Air Conditioner Maintenance: A Homeowners Guide
When cold weather turns warm, it feels nice. When warm weather turns hot, it might not feel so pleasant. You can always go for the comfort of your air conditioner, but if it isn’t working, you’ll end up feeling the heat. The good news is that there are simple things you can do to help keep your AC in top shape.
Professional Air Conditioner Maintenance
You should have your air conditioner serviced regularly before the start of the warmer weather. A professional will come out to inspect and service your AC. This keeps things in running order and helps spot potential trouble. It costs around $125.00 to $175.00 and can save you thousands in repair or replacement costs. The technician will give the unit an overall inspection, looking for any signs of trouble. They will test the voltage, inspect the condition of the belts, vents, and ducts, check the refrigerant, and examine the drainage lines. They should also lubricate any ports that may be present. They will inspect the blower motor and test the thermostat to ensure proper operation. A motor that is drawing too many amps may be about ready to fail completely. A thermostat that doesn’t engage the unit when it’s supposed to could need adjustment or replacing.
You should check the air filter every month. The technician will check it as part of the servicing. They should also clean various parts like the compressor, condenser, evaporator coils, air handler, and drainage line.
Finally, they should test refrigerant levels and observe AC function through a complete cycle. If any problems are still present, they should let you know and recommend repairs.
DIY Maintenance and Cleaning
You can do some basic maintenance yourself.
Here is what to expect:
- Cost: $50.00 to $100.00
- Time Needed: Less than half a day
- Tools and Materials:
- Screwdriver or wrench
- Wet/dry vacuum ($50.00)
- Garden hose
- Butter knife or fin tool ($10.00)
- Rake and/or pruning shears
- Shims if necessary
- Foil tape ($17.00)
- Soft bristle paint brush ($1.00)
- Coil cleaner ($5.50)
- Hot, soapy water
Before You Begin
Turn off the power to the unit. Turn the condenser switch to the “off” position. At your home’s breaker box, turn off the breaker. You don’t want it turning on while you have your hands near the fan blades!
- Clean the condenser. If your condenser is on the roof, there probably won’t be much to clean. If it’s at ground level, you’re more likely to have debris. Remove the grate over the fan and vacuum any debris found inside. With a garden hose, spray the fins from the inside out. Never use a pressure washer. The fins are very thin and can damage easily.
- Inspect the fins. They are very thin and bend easily. If you see damaged spots, like where the fins are flattened, straighten them gently with the butter knife or fin tool. Be careful not to damage the tubing within the fins.
- Rake any ground-level debris away from the condenser and prune any branches or bushes away at least two feet.
- Level the condenser. As soil settles, it’s not unusual for the condenser pad to get off-level. Using shims and the level, you can bring the condenser back to a level position.
- Clean the evaporator coils. These should be behind a door above where the blower motor is. It might be sealed with foil tape. Open the cover and use the soft paint brush to dust off the coil. Next, spray the coil with coil cleaner, letting it drip into the drain pan. Afterwards, clean the drain pan with soap and hot water. (Adding a drain pan tablet to the pan can help prevent algae growth and costs about $3.50 for a pack of 6.) Make sure the drain flows freely. If it does, you can skip the next step.
- Clean the evaporator drain. This is usually a 1-inch PVC pipe coming off the evaporator enclosure. Follow it to where it drains out. Attach the wet/dry vacuum to this end, sealing it with duct tape or with a rag. Remove the vacuum’s filter to avoid damaging it and turn the vacuum on for 2-3 minutes to clear out any blockage.
- Change the filter. This should be done twice a year on heating/cooling systems; once at the start of the cooling season and once at the start of the warming season.
- Turn the power back on and let it go through a full cycle. If it’s not cooling like it used to, it’s time to call a pro.
This whole project should cost around $50.00. Even if all you can do is change the filter, doing it regularly will save about 15% on your cooling bill. But whether you spend $50.00 to $100.00 to do it yourself or if you spend $125.00 to $175.00 to hire a pro, it’s cheaper than paying several thousands of dollars repairing or replacing your AC.
Maintenance on window or room ac units is a lot less intensive because there are fewer moving parts.
- Unplug the unit.
- Remove front plate and vacuum the coils with a soft brush attachment. If you take the unit outside, you can hose them off if you take care not to get the motor or electronics wet.
- Inspect the cooling fins and straighten them out with a fin tool.
- Check drain pan for rust or algae, or check drain pipe for blockage.
- Check the filter. If it’s damaged, replace it. If it’s just dirty, you can wash it. Let it dry before replacing it.
Regular maintenance and cleaning of your AC unit will not only save you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, it will keep you from an unexpected break down that will leave you sweating.