When you find yourself searching for flip-flops and spending more time outside, you know it’s that time of year again. Summer is fast approaching, and the weather across much of the country has already started to warm up. Now is the perfect time to get out and catch up on some basic air conditioning maintenance before you get caught in the heat of the summer.
Doing some light maintenance on your air-conditioning system yourself or with the help of a professional can keep the unit running more efficiently for longer, saving you money in utility costs as well as repair or replacement fees.
To ensure safety, remember to always shut off the power to the outdoor unit before attempting any maintenance. There should be a thick cord and plug that you can disconnect to shut off power.
Generally, a standard AC compressor unit will have an outer grill that you can snap or screw off. Once you remove the grill, the fins will be exposed. Because the fan on the inside pulls air through these small coils, they filter things like dust, grass and cotton from the air. Although this is good for filtering debris, you need to clean them out to ensure the unit doesn’t have to overwork to pull in air. Use a shop vac to gently clear out the fins without damaging them.
Older units that don’t have maintenance-free motors may also require a few drops of electrical motor oil. Check the owner’s manual or look up the unit online.
Once you’ve finished cleaning and replacing the grill, plug the unit back in and wait for it to turn back on. Check for any unusual rattling that may indicate you haven’t replaced something correctly. After about 10 minutes of running, check the pipes (usually located at the bottom corner of the unit) to see if one is running cool and the other warm.
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Every air conditioning system is made up of two parts, the outdoor compressor and the inside blower. The indoor portion should be linked to your forced air system. A no brainer for maintenance of the system as a whole is to change the air filter. Having pets, sensitivity to allergies or living in an area with poor air quality can change how often you should change your filter, but most suggest every few months to maintain good air quality.
Unfortunately, blower systems are tightly compact and can be difficult to really get into beyond the filter. Unless you are experienced with the system and know how to find the evaporating coil or feel comfortable removing and cleaning piping, this may be the part of air conditioner maintenance that you leave to the professionals. Air conditioning contractors can come and do a full system tune up for you on the occasion for a few hundred dollars but it’s best to keep up on the light maintenance yourself and save some money.
Keeping up on regular maintenance and calling a professional for a full tune up from time to time can keep your AC unit running for longer and prevent you from getting caught in the middle of summer with a locked up air conditioner.
Photos courtesy of Derek Hartley, Veterans United.