In Tips & Advice, Your Home

10 Routine Maintenance Tips To Save You Money and Preserve the Life of Your AC Unit

It happens every year — during the first few weeks of summer heat, air conditioning repair companies are flooded with calls from homeowners begging for someone to come repair their unit and restore air conditioning to their home ASAP. And these repairs are rarely cheap.

Why wait until the dead of summer to find out your AC unit isn’t working properly or needs work? Just like a vehicle, your home’s air conditioning unit needs regular maintenance to keep it operating efficiently and to keep your home cool during the sweltering summer months. By taking care of your air conditioner now, you could save yourself the headache, sweat (literally) and expense of a preventable AC repair or early replacement.

Here are 10 tips to help you take care of your HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning unit) now so it will take care of you this summer.

Know what you’re working with. A typical residential HVAC system consists of either a furnace and AC, or a heat pump, which works to both heat and cool. Both types of systems have an interior unit, which is the evaporator and blower, and an external unit, which is the condenser coil and compressor.

Inspect the outdoor unit for debris. To remove debris — including leaves, sticks or trash — from your unit, first, shut off the power to the unit both at the shut-off box near the unit and at the breaker box. Next, use a screwdriver or wrench to remove the cage or fan grill from the top of the unit. Using your hands or a wet/dry vacuum, clean debris from the inside of the unit.

Clean the fins. Compressor fins, which are located on the exterior portion of an air conditioner near the compressor, resemble a grill with metal fins all along it. These fins are responsible for moving heat away from the unit. After removing the outer cover of your unit, use the brush attachment on a vacuum to remove dirt. Then use a gentle spray from a garden hose to spray the fins from the inside out. Do not use a pressure washer, as this can damage the fins. You may also use a fin cleaning spray, which is available at your local home improvement store.

Inspect fins for bends. As the fins on your exterior unit help move heat away from the unit, any reduction in air-flow can reduce efficiency. Upon inspecting the fins, you may notice that some fins appear bent. If this is the case, gently use a butter knife or a fin straightening tool, also available in stores, to straighten bent fins. Use caution so as not to damage the fins. Once you’ve cleaned the inside of your exterior unit and straightened any bent fins, replace the fan cage.

Keep the area around the unit clean. Rake any leaves and debris from around your unit and cut back any branches or plants to at least two feet from it to ensure good airflow around the unit and help prevent debris from collecting inside it. When your unit is not in use, as in during winter months, consider covering the top of it with plywood or plastic to prevent debris from falling in. Do not cover it fully as this may trap moisture inside, causing corrosion. You’re also more likely to have problems with rodents and vermin building nests inside a completely covered unit.

Level the exterior unit. In most cases, your exterior unit is sitting on a concrete pad, which may begin to sink over time. Place a level on top of the compressor to check the level. Use shims to bring the unit back to level. If you have a heat pump system, a slight slope away from the foundation of your home is acceptable to allow defrost run-off during winter months.

Clean the inside unit. On your inside unit, often situated in the attic or a closet in your home, locate the evaporator coil door. Remove the door and use a soft brush to dust the coil, then use a no-rinse coil cleaner (found at home improvement stores) and spray the coil to clean it. After the spray foam drips off and into the drain pan, clean the drain pan with soap, hot water and a touch of bleach. Pour a cup of half water, half bleach down the unit drain. Then, place a drain pan tablet in the pan to help prevent future algae growth inside your unit. Replace evaporator door. Seal with duct tape, if needed.

Remove blockage from evaporator drain. When completing the above step, if you notice the liquid does not drain easily, it may be due to a clog in the evaporator drain. A plugged drain can lead to flooding or cause the system to stop cooling altogether. Locate the drain line (typically a PVC pipe and follow it to the end. Use a wet/dry vacuum to clear the drain. Run the vacuum for a few minutes to clear the drain of any algae or other matter growing inside.

Change the blower filter. When you change the filter on your interior return vents, pay attention to the blower filter inside your AC unit. This filter should be changed at least every six months, ideally once before heating season and once before cooling season. Replace more frequently as needed. This filter is located on your indoor unit where the fresh air return duct enters the unit. Always replace the old with a new filter with the same air flow rating and be sure to match the air-flow direction arrows on the filter to those on the unit. Changing air conditioner filters is the most important, and often the easiest step you can take to ensure your AC unit runs efficiently. A clogged filter obstructs air flow and can impair the unit’s ability to cool your home.

Inspect evaporator coils. You should inspect the evaporator coils on your indoor unit at least once a year and clean it as needed. As with your outdoor unit, dirt can collect over time, reducing airflow and reducing its ability to dehumidify and absorb heat. To inspect and clean evaporator coils, remove the access panel to your indoor unit. Use compressed air to remove light accumulations of dirt and dust. You may also use a brush to break loose hard-to-remove material and/or commercial evaporator coil cleaner to break down and drain away dirt and grime that has built up on the coil.

These simple maintenance steps can save you time and money, but some things still require a professional. If you’ve cleaned your unit and still find it isn’t cooling effectively, contact a local air conditioner professional to inspect your unit and add refrigerant or repair leaks or other problems as needed.

Homeownership comes with many advantages as well as many responsibilities. If you are ready to take the next step toward owning your home, contact PrimeLending today to speak with a home loan expert near you.

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