Air Conditioner Maintenance 101
Central air is a blessing and a burden. While you feel fortunate to be able to keep your home cool when temperatures rise, you also worry about the costs of running your A/C and expensive equipment repairs. Fortunately, you can make the most of your HVAC unit with regular DIY air conditioner maintenance. This helps to bring the costs of ownership down so you can focus on creating a comfortable indoor retreat where you can cool off on hot summer days. Learn how you can perform some simple air conditioner tune-ups and how to recognize when it’s time to call in the pros.
4 Tips for Air Conditioning Maintenance
Check the Wiring
The first thing to do when performing any maintenance on your air conditioner is to switch off the power to the unit. Then, remove the access panel from the unit and look for any wiring issues. These could include melted wire insulation, burned or blackened wires, or disconnected wires. If you have an electrical test meter, you can check the unit’s capacitors.
If these issues are present, call an HVAC technician before proceeding with any other maintenance or running the air conditioner. It’s important to have electrical and wiring issues handled by someone with professional experience. If no wiring issues are apparent, you can replace the access panel and continue on with the following maintenance steps.
Change the Filter
In most cases, the biggest influence on your air conditioner’s efficiency (or lack thereof) is the filter. The filter has an important job; it removes allergens and dirt from the air, keeping the unit’s inner-workings cleaner. When a filter is clogged and dirty, particles get into the unit. This diminishes the unit’s capacity to work efficiently. The evaporator coil slowly takes in more dirt, which impairs its ability to absorb heat and release cool air. When you replace a clogged filter, it can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent and lead to cheaper energy bills each month.
The return duct in a wall or ceiling typically houses AC filters. However sometimes the filter is in a furnace or in the air conditioning unit. Find your air conditioning unit’s filter and make sure to replace it regularly. In some cases, you can save money with a reusable filter that you can clean rather than replaced. Your filter should be replaced or cleaned about once a month during seasons of the year when you are running your A/C on a regular basis. If your filter is subject to dusty conditions or you have furry pets, your filters may need to be replaced or cleaned more frequently.
Keep Coils Clear
Air conditioners use evaporator coils and condenser coils to absorb heat and produce cool air. Over time, these elements are exposed to dirt and debris, even if you’re diligent about replacing your filters regularly. When this occurs, the coils are unable to work efficiently due to decreased airflow.
To keep your air conditioner working efficiently, you’ll need to clean the evaporator and condenser periodically. Clean around the coils by pulling out fallen leaves, grass trimmings, and other debris and using a hose to wash away dirt and dust. To help minimize these issues in the future, trim back foliage a couple feet from the coils. You can also consider adding an enclosure that allows air to flow near the unit while creating a barrier for debris and dirt.
Schedule a Professional Tune-Up
It is best to leave some air conditioner maintenance tasks to the professionals. A good idea is to schedule a spring tune-up for your air conditioner every year. This ensures that everything is ready to go before the weather starts to heat up. It also gives your maintenance technician ample time to identify and fix problems so you’re not suddenly left without A/C on a particularly hot summer day.
When you hire a pro, they’ll be able to check a number of factors which will affect the efficiency of your A/C system. You can expect your tune-up to include the following:
- Checking refrigerant levels and identifying any refrigerant leaks that may be occurring
- Evaluating and optimizing the airflow through the evaporator coil
- Inspecting all electric terminals and connections
- Sealing any air leakages in the duct system
- Replacing the filter if needed
- Ensuring that the thermostat is accurate
Maintain Room Air Conditioners
The steps for tuning up a room air conditioner are a bit different from that of a central air conditioning unit. However, you can still perform most tasks on your own. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re maintaining a room air conditioning unit:
- Room A/C units require regular filter changes or cleanings. The filter is mounted in the grill that faces into the room. Replace or clean yours every few weeks or so when running the unit regularly.
- The condenser coils are located on the part of the unit facing outside. These coils should be cleaned at least once per year, ideally right before the cooling season begins. Remove the air conditioner cabinet and use a soft bristle brush or compressed air to gently clean out built-up dirt and dust.
- While the cabinet is off to remove the coils, wash the water pan with a little warm water and dish detergent or white vinegar to prevent musty odors and mold growth.
- Getting the proper seal around a window air conditioner is essential for efficient use. Inspect the frame to ensure that it is making contact with the unit’s metal case. Seal up any leaks with weather stripping to prevent cool air from escaping from the room.
- Make sure the unit is not leaning to the side, front, or back. Even if it was level when installed, it’s wise to recheck it from time to time to make sure it hasn’t shifted. The unit needs to be level so that it can drain properly and perform more efficiently.
- If you leave your unit in the window over the cooler months, be sure to use a protective cover to guard against harsh weather and debris. However, it’s preferable to store your window air conditioner inside if possible.
Use these tips to keep your air conditioner in great shape and reduce your energy costs during the warmer months of the year.