It’s that time of year again, friends; summer is fast approaching and the heat is supposed to break record levels in several places in the country this year, which makes now the perfect time to start thinking about air conditioner maintenance.
You might be thinking that you’re in the clear because it worked just fine what you shut her down last year for the Fall, but as professional HVAC installer David Moody points out, in order to keep your AC unit running at its absolute best, maintenance is key.
“An AC needs regular attention to be sure it’s operating at the highest efficiency.”
Considering that the heat will be creeping up on us pretty soon, there’s no better time than now to learn how to take care of your costly air conditioning unit to avoid making large, unexpected payments for repairs and replacements later.
Here are 10 simple steps to maintain your air conditioner to keep you cool and save you some serious cash this summer!
The instructions laid out here are specifically for AC and/or heating units that control the temperature of the whole house. For off the shelf, store-bought AC units, maintenance instructions should come with the unit.
1. Turn Off The Power…Completely
Being that you’ll be tinkering with parts that move, you’ll want to make sure to shut everything down in terms of power before getting to work on your unit.
To do that, locate the exterior compressor/condenser unit and find the power on/off box that should be nearby to turn off the power. Then, make sure to shut the power down at its source on the breaker box inside the house.
2. Clean It Up
Now that you’ve got the power completely shut off, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty part of the job. Simply use a wrench or screwdriver to unfasten the top fan cage on the AC compressor/condenser unit outside.
Working either by hand or a shop vac, make sure to loosen and remove any dust, grime, grass, leaves, twigs or other yard debris that has built up inside the unit.
3. Wash The Fins
The fins are what comprises the thin, wavy metal sheeting behind the grid surrounding your compressor/condenser unit. After you’ve gone over them with a strong shop vac (brush head attached to loosen dirt), it’s time to wash the leftovers away.
Starting with a garden hose and a spray nozzle attached, wash away the grime from the inside of the fins to the outside, pushing anything remaining in the unit out into the yard.
If it’s not washing up easy enough, DO NOT use a pressure washer, as it could bend the metal fins. Instead, use a commercial spray made specifically for cleaning your AC unit fins. You can find it at home improvement retailers like Home Depot or Lowe’s.
4. Straighten And Reshape The Fins
As mentioned before, the fins on your AC unit are quite fragile and are easily bent. If you notice some bends in your fins you will want to correct them using a sturdy piece of thin flat metal, like a butter knife.
They also sell fin straighteners specifically for the purpose at home improvement stores. Just be careful when straightening so that you don’t damage any of the tubes inside the fins.
5. Remove Any Remaining Yard Debris Away From The Unit
Once you have completely cleaned out your AC and straightened any bent fins, you will want to ensure your work stays completed by cleaning up any of the debris you washed out of your unit.
Make sure to rake away any loose grass, leaves, twigs, etc. Then, for best airflow around the unit, cut back any shrubs, trees, or plants at least 24 inches away from the unit on all sides.
If you are closing your unit down for the winter or aren’t quite ready to use it again, place a large barrier, plastic or plywood, over the top of the unit, making sure to leave the sides uncovered. That way, falling dust, pollen, leaves, etc. won’t make its way into your unit, and leaving the sides open will keep it dry and free of rodents.
6. Keep Your Unit Level
All sorts of things can happen out in the weather to knock your unit off balance. One common dilemma is that the simple shifting of soil can incrementally sink parts of the AC unit pad that it sits on, so from time to time you may have to double-check that it is still sitting level with the ground.
If you don’t do this one simple thing, it can cause your unit to completely fail you, resulting in costly repairs or even replacement.
If you find your unit isn’t sitting level, simply pick up some cedar shims (as they take decades to rot) and push them beneath the unit until it sits level again.
7. Tidy Up Your Evaporator Coil
This might be the trickiest part of the job, but only because you might have to do a little searching before you reach your target.
In the house, locate your furnace or “blower” unit, usually in the garage or basement, and look for the door to your evaporator coil. You may need a screwdriver to unfasten the door, and you may have to peel back some foil duct tape to reveal the door.
Once you’ve got the door open, gently brush the coils with a soft bristled brush to dust it before spraying with a commercial coil-cleaner that says “No-Rinse”. Let it foam and work its magic before cleaning out your drain pan. Afterward, clean the pan with a very small amount of bleach mixed with soap and hot water, then dump one cup of a 1:1 ratio bleach to water down the drain to kill off any algae or mold.
If it drains readily without any problem, you can jump to step 9. Just replace the coil door and seal off with foil duct tape if need be.If it doesn’t drain, then perform step 8.
8. Clear A Clogged Evaporator Drain
Due to the nature of an AC to cool warm air and condense it into a liquid before draining, the evaporator drain can become clogged with prolonged use as the moisture encourages the growth of mildew, mold, and algae that will block any draining water.
If you fail to unclog your drain, you could easily end up with a small flood on your hands, or your AC will simply lose its cooling power if it has a drain float installed which will kill the AC before the flooding occurs. Either way, it’s not optimal.
To avoid this, trace the drainage line (generally a 1″ PCV pipe) from the coil box to where the water exits. This is usually outside next to the compressor unit, but in certain cases can drain to the basement, a utility sink, or from an upper floor down the wall of the house if working in an attic space.
Once located, remove the filter from your shop vac and place hose snugly against the end of the drain pipe. Seal any gaps between the vac hose and the pipe with a rag to get the best suction and suck out any debris for several minutes and your drain should be cleared.
9. Change Out That Filter
Although this very well may be the easiest step in the process, it is often the most overlooked.
Do you even remember the last time you changed your AC filter? Because it is supposed to be done not just once but twice a year. Once when you decide to turn it on for the season, and once when you turn it off.
To replace, simply locate the filter casing on the indoor furnace and open the door (you may need a screwdriver). Then replace your old filter with one that has the exact same rating for airflow. This is important because any reduced airflow can cause your coils to freeze, and it will put the hurt on your wallet.
Once you’ve got the door open, slide the new filter in so that the direction of the arrows on the filter match the ones on the filter casing for a proper fit, then close it back up and reseal.
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10. Power Everything Back Up
There you have it! These 10 simple steps will help you maintain your air conditioner for years to come, helping you save that cash for more important things…summer vacay, anyone?!
Just keep in mind that while these are some easy things you can do to keep your AC working smoothly, you should always have it checked by an HVAC professional once in a while to make sure there isn’t any refrigerant spills or leaks and that all of your ducts are clean and in working order.
Source: DIY Network