighten Coil Fins – much like a dirty filter will impede air flow, so will bent fins. A fin comb can be used to straighten these pieces and create a regular and efficient flow.
- Level the Outdoor Unit – Over the years the soil in and around your house will move and not only will your home shift, your outdoor A/C unit will too (and much faster). Every few years, it doesn’t hurt to level the unit with some weather-resistant shims so that the refrigerant (410A or R22) flows efficiently. To check if your unit has shifted, simply bring out a level and sit it on top.
Much like the outdoor components, the inside parts of an air conditioner are vulnerable to dirt and debris buildup. Here are some tips to keep the interior parts holding up their end of the bargain in A/C performance:
- Change the Air Filter – Replacing (or cleaning) the air filter is important for two major reasons. First, dirt and debris that builds up on the filter prevents air flow and ultimately makes your A/C run harder than it has too, driving up utility bills and lowering the life span. Second, a dirty filter eventually allows dust and dander to creep through which in turn is delivered throughout your home creating impure breathing conditions.
- Clean Evaporator Coil – The coil located inside the home is the evaporator coil which is crucial for chilling the air that is delivered through the home. Even though this is covered, it is still susceptible to dirt and debris exposure. The component is located in a plenum that is covered by foil-wrapped insulation or duct tape. Once you’ve accessed the coils use a soft brush to clean them, just spray the components down with a no-rinse coil cleaner.
- Unplug Evaporator Drain – Cleaning the evaporator coil presents a great time to check the evaporator drain. The no-rinse cleaner you used to clean the evaporator coil will also drip into the evaporator pan and can be flushed out with a 50% bleach / 50% water mixture that will also kill off mold and algae that has built up in the drip tube. If this solution doesn’t drain properly through, unplug the blockage with a long, sharp stick, or by sucking it out with a wet/dry vacuum.
While there are some definite indoor/outdoor responsibilities that a home or business owner has with their A/C upkeep, one of those is also the hiring of experienced service personnel for annual inspections. There are some steps that just aren’t comfortable for the novice DIYer and there are other procedures, such as checking refrigerant levels or evaluating electrical connections that should only be done by a pro.