How To Prepare Air Conditioner for the Summer
In the sweltering peak hours of summertime, your family’s comfort hinges on one appliance more than anything else: your air conditioner. If your AC breaks down completely or stops producing cold air, rest and relaxation are off the table, especially for days when temperatures can reach upwards of 90 degrees. Doing a comprehensive maintenance check of your air conditioner prior to summertime is a good way to identify any minor issues that require the attention of a professional.
Some of these steps will require specific tools, but most of the skill set and maneuvers involved can be done by any homeowner with limited to zero experience in HVAC systems. Without further ado, here are 10 tips to keep your AC unit in tip-top shape.
1. Buy and Install a Programmable Thermostat
If you are using a standard thermostat that came with your air conditioner, you may want to upgrade to a new programmable one. As with any technology, thermostats become outdated over time. The life expectancy of most household thermostats is around 10 years. If yours is nearing its lifespan, replace it with a programmable thermostat that automatically switches the AC unit on or off, depending on your presets. Aside from normal wear and tear, you may also want to replace thermostats that are generating suspiciously high electricity bills or are constantly shifting temperatures inside the house or apartment.
2. Divide the Labor Into Two Parts
Be systematic when inspecting and cleaning your AC. This results in less time and effort required to do a thorough inspection and maintenance. Divide the work into two parts: the exterior section and the interior section. The exterior part of your AC unit is universally referred to as the “condenser unit,” while the inside part is the “evaporator unit.” Each section holds a type of coil that you’ll want to make sure is in tip-top shape at all times. The evaporator coil, for instance, is responsible for sucking in the heat from the air passing over it while the condenser coil releases and expels it to the outside.
3. Clear the Area Surrounding Your Condenser Unit
You may want to wear work gloves and appropriate clothing while doing this step, especially if the area is muddy or engulfed by debris. Scoop leaves, twigs, and other organic material out of the base of the AC unit. Trim any weeds or vines that have grown underneath and around the condenser unit, as these can also obstruct airflow. Make sure to check the area where condensate drains. You want the condensate pipe to drain uninterrupted. Any foliage or rocks that are blocking said pipe can affect the performance of the AC unit.
4. Inspect the Coolant Lines
Coolant lines, also referred to as refrigerant tubes, are the pipes that extend from the evaporator to the condenser outside. The line is usually encased in foam-based insulation to minimize energy loss. Check the line for any weaknesses, such as worn-out or missing foam insulation. You can replace it with insulation sleeves that you can purchase from any local hardware store. An alternative to the sleeves is foam insulation tape, which you can wrap around the pipe in a spiral or lattice pattern.
5. Clean the Condenser Coil
If you forgot to cover your condenser unit from last winter, it’s most likely filled with mud and other debris from your yard. If it’s not removed, these materials can cause system blockage and performance issues. They may also damage the coil and other mechanical parts, which means a hefty repair or replacement bill. Grab your garden hose and lightly wash off the build-up that’s settled inside the coil and surrounding areas. If the gunk is heavy or has solidified, you may need to buy specialized cleaners for the air conditioner coils. Note that these chemical products are highly caustic, so handle with caution when you apply the solution to the coil.
6. Inspect the Fins
The fins of your AC unit are the metal fibers that surround the condenser unit. The fins are specifically designed to help disperse heat that the unit expels out from your home. If the fins are bent, clogged, or damaged in any way, they can restrict airflow and your AC unit’s ability to disperse heat. If the fins are clogged, clean them using a soft brush, such as a toothbrush or the soft brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner. If you find bent fins, you can repair them using a fin comb, a device specifically designed to straighten out bent fins.
7. Keep the Base Flat
If your condenser unit is tipping in one direction, it can strain the parts of the unit that are bearing most of the weight. You’ll want to level the AC unit. If it isn’t mounted flat on the concrete slab, hold it up with a board and place gravel below it in small portions until it levels out. Take out the board once you’re finished.
8. Get a New Filter
This is perhaps the simplest yet most important step in maintaining an AC unit. Most AC systems come with a reusable filter that’s typically found inside or at close proximity to the air-inlet side. Some units carry air filters in their return-air registers. This will depend on whatever AC model you’re using. Regardless, you should make it a point to replace the air filters at least twice a year or whenever they look congested with dirt and debris. The more particles accumulating within the filter, the more restricted the airflow is. This reduces your AC’s operational efficiency.
9. Run a Power Test to Make Sure Everything Works
You’ll want to do a test run of the unit after implementing all of the above steps. Test out the newly cleaned AC unit by powering it back on. You’ll want to switch the thermostat in your home to “off” first. If you disconnected the power supply from the main circuit breaker, you’ll need to turn it back on. Turn the thermostat back on, and set it to “Cool” mode.
10. Make Sure You Cover All Your Bases
A thorough inspection and maintenance check not only help prep your AC unit for the extreme summer heat but also help you identify potential problems that are developing under the hood early on. For instance, your refrigerant lines may be leaking, or your coil might be corroding. And in both cases, prompt resolution can save you hundreds of dollars in extensive repairs and replacements.
Entrust your routine AC maintenance check to Hoff Heating & AC. For years, we’ve been helping the O’Fallon, MO, region and surrounding neighborhoods get the most out of their heating and cooling systems. Our services extend beyond AC maintenance, however. We also offer new AC unit installations, indoor air quality checks, and new construction services. Learn more about our services and rates by giving us a call today!