Many people never even think about having their air conditioner serviced until it stops working. Neglecting routine maintenance will result in a steady decline in AC efficiency and performance and increased energy bills. However, regular routine maintenance will help prevent a breakdown and save money on energy bills by improving operating efficiency. While there are some simpler tasks the homeowner can perform, HVAC systems and air conditioners should be professionally serviced once a year. Here is a list of the standard maintenance procedures that can be performed by a handy homeowner or left to an AC technician:
1) Air Filters
When filters are clogged air is forced to go around the filter and any contaminants along with it. Depending on the type and the condition, air filters should be replaced or cleaned regularly. Cleaning or replacing a clogged air filter can increase performance by as much as 20 percent. One-inch pleated paper filters should be replaced every 30 days by the homeowner during times of high use or with homes that have pets. Foam filters can often be washed and replaced. Other types of filters will be cleaned or replaced as needed by the technician during the maintenance call. The filters for HVAC units are usually located in the air return duct in the walls, ceiling or in the air handling unit itself. Window or room AC units will have the filter set in front of the vent on the front of the unit.
2) Coils and Fins
Like the filter, the AC units condenser and evaporator coils and fins must be clean for the coils to work efficiently. If dirt accumulates, then airflow through the fins and across the coils is restricted and cooling efficiency is reduced. Having foliage near the unit will increase the rate the coils and fins will collect dirt and debris. Homeowners should remove, or at least trim back, plants within thee feet of the unit. The aluminum fins that the coils are encased in are designed to disperse heat from and increase airflow across the coils. Clogged fins will insulates the coils and reduce the unit’s heat-exchanging capabilities. In addition to trapping dirt and debris, these fins can easily be bent. The technician will check the fins and straighten any that may be bent. Homeowners should be very careful if they choose to do this job as the coils can be damaged if care is not exercised. A specialized too called a “fin comb” should be used to clean and restore the fins to like-new condition. Tools like screwdrivers and putty knives are not recommended as these can easily damage the fins and possibly the coils.
Lint from clothes dryer vents, pets, lawn mowers and trees are all sources of contamination. Leaves, grass clippings, twigs, dirt and small animals can find their way inside the units housing. All of these can end up in the fan, coils and other parts of the AC unit. Here the entire inside and outside of the unit should receive a through cleaning at least once a year. For window mounted units, the seal between the window frame and air conditioner should be check to ensure it is keeping the weather out and the cool air in.
4) Vents and Ducts
Mold can form If excessive moisture collects in the duct. Vents can be checked by the homeowner by running a cotton swab across the vent fins. If there is a black residue on the cotton, the duct should be checked for possible mold contamination.
The AC unit produces condensation as it operates when warmer air hits the cooler coils. The condensation drain needs to be checked and cleaned annually to ensure water can properly drain from the unit. A clogged drain can result in damage to the AC unit’s electrical components and also affect the humidity levels inside the home. This can result in excess moisture making it into the home and causing mold or damage to furniture, walls and carpet. A clogged condensate drain can be clean with a long stiff wire. Things that should be check at least once a year by a qualified AC technician include:
- • The thermostat should be checked for accuracy and cleaned if needed. This will ensure the unit starts and shuts off as intended. The tech should also check to be sure the unit is properly cycling on and off and that there are no issues with the motor.
- All moving parts should be examined and lubricated as needed as a lack lubrication will cause friction, increasing wear and energy usage.
- All electrical components and connections, including motors, should be examined and the voltage checked. Faulty connections can cause a plethora of problems, not the least of which is a fire.
- Check the level of refrigerant and refill, if needed. Test for refrigerant leaks.
- Check for duct leakage in HVAC system and seal leaks if needed.
- Measure the airflow through the coils.
- Check the electric control system and sequence to ensure the cooling and heating systems cannot operate at the same
- Clean, check and tighten all connections.
- Check belts for wear and tension.
Performing these preventative maintenance steps on a regular basis will help keep the AC unit running at peak efficiency, prolong the life of the unit and reduce energy bills. While many of these task can be performed by a knowledgeable do-it-yourself homeowner, the more involved maintenance issues should be left to a reputable and qualified technician.