Summer is almost here. We are all hoping for our air conditioners to run trouble free all season. Following are a few things you can do to help your air conditioner perform its job.
#1 Change Filter
Clogged or dirty filters can lead to numerous issues because the system will have to work harder to pull air into the system. Regularly changing the filter increases the system's energy efficiency and lessens the workload on the system's components. A dirty filter makes the fan work harder, and in extreme cases, the reduced airflow across the evaporator coil freezes the condensation, forming an ice block that cuts the airflow even further.
How Often Should Air Filters Be Changed?
There is no hard and fast rule. It will depend upon how often your system is running, if it is subjected to dusty conditions, or if you have fur-bearing pets in the house. It will also depend upon the type of filter you have. Furnace air filters need to be changed on a regular basis because they simply become clogged over time.
Most filters have a recommended guideline detailing how long they last or when they should be changed. When you purchase a new filter, check the packaging for these details. The standard time recommended to change a high-quality air filter is at least once every three months. However, you should check it monthly, if the filter appears dirty, change it immediately!
For more information on various filter types and their MERV ratings see our article on that subject.
How to Change the Filter.
Turn off the thermostat: Set the function switch to the "OFF" position. This prevents the system from turning on while changing the filter.
Open filter door, usually located either at the furnace or in a return grill. Note the direction of the airflow arrow on the filter's frame. Grip the filter and slide it out. If fibers on the filter snag the unit, push the filter in slightly and adjust the filter, so it avoids the unit's sharp edge.
If the existing filter appears to be the correct size (Width, Height and Depth), measure it and purchase one or more of the same size. You may find it helpful to write the dimensions on the front of the air handler for future reference.
You should generally replace the filter with a new filter that has the same airflow rating (MERV). Be careful with 'air purifying' or HEPA filters. They can dramatically reduce airflow in your system. That can cause the indoor coil to freeze because of the reduced airflow.
Install the new filter with the airflow arrow in the same direction as the one you removed. Slide the filter into place and close the door. Reset the thermostat to its original settings.
#2 Clean the Exterior Condenser
The large cage that sits outside your home is called the condenser. It houses the compressor, the fan, the fan’s cooling fins, and tubes that carry coolant back and forth between the outside parts of the unit and the evaporator inside your central air conditioning system. It’s not uncommon for grass clippings, leaves, twigs and other debris to get caught inside the condenser or stuck in the fan blades and motor. If this happens, your unit will have to work twice as hard to do its job.
First turn the power to the unit off. You will normally find a 240-volt power shut-off box outside, near the unit. Then, find the circuit breaker switch that goes to the air compressor and shut it off too—just to make sure that the unit doesn’t get turned on while you’re cleaning it.
Keep your system running efficiently by cleaning out any debris that might be getting in the way. If grass clippings, “cotton” from cottonwood trees, and debris are clogging your coil, those can be gently rinsed off using a garden hose on a gentle setting and a spray degreaser such as Simple Green. DON’T blast it with the hose on a high setting or you’ll bend the fins that allow airflow to cool the condenser off.
You might need an HVAC expert to remove the top to your unit and access debris and clean from the inside depending upon how much dirt and debris you see.
Check the condenser surroundings for adequate airflow. Make sure that any nearby grass is trimmed low and other potential obstacles are removed. It is helpful to give the unit at least two feet of clear space free of foliage, large rocks, or lawn furniture.
Once done cleaning around the compressor, don’t forget to turn the circuit breaker and the outside shut-off back on.
#3 Make sure the Condenser Unit is Level
Over time, the pad the condenser unit sits on can shift as the soil settles beneath it. An out-of-level condenser unit can cause the compressor within to fail early. Check to see that the condenser is level. If not, you may bring it back to level using rot-resistant shims. If you have a heat pump system, it’s okay for the pad to be slightly sloped away from the home’s foundation to allow for defrost run-off during the winter.
#4 Inspect the Refrigerant Tubing
Two copper tubes connect the outdoor compressor to the indoor evaporator coil that’s located above the furnace blower. One tube is covered with foam insulation. If you have a heat pump, both tubes will be insulated.
Check the insulation around these pipes. If missing or damaged replace with refrigerant-grade pipe insulation.
If these refrigerant tubes show any sign of leakage, then the system will need professional HVAC repair as soon as possible. This is because, without refrigerant, the system will not be able to cool the residence at all.
#5 Check Air Ducts, if Possible
Your ductwork is also an important part of your home’s HVAC system. When checking this, be sure to check that any holes or leaky joints are sealed. You should also make sure that if there are any cracks in the duct system that they are taken care of as well.
#6 Check the Evaporator Coil
You usually don’t have easy access to the evaporator coil that’s inside the plenum or a main duct near the furnace. This may require you to remove some duct tape or loosen some screws from the coil housing’s cover.
Once open, take a look at the evaporator coil and check its condition. Some discoloration is typical. Here, you’ll want to make sure there is no dirt or debris on the coil. If the coil is dirty, clean it with a soft brush and spray it down with a specially-formulated coil cleaner (often available at hardware specialty stores).
If you prefer you may have us clean it every few years. The best prevention is to keep the air that flows through it clean by changing your filter regularly.
#7 Clean the Coil Drain Pan and Drain Line
When cleaning out the drain pan, it may help to pour a 50/50 mixture of water and bleach in the pan and down the drain line to kill any bacteria and algae that may be growing. When handling bleach or other hazardous chemicals it is a good idea to consider wearing goggles, gloves, and other protective gear.
#8 Check your Thermostat Settings
If you haven’t already upgraded to a smart thermostat, be sure to change your thermostat settings for warmer summer temperatures. You don’t want the air conditioner trying to keep your home at winter temperatures. Consider a thermostat upgrade. A smart thermostat can help you save money by automating your heating and cooling needs.
#9 Test Your Air Conditioner
Before the hot weather arrives it’s a good idea to turn your unit on and run it for a bit. This is a great way to tell if there are any potential issues with your unit and will allow you to schedule a repair before the summer.
This HVAC maintenance checklist covers many of the basic A/C maintenance issues that can be easily addressed by non-experts. For major HVAC repairs, it is often better to seek an HVAC systems expert to conduct repairs because they’ll have the tools and experience to do the job safely and efficiently.