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Do Home Air Conditioners Need Maintenance?

Air Conditioning RepairWhen it comes to our air conditioner, for most of us it’s pretty simple: We turn it on during the heat and then turn it off during the cold. If we’re lucky (as we hope), we might be able to pass through a season or two with just changing the air filter.

We’re really just playing the odds that our unit will perform as we need it to without requiring much from us. We might come out ahead for a while, but if left unattended too long, our AC will eventually need our attention, and it will make sure we know it.

Here at Air Dynamics, if anyone asks us if home air conditioners need maintenance, our answer will always be a big “yes!” Properly maintaining your unit lengthens its life, saves energy costs and helps prevent expensive repairs.

The good news is that with a little commitment and focus, you can take care of some of it yourself. And of course if you ever get stuck, we will gladly answer your questions.

The best time to start maintenance for your home air conditioner is usually in spring before the heat arrives in Oswego, Yorkville, Naperville, Aurora and Plainfield (IL).

Air Conditioner Maintenance: Starting Overview

Let’s review your unit’s primary parts and initial maintenance steps so you know how to contribute to greater system performance.

(For proper safety, before working on or around the air conditioner, turn off the power, including the shut-off box near the exterior condenser/compressor and the power switch at the breaker box.)

Filter. This is probably the most important factor for an efficient unit. Beyond ensuring proper airflow, a clean filter can lower your energy consumption by up to 15%. Check the air filter at least every three months; if it is dirty or clogged, replace it.

Indoor vents. Clear your indoor vents of any dust, debris or anything else that might be interfering with airflow (e.g. a box or furniture on top of a vent).

Evaporator and condenser coils. The coils collect dirt over time, which lowers their ability to absorb heat. To clean the exterior, clear the area around the condenser unit by removing any debris and trimming back any nearby foliage by at least two feet.

For interior cleaning, take off the fan cage on the exterior condenser/compressor. Using a wrench or a screwdriver, remove the fasteners and lift the cage or fan grill away from the top of the unit. Clean any leaves and other debris from the interior either by hand or with a wet/dry vacuum.

When the condenser is not in use during winter, cover the top of the unit with a piece of plywood or plastic to keep debris from falling in. Also be careful how much you cover the sides, because complete cover can allow moisture to gather and cause corrosion. A fully covered unit can become a nest for rodents as well.

Fins. Take off the outer covers and use a shop vacuum’s brush attachment to remove outside dirt. Next, spray the fins with a light stream from a hose. If the fins are especially dirty, use a commercial cleaning spray from a home improvement store.

If the aluminum fins on the evaporator and condenser coils are bent (which they easily can be), you can gently straighten them with either a butter knife or a “fin comb” from a hardware or home improvement store. Straight fins are important for proper airflow.

Condensate drains. Clogged drain channels prevent a unit from reducing humidity. This can create extra moisture that may start to flood onto the floor, as well as discolor walls or carpet.

If the drain is flowing slowly or not at all, find the drain line (usually a 1” PVC pipe) where it leaves the evaporator coil enclosure. Follow it to the end where it drains. Then, using a wet/dry vac (remove the paper filter first), clear the drain by holding the hose to the end of the drain line. For the gap, you can use duct tape or hold a rag around it.

You can also periodically pass a stiff wire through your unit’s drain channels to help keep them open and clean.

Turn it on! After your starting inspection and maintenance steps, it’s time to evaluate current system performance. Turn the power back on and let the air conditioner run. Your home should be getting cooler and the unit should be operating quietly. If you notice a smell at first, it could be the unit clearing out other dust that has settled since the last cooling season. It should clear up soon; if it doesn’t, make note.

Air Conditioner Maintenance: Partnering with Pros

You now know some of the main things you can do to help ensure a pleasant cooling season. If you have questions, or if there’s anything you don’t feel comfortable doing yourself, we will be glad to support you. 

Beyond those starting steps, maintenance of a home air conditioner should also include a professional inspection at least once a year. This is important because there are some things only a skilled technician can do and identify with the correct equipment, such as:

  • check for the right amount of refrigerant as well as for leaks
  • look for and seal any duct leakage
  • measure airflow through the evaporator coil
  • inspect electric terminals and clean and tighten connections
  • examine belts and oil motors for tightness and wear

We enjoy helping homeowners maintain their air conditioners in Oswego, Yorkville, Naperville, Aurora and Plainfield (IL). If you would ever like to discuss do-it-yourself maintenance or schedule an inspection, simply give us a call at (630) 731-1550.

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