You’ve probably heard how paramount maintaining your air conditioning system is to the success of its operation and reliability. Without it, your system will not only leave you in the “hot seat” but it’s going to cost you a bundle more to get there. You’ll not only reduce the lifespan of your equipment, but you could also void your manufacturer warranty by neglecting to maintain that costly piece of mechanical equipment. Need I say more?
So why, oh why, do most homeowners I talk to have a laundry list of excuses for why they can’t keep up with their home’s regular maintenance requirements? Maybe because, unless you’re one of the few people who actually enjoy routine maintenance, doing maintenance kinda sucks. I mean, not only will you need to research what exactly you’re doing to begin with, then you’ll need instructions on how to perform that maintenance and… ughhh where do you even start?
Well, when it comes to performing air conditioning maintenance, the fact is that it should be performed by a professional refrigeration mechanic with the right tools and training to make sure your system is operating at peak performance. But for you, proud homeowners looking to extend the lifespan of your investment, this handy homeowner’s guide for maintaining your air conditioner will prove to be quite useful.
- Inspect & Change Air Filters. The leading cause of air conditioner breakdowns is a lack of airflow. When you forget to change that filter, and as the filter catches more dirt and debris, it in turn becomes more and more restrictive. This will cause your air conditioning coil to have insufficient air passing over it, and more often than not causes the coil to turn into a block of ice. This can lead to extensive damage of not only the compressor, but also the furnace located below the air conditioning coil.
- Trim Lawn & Bushes Around Condenser. Typically lawn maintenance is just a matter of aesthetics. But when it comes to the health of your air conditioner, you want to ensure that grass, weeds, trees, and bushes are cut at least a radius of 2 ft away from the outer sides of your outdoor air conditioning unit. This will prevent damage caused by overgrown landscaping and promote good airflow for the healthy operation of your system.
- Leave Return Air & Supply Air Grills Open. Many homeowners are of the flawed belief that if you’re not using a portion of the house or certain rooms, that you can save money by closing off dampers or registers. It seem logical but it’s, unfortunately, a bit more complicated than that. See, when you close those registers you’re restricting airflow. When you restrict airflow, you’re essentially doing the very same thing as a dirty filter does. This can lead to a frozen system, failed compressor or failed blower motor. The reason for the dampers is so that the system can be professionally balanced. This includes setting blower speeds, checking CFM (cubic feet per minute) and static pressure. So as a DIY maintenance procedure, it’s best to make sure nothing is blocking you registers — including any furniture.
- Clean Dirt Debris From Coil. In your air conditioning system, you’ll find two coils — a “condenser coil” and an “evaporator coil”. Your condenser coil is a fairly straightforward coil to clean; it can be done with a simple garden hose. Make sure to disconnect power to the outdoor unit and carefully hose down all sides of the air conditioner’s coils until all dirt and debris have been removed. The indoor coil requires a much higher level of expertise and it is strongly recommended to have that portion cleaned by a certified professional. By cleaning the coils, your system will have better heat transfer. This will increase efficiency and reduce the unit’s run time. In short, you’ll pay less to cool your home!
- Keep Unit Level. In our climate of frigid cold winters and smoldering hot summers, the ground tends to shift quite a bit due to the frost line. This, unfortunately, can take its toll on the base platform that your air conditioner sits on. A major cause of compressor failure (the heart of your air conditioner) is a result of the system being unlevel. The unit requires a perfectly level surface while in operation, so make sure to inspect each spring, using a level, that your system has not shifted over the winter months.
- Clean Drain & Drain Pan. A dirty drain pan can cause an array of issues. Typically when an air conditioner drain is clogged, it can cause a notable amount of damage to floors, walls and electrical components, and leave you without cooling when you need it most. Cleaning the drain portion of the air conditioning coil is much easier than the drain pan for the coil, as it is located inside the ductwork. But if you have a “cased coil” with access doors, this can be completed in as little as half an hour. If not, we recommend having a professional HVAC technician complete this portion of your cleaning, as access to the air conditioning coil will require specialty tools and training to prevent damaging the coil.
Following the above maintenance tips will help to maintain your home’s central air conditioner. It is strongly recommended by all manufacturers that your air conditioning system be properly maintained by a qualified technician, who will go into much greater depth in fine-tuning the performance of your system and catching the little problems before they develop into large problems.
James Memije is the co-owner of AccuServ Heating and Air Conditioning. He has extensive knowledge in hydronics and forced air systems and is a Licensed Gas Fitter with several certifications including heat load calculation and air duct design.