*Before performing any maintenance on your air conditioner, make sure the power source is disconnected – either unplugged or turned off at the shutoff box/circuit breaker panel.
Regular HVAC maintenance can save you from an uncomfortable home and a potentially expensive purchase. Similar to the way you take care of a car; routine checks will improve the longevity – and efficiency – of your machine. Most of these parts of your air conditioner can be examined yourself, but to truly care for your unit, you will want a professional HVAC servicer to inspect your system annually.
1. Filters. According to the Department of Energy, replacing a dirty or clogged filter with a clean or new filter can lower your energy consumption anywhere from 5-15%. Not only will your air conditioner work more efficiently, but also your air quality will improve. You should clean your filter once every two weeks. Depending on the state of your filter, you can either vacuum the filter to remove all the debris, or you can scrub the filter with lukewarm water and dish soap. If you really want to ensure your filter is clean, you can do both. If you do wash your filter, allow it to air dry before you put it back in your unit.
2. Coils. Even if you clean your filter regularly, your air conditioner’s coils will accumulate dirt. Whether your air conditioner is part of a central air unit or is small window unit, the coils need to be cleaned. Cut away any foliage that is growing on or near your air conditioner to ensure good airflow. Cleaning the coils is similar to cleaning the filter – use a vacuum or broom to remove any debris and wipe the unit clean with water. If you do use water or a liquid cleaner, be sure to cover any electric wires or motors with plastic to prevent a shocking result.
3. Coil Fins. Coil fins protect your air conditioner’s coils. Fins often break or bend and prevent adequate airflow through your unit. Cleaning the coil fins involves vacuuming and wiping down with a soft brush. If your fins are bent, you can purchase a fin comb to restore your fins to like-new condition.
4. Outside A/C Unit. Weather, especially during the winter, can take a toll on your outside A/C unit. By the time it’s ready to switch back on in the summer, you’ll want to examine it for potential damage or debris that may obstruct it from running correctly. Ensure that the concrete slab it sits upon remains level. Also, clear leaves, sticks, and dirt from the unit (especially where the coils are). You can even take it a step further and spray down the outdoor unit with a hose, making the cleaning process that much easier (just make sure everything is turned off before proceeding). Also, if you don’t already, the DOE recommends covering your outside unit during the winter – something that could help significantly. You can find A/C outside unit covers that are relatively inexpensive online.
5. A/C Drains. If you notice that your central A/C system isn’t pumping out enough cool air, you could have a clogged condensate drain caused by built-up algae in the system. Not only that, the problem could cause water to leak – potentially causing damage to your home. To find the drain line, look for PVC drain outlets. The DOE recommends pressing a “stiff wire” through the channels of the drain to clear it out. Another common fix, meanwhile, involves pouring a bleach-water mix down the drain to clear out excess algae.
6. Ask about the Refrigerant Level. A problem resulting from having the wrong amount of refrigerant in your system is decreased efficiency – something that can shorten your system’s lifespan. Via the Energy Star website, the DOA recommends checking the system’s refrigerant level and adjusting it if necessary. While you might not be able to adjust the refrigerant level yourself (something we recommend leaving up to a professional), there are some obvious signs that it’s a problem, including: Hissing sounds from the line and ice forming on it. The A/C refrigerant line is usually the largest one connecting to your outside unit.
By inspecting and maintaining your A/C system on a regular basis, you can keep your energy bills low and stay cooler during those hotter days of the year. If you have any questions regarding the above steps, always consult a qualified professional.