Air Conditioner Maintenance: Keep Your AC Healthy Between Checkups

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Routine air conditioner maintenance is the single most important factor in extending the lifespan and maintaining the efficiency of your central air conditioning system. Ordinary wear and tear, especially the buildup of dirt and grime, can cause your AC to work too hard, causing it to struggle, overheat, and eventually break down. It’s crucial to ensure that your system stays clean and that you catch any smaller problems before they become serious. Simply letting leaves build up on your outdoor unit can eventually cause your entire system to fail. So to keep everything running in tip top shape, here are a few things you should keep an eye on.

1) Change Your Air Filters Monthly

This simple piece of air conditioner maintenance is the most important to your family’s health simply because old, dirty air filters aren’t able to adequately filter your air. Most obviously, that means that the air you breathe in your home won’t be quite as clean as it ought to be, which can lead from everything to excess dust to respiratory problems. Continuing to use soiled air filters can also cause dirt and grime to build up in your ducts, which can lower the overall efficiency of your system and harbor microbes and mites that can multiply and get into the air in your home. So, once a month, replace or thoroughly clean your air filters. For 1″ filters, look for one that you can’t see through when you hold it up to the light to make sure it’s actually doing the job in the first place, and for larger washable filters, thoroughly rinse and dry them (having two to swap works best) every 30 days.

2) Keep Your Drain Line Clean

As your air conditioning system pumps cold air to your house, condensation builds up in the system and drains through a series of tubes, usually to an outlet outside. If left stagnant, these pipes are the perfect breeding ground for mold, fungus, and algae, which can spread and clog your whole drainage system. Once a year, as part of regular air conditioner maintenance, your HVAC specialist will use a high powered vacuum to suck everything out of the pipes. To prevent the problem in the first place, you want to visually inspect the drain at least once a month. If there’s a buildup of liquid in your drain pan or in the pipe, attempt to remove any debris that may be clogging the outlet. To keep moisture-loving gunk from growing, every three months you should add 1/4 cup bleach mixed with 3/4 cup water directly to your drain line’s access port (usually a T-valve). If the plug on your access port has a wire coming out of it, make sure to switch off your air conditioner’s breaker before you remove the cap, and be sure to replace it when you’re done.

3) Keep Your Condenser Clean And Clear

This is the most important piece of air conditioner maintenance you can do to keep your system running smoothly, and the #1 most common reasons for early-summer emergency calls to your HVAC expert. During the off season, your condenser can get clogged with leaves, dirt, and other debris, and plants in the area can grow up around your outdoor unit. This hinders circulation and can actually keep your air conditioning unit from cooling at all. So every month or so, visually inspect your air conditioner’s outdoor unit. Trim back any grass, weeds, hedges, or other plants, and remove or gently brush away any leaves or dirt stuck inside. Then, turn off your air conditioner (switch off the breaker and if the unit has a disconnect, pull it) and rinse the outside surface. A garden hose with a spray nozzle works just fine – just be sure to spray from top to bottom rather than side to side to avoid damaging the unit and to help ensure that you flush all the built up dirt out the bottom. Some hardware stores also sell spray-on condesner coil cleaner which can help for really tough jobs, but check with your HVAC specialist first.

4) Replace Your Thermostat’s Batteries

Your HVAC professional will typically calibrate your thermostat as part of your annual air conditioner maintenance. But if it goes out between routine check ups, the batteries are pretty easy to replace yourself. As with many battery-powered devices, sometimes this is easier than others. Some thermostats have flip open battery covers or pull out caddies. Usually, though, you’ll have to gently pull the thermostat or its faceplate away from the wall. The batteries should be easy to see, either on the wall or the part you pulled off, and are typically standard AA or AAA batteries. Just swap them out and pop the thermostat back in place – but make sure you shut off your thermostat’s breaker before you start to make sure you don’t get shocked.

5) Make Sure Your HVAC Professional Checks Your Freon Levels At Least Once A Year

Okay, so, this isn’t one you can do yourself, as checking freon levels requires sophisticated equipment (and in some cases an EPA certification), but it’s something you should know to ask for during your annual air conditioner maintenance check. Contrary to popular belief, air conditioners typically don’t need to be refilled with refrigerant. Air conditioners work on a closed system, which means that the same amount of liquid coolant is continually recycled throughout the machine rather than being consumed by it like fuel. That said, if your freon levels read low on a regular check up, it means you have a leak, and replacing the freon isn’t sufficient to fix the problem. You’ll need a professional to find and stop the leak, but catching it early can save you a lot of money down the line. Especially if the leak continues or gets worse unnoticed, you can eventually be trying to run a machine with no freon, which can cause the system to overheat and break down your compressor entirely – a significantly more expensive fix!

Central air conditioning units can be pretty intimidating. With all the moving parts, winding tubes, and electrical wiring, it’s not hard to understand why you might want to let someone else take care of the problem. And since you aren’t using the AC For half to 3/4 of the year, it can be easy to let it go out of sight and out of mind, or even buried under a pile of junk. But remember – if there’s a problem brewing while you aren’t looking, chances are it could turn into a BIG problem just in time for you to need it. So play it smart, maintain your system regularly – or at the very least, check to make sure it’s working BEFORE you need it so you’ll have time to get it fixed before the summer crunch!

Information from Carrier Comfort