With spring here, don’t forget to prep your home’s air conditioning system for the approaching cooling season. The difference in performance and efficiency between a well-maintained AC or heat pump and one that hasn’t been taken care of are huge. Not to mention, the chances of breakdowns and early retirement of an AC are a lot greater with a system that hasn’t been properly maintained.
Effective air conditioner maintenance requires both hands-on, do-it-yourself steps, mostly in the spring, and a professional spring tune-up performed by an HVAC contractor whom you trust to do the job correctly and at a fair price.
Steps You Can Do Yourself
• If necessary, remove any cover from the AC or heat pump’s outside unit. (Hint: It’s always a good idea to cover an outside unit of a split-system AC or heat pump before the cold weather arrives, to protect it from the weather and blowing debris. However, make sure you don’t use an airtight cover, since those run the risk of trapping moisture all winter.)
• Change the air filter. Look at the filter, and if it looks dirty or clogged, change it. There’s a better than even chance that you forgot to replace the filter at the end of the cooling season. A dirty filter will restrict airflow, making your AC work harder to achieve the thermostat setting. This can result in damage to the compressor and/or air handler motor.
• Remove yard debris that’s accumulated over the winter, such items as sticks, leaves and other clutter, from around the outside condenser/compressor to make sure there’s smooth airflow through the coils.
• Inside the house, remove any objects – furniture, rugs, curtains, boxes, rugs, drapes, furniture or toys – from registers and vents. When airflow is blocked in your forced-air cooling or heating system, you won’t get efficient or balanced cooling and heating.
• Seal air leaks in window frames, doors and walls on the home’s perimeter walls. Caulk, spray foam or weatherstripping should be used, depending on the size, type and location of the air leak. How to find air leaks is the topic for another blog.
Now that the do-it-yourself tasks have been taken care of, a professional maintenance tune-up by a certified HVAC technician will take care of the rest. That likely will include:
• Cleaning both the inside and outside coils of your split-system A/C or heat pump (if the technician deems that necessary). Outside coils can attract dirt, dust and mold, while inside coils may attract the same in addition to bacteria. In either case, a dirty coil will hamper the essential heat-exchange process; inside the house, it’s also a potential health hazard.
• Clean and lubricate moving parts in machinery such as the blower/air handler and compressor. When parts get dirty, friction increases, which forces the machinery to work harder.
• Check and if necessary tighten electrical connections, cleaning any dirty terminals.
• Check refrigerant level to ensure that it aligns with precise manufacturer-set guidelines. Any deviation from proper specifications should be addressed, and any leaks should be fixed as soon as possible.
• Check and adjust the flow of air through the cooling system.
• Ductwork should be inspected for leaks or defective connections, and repaired or replaced as necessary.
At the end of the maintenance visit, consider scheduling a tune-up for your heating system next fall. Most HVAC contractors will call with a reminder at that time.
• Thermostats should be checked for proper operation and calibration. Consider upgrading to a “smart” programmable thermostat.