May 19

Air Conditioner Maintenance Checklist: Essential Tips for Optimal Performance and Energy Efficiency

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During the hottest summer months, you’ll probably be relying on your air conditioner to keep you cool. To ensure that your AC unit is working optimally, it will need to be regularly cleaned and maintained. An HVAC system that is properly cared for will extend the life of your unit and will perform more efficiently, saving you money on your monthly utility bills. Not to mention, a bit of preventative maintenance will help you avoid costly repairs in the long run. A central air system that is running smoothly will remove humidity as well as improve the air quality in your home. By reducing air-borne allergens and bacteria, a clean air conditioning system will help keep you healthy as well as comfortable.

bryant air conditionerTo maintain your air conditioner, it can help to understand a bit about how your central AC system works, and the parts involved. Central air conditioners consist of two basic parts – an indoor unit (evaporator) that is located in a central duct near your furnace and an outdoor unit (condenser) that sits outside next to your home. The central air system works by circulating refrigerant between the two units – absorbing heat and humidity from the indoor air and releasing it outside while distributing cool air throughout your home using your home’s duct system. These are the same ducts and registers that your furnace uses to heat your home in the cooler months. Both indoor and outdoor parts need regular upkeep to ensure your system is performing optimally and efficiently.  

Please keep in mind that this is a general AC maintenance checklist and tips for the homeowner to use as a guideline. Individual air conditioners can vary by manufacturer so always be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions that come with your system for information on how to clean and service your specific AC unit.

 

  1. Replace the Filter

One of the most important and easiest things you can do to keep your HVAC system running smoothly is to make sure you are using a clean filter.  Your air conditioning system uses the same filter as your furnace, so you don’t need to purchase separate filters for each.  At the beginning of the season, before you turn on your AC for the first time, replace the filter. A clogged, dirty filter will reduce airflow making your air conditioner work harder, costing you extra money in energy bills each month. A dirty filter can also compromise the overall air quality in your home by collecting dust, debris, mildew, and bacteria.

Check on the condition of your filter monthly. Depending on the type of filter your system uses, your filter may need to be cleaned. If your reusable air conditioner filter is showing signs of dust or debris, you can use your vacuum hose attachment to remove any built-up dirt, or for a deeper clean, you can soak your filter in a mixture of one part water and one part vinegar. Allow the filter to soak for about an hour and make sure it’s fully dry before replacing it. Many HVAC systems use disposable filters, in which case you will need a new filter whenever necessary. In either case, if your filter is showing signs of damage or wear and tear, it will need to be replaced.

 

  1. Clean the Condenser

clean the condenserThe outdoor condenser part of your AC unit is critical to the performance of your overall cooling system. All sorts of things can cause debris to build up in your outdoor condenser, from leaves, to mown grass, or foliage near the unit.  Try to ensure the outside of your unit is cleared of plants, long grass, weeds, and other debris surrounding it.  You should do an annual deep clean of your air conditioner.  Before getting to the inside of your condenser, the first step is to make sure power is not running to the system while you’re cleaning it. Always turn the breaker to the off position before servicing your AC unit. Check your manufacturer’s guide for instructions on removing the top. Clear out any debris from the bottom of the condenser, either by hand or with a vacuum.

  1. Fins and Coils

A lot of dust and debris can get caught in your condenser fins, causing your air conditioner to work less efficiently and sometimes bending the fins out of place. You will need to very gently dislodge this debris. With your garden hose, rinse the inside and outside of your condenser. If you’re dealing with a particularly dirty condenser, you can buy an AC coil cleaner from a hardware store (make sure the cleaner is compatible with your specific unit). Spray the fins on the inside and allow the spray to sit and foam for ten minutes. Then, with your hose, rinse the cleaner by pushing it from the inside to the outside of your unit. Don’t use high pressure on your hose and never use a pressure washer when cleaning your AC unit. This can cause damage to the fins. Rinse the outside of the unit as well.

If your fins are bent out of place, you can buy a special “fin comb” to help return them to their original position. You can even use a regular dinner/butter knife to do this, but again, you must be very careful when doing so. Never stick the knife in more than half an inch. The fins on your condenser are delicate and you can do more damage if not done correctly. If your fins are severely misshapen, this is probably a job for a professional.

 

  1. Clean the Condenser Fan

A lot of dirt and debris can accumulate on your condenser fan and it should be cleaned regularly. Simply wipe down the fan with a damp cloth and allow it to dry before replacing.

 

  1. Level Your Condenser

A simple tip to keep your AC unit working more efficiently is to make sure your outdoor condenser is level and flat. The slab that your condenser sits on can sink or settle over time so be sure to check this annually. You can add shims under the pad to level it out. Make sure a sinking slab is not causing the lines to pull tight or causing water to puddle around your unit.

 

  1. Check the Insulation and Wiring

Condensation can form on your outdoor AC lines which will reduce its energy efficiency, and raise your bills in the process. Check the insulation on your outdoor lines. Replace any insulation that’s been damaged or rotted. Visually inspect the wiring coming from your air conditioner. Frayed, damaged wires or loose connections can cause a lot of problems. Please don’t attempt any electrical repair yourself, unless you are a trained professional. Working with electrical components can be very dangerous and it’s highly recommended to call a professional when dealing with damaged wiring.

 

  1. Check and Clear the Condensate Drain Line

The condensate drain line that runs from your indoor to outdoor central air unit, usually in the form of a PVC pipe, allows condensation from the refrigerant to be expelled. Sometimes this drain will get clogged when mold, slime, or algae accumulates. This line is usually connected to a drain tray or pan in the indoor unit and runs outside, next to your outdoor unit. A clogged drain line is a common cause of a malfunctioning AC unit. When the drain line gets blocked it will trap water in your air conditioner, eventually causing the evaporator coil to turn to ice. The moisture in the line can freeze, causing your air conditioner to turn off, but it will often cause damage to the unit before this occurs. Regularly checking your drain and clearing any buildup can save you costly repairs and ensure your HVAC system is working more efficiently. Water leaking or pooling around your indoor unit is often a sign that your condensate line has a blockage. 

To clear your condensate drain line, access the end of the line (the part outside your home), and first see if you can manually clear any blockage. Reach your fingers inside and gently try to clear away any loose debris.  

Next, use a shop vac to suck out any clogs. In the case of serious clogs, you can attach a wet shop vac to the outside portion of your drain line (try to create an airtight seal). Turn the vacuum on. Now go to the indoor portion of your drain line and slowly pour water down the line using a funnel. This can help loosen the blockage and the shop vac will suck up the debris and water along with it. You will know if the clog fails to loosen because the water may back up in the drain line and leak onto the floor. 

If this happens and the clog doesn’t come out with a shop vac and water, you can try to use a drain snake. Push the drain snake down into the drain line access indoors. Make sure the snake doesn’t go towards your air handler or you could damage the evaporator coil. The worst case scenario is that your drain line has become so clogged that the line will need to be rebuilt. In this rare case, you should seek the help of a professional.

 

  1. Clean the Evaporator Coil

The evaporator coil is the component of your HVAC system that absorbs the heat and moisture from the air inside your home. It’s usually located inside the air handler or attached to your furnace. These coils get dirty over time, causing your AC system to work less efficiently. Therefore, they need to be cleaned regularly.

You can use a soft brush to gently remove most of the loose dust on your evaporator coils before spraying it with a no-rinse coil cleaner. You can also use a small amount of mild, non-corrosive detergent with water to carefully get at the dirt between the coils. Spray the mixture onto the coils and gently wipe away with a cloth or soft brush.

 

  1. Clean and Adjust Blower Components

A dirty blower component on your air conditioner will restrict airflow to the system, making your AC work harder to keep your house cool and reducing your system’s efficiency. Gently remove any dust and debris with a vacuum or with mild detergent and water.

  1. Test Your AC

Once you’ve finished cleaning and replacing all parts of your air conditioner, don’t forget to turn the power back on before running and testing your AC unit. Check to see that your thermostat is working and allow the unit to run for a while. If you’re still experiencing issues, contacting an HVAC specialist can help determine the cause.

 

  1. Get a Professional Tune-Up

Scheduling an annual tune-up with an HVAC professional is one of the best ways to ensure your air conditioner is properly serviced and maintained. Even minor issues can turn into major ones if they go unnoticed and a professional will be able to troubleshoot any common maintenance issues that may get overlooked by the homeowner. A professional can recharge your refrigerant, lubricate mechanical parts, and detect any repair needs to prevent breakdowns in your system and keep you cool all summer long.

Without regular maintenance, your air conditioner won’t be able to perform optimally, making it less energy efficient while failing to cool your home properly over time. This means you will be less comfortable during the hot summer months while paying more in monthly energy bills. Proper care for your HVAC system will extend the life of your unit, improve the air quality in your home and ensure your air conditioning system runs smoothly for years to come. Many of the AC maintenance tasks on this checklist can be done by the homeowner who feels comfortable taking them on themselves. However, improper care can do more damage than good, and if you’re not comfortable or are unsure how to take on some of these steps, calling an HVAC professional is the best way to keep your air conditioner in tip-top shape. Even the handiest of DIYers will benefit from scheduling an annual tune-up by a trained specialist in the spring, before turning your AC on for the first time. A bit of preventative maintenance will save you money and let you enjoy the best of summer!


Tags

ac, ac maintenance, air conditioner, air conditioner maintenance, air conditioner repair


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