Air Conditioning Maintenance: The Ultimate Guide
Your air conditioner plays a crucial part in keeping your home comfortable and enjoyable throughout the seasons. It works hard day in and day out to keep the interior of your home at a stable level. However, in so doing, your unit acquires wear and tear that could impact its operations and efficiency. This is precisely why regular maintenance is crucial. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take on your own to keep your unit running smoothly during the coming years. Follow this A/C maintenance guide to get your unit all the TLC it needs to keep your home cool and comfy.
Gauging How Complex Your Unit Is
First things first, you have to know exactly what you’re in for when you start doing regular maintenance on your own system. Some older units are fairly straightforward, with few additional parts to take care of, making them easy for the average, untrained homeowner to care for. However, some newer models require special tools and have multiple functions. These may be best left to the professionals. If you can’t gauge how complex your system is on your own, contact a team of professionals for the down-low on your system.
Caring for the Outdoor Unit
Once you’ve established that your unit is a machine you’re capable of maintaining on your own, your outdoor unit is a good place to get started. This is where your compressor and condenser – two of your unit’s most crucial parts – are located. Unfortunately, outdoor units are highly susceptible to getting clogged with dirt, debris, pollen, and even broken twigs throughout the seasons, leading to decreases in efficiency and effectiveness over time. Fortunately, by following these steps, you can keep your compressor and condenser free and clear of complications and running smoothly:
- Turn off the unit either using a switch on the unit itself or the switch on the main electrical panel.
- Remove plant growth, trash and other debris to create a clear 2 ft. radius around the unit
- Check the A/C fins. If they’re covered in gunk, clean them with a damp cloth and straighten them.
- If debris isn’t dislodged with a cloth, use a garden hose to spray down your fins. Be careful not to get water on the motor.
- Wipe down the condenser fan with a damp cloth and remove leaves or other debris.
Keeping your outdoor unit clean and clear of debris both inside and outside is crucial for keeping your A/C running smoothly without strain caused by blockages and buildup. While the steps themselves are fairly straightforward, tending to your outdoor unit requires basic knowledge of how your condenser unit fits together and how each part works. If you’ve never taken these steps before, it’s always a good idea to contact a professional for more information before getting started.
Don’t Forget the Vents
Once the air is cooled in the outdoor condenser unit, it’s pushed through your home via your ductwork and ventilation system. While your ductwork likely isn’t going to be very accessible to you for regular home maintenance without professional experience or the right tools, you can tend to your vents to ensure your A/C unit has an easy time delivering cool air after it’s been pushed through the ducts by your blower. First, ensure none of your vents are blocked by items like furniture, toys, or other household belongings. Then, take a moment to vacuum dust and debris out of the entrance to your vents. This ensures unrestricted airflow so your unit doesn’t have to work overtime to deliver cool air to your home.
Image: By Andrey_Popov
Maintain the Indoor Unit
Your air conditioning system’s indoor unit consists of the blower and evaporator. The evaporator is responsible for maintaining steady cooling throughout the house, while the blower works to get that cool air to each vent. If either of these components are working at less than optimal levels, you’ll see reduced efficiency and cooling power throughout your home. To properly care for your indoor unit:
- Clean dust and debris off of the evaporator coil, preferably using no-rinse coil cleaner.
- Check the evaporator drain for clogs and remove debris if necessary.
- Change out your air filter, a simple process that should be completed every 6 months at a minimum.
As before, taking care of your indoor unit requires a little know-how, but the process is a bit more intuitive than dealing with the outdoor condenser in many cases. However, keeping your unit clean and clear using these above steps greatly removes stress on your system, which keeps it effective for longer.
Of these steps, changing out your air filter is by far the easiest and most important. While some units only need a filter replacement every six months, others might need a change more often. Typically, you can find this information either printed in your owner’s manual or somewhere on the indoor unit itself. The proper size for your new filter will also be found in one of these locations, or printed on your old filter itself. Follow these instructions closely to keep your A/C unit from straining itself and causing serious issues like short cycling in the future.
Don’t Strain Operations
Again, the last thing you want to do is place strain on your unit because it shortens the overall life of your unit and may lead to the necessity of premature replacements or expensive repairs.. While keeping the unit itself clean via regular maintenance is a good start, there are several other steps you can take to reduce the amount of strain you’re putting on your system, particularly during summer months. These include:
- Raise your thermostat by 5 – 8 degrees in summer and lower it by the same increment in winter
- Avoid running lights or heat-creating appliances near your thermostat to facilitate accurate readings
- Close blinds and curtains during warm days to keep sunlight from heating the interior of your home
- Avoiding running high-heat appliances like your stove or dryer during the hottest hours of the day
These are everyday, simple changes any homeowner can make without any training or expertise necessary. Taking these steps allows your air conditioner to run at a consistent pace without straining to maintain stable temperatures on the interior of your home. In turn, this increases the longevity of your system, meaning you get more power from your unit over the years.
You’ll Still Need Professionals
While taking all of the above steps is still a great way to ensure you’re getting the best performance and efficiency levels out of your unit throughout the year, there are some necessary steps you’re simply not going to be able to handle by yourself. For these steps, you need to call in a trained, certified professional. A good online search can show you how to handle some basic home maintenance procedures, but many others simply require specialized knowledge and tools that only a certified professional can have. These are the more involved processes needed to keep your air conditioning unit running smoothly, along with an assortment of routine checkups to ensure you’re getting the most from your unit.
At certain points throughout the year, you’ll want to invest in detailed, in-depth maintenance from a certified professional. A trained technician can take this opportunity to properly – and carefully – calibrate some of your system’s most crucial parts while checking for any issues that an untrained eye is likely to miss. Maintenance is particularly crucial during certain seasonal transitions.
- Spring maintenance will ready dormant systems that have remained unused all winter for the warming weather.
- Summer maintenance help ensure components aren’t clogged with spring pollen and ready A/C units for their most active season.
- Fall maintenance ensures units are prepared for the often wet and windy seasonal weather.
- Winter maintenance ensures parts are properly calibrated for a long period of inactivity and that furnaces are ready to go.
Each maintenance helps to prolong the life of your unit and ensures that you’re getting the performance you deserve from your central air unit at all times, regardless of the season.
Potential Electrical Complications
Something no untrained homeowner should never approach on their own is their home’s electrical work. The risk of severe injury or death is too high, which is why checking your unit for electrical problems should be left to a trained professional during your regular maintenance appointments. During their visits, technicians can check out wires, tubes and other electrical components connected to your system to ensure there’s no damage that could lead to system failure or even a fire hazard. If problems are found, they also have the tools and know-how to solve the problem so you get your cool air back as soon as possible.
Solving Issues With Short Cycling
As units age, they naturally begin to encounter operational issues. Short cycling is one of the most common of these issues. Short cycling is a problem where the unit continually turns on and off for short periods of time, usually around 15 minutes or so. This places a huge amount of stress on your system over time and should be fixed as soon as possible. Short cycling is caused by a wide range of issues, such as:
- An improperly-sized unit
- Frozen evaporator coils
- Blocked, dirty air filters
- Serious electrical problems
- Low refrigerant levels
If you luck out, you can fix the issue of short cycling by simply replacing your air filter. However, when it comes to an issue this serious, it’s always better to play it safe. Get in touch with a professional to investigate the issue thoroughly so you can rest assured your system’s not burning itself out with constant short cycling.
Caring for Your Ductwork
You can clean your vents all day long, but if your ductwork is damaged, it’s not going to do much good. Unfortunately, this is an issue you’re likely not going to be able to identify on your own. You need professionals to both to inspect your ductwork and repair it if leaks or other issues are found. This is a serious undertaking in most cases, and one that involves time, money and, most importantly, expertise to see through.
Finding and Installing a New Unit
Though it’s not necessarily a part of a regular maintenance plan, you’ll want a professional with complete industry knowledge on your side when it comes to choosing a new unit as well. This is particularly imperative when it comes to sizing a unit for your new home. While a bigger unit with a higher SEER score might seem like the way to go in every situation, getting a system that’s too big and powerful for your home presents just as many problems as getting one that’s significantly too small. Professionals can measure your home and assess the layout to ensure you’re getting a unit that offers the best of both worlds in terms of cooling output and efficiency.
Furthermore, installing a new A/C unit is a project you should never undertake on your own. From setting up the electrical work to perfectly creating the ductwork throughout your house that’ll guide the cool air to every corner, the process of installing even simple central air units is an involved process that requires a trained, highly technical touch.
Image: Andrey Popov
Finding All the Right Information
This guide provides an in-depth look into the regular maintenance you should be completing both on your own and with the help of a professional team, but there’s always more to learn. If you want even more information on how to properly care for your air conditioner year in and year out to get the absolute best results, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a team of A/C professionals near you. For the tasks you can’t handle yourself and experience that can’t be matched by any other team in the area, contact Howard Air to schedule an inspection and regular maintenance appointment of your own. Our team of trained professionals can help you find the perfect air conditioning unit for your home, install it according to industry standards and ensure you have the perfect cooling power and best customer service experience possible in the coming years.
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