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air conditioner maintenance

Summer is just around the corner, and that means air conditioning season is on its way. It’s time to check your AC before the heat arrives.

Why is this important? For one thing, you’ll want to be sure that your air conditioner is working as efficiently as possible. Electricity costs in Ontario keep going up and you’ll simply pay less on your monthly electricity bill if you keep your system in proper working order.

Plus, you’ll want to enjoy a cool, refreshing home without worrying about sudden air conditioner breakdowns. You need to be able to sleep well so that you can be fresh for work the next day. If you have kids, staying cool can also help them be happier and less likely to fight. Put all of that together and you have plenty of reasons to make sure your air conditioning is working properly.

You don’t need to be handy to do these basic air conditioner check up steps. Just make sure you do them before the temperature rises and you turn your air conditioner on. This will help make sure that this summer is as comfortable as possible for you and your family.

Note: this is a general guide. Please be sure to read the instructions that come with your air conditioner and follow them.

Check Your AC’s Outdoor Unit

parts of an air conditioner
Image credit: HowStuffWorks.com – see below for full credit

There are two boxes that make up a central air conditioner system: the condenser (which stays outside) and the air handler (which stays indoors). We’ll start our inspection with the outdoor unit.

 

1. Make Sure the Power is Off

For safety’s sake, ensure there is no power going to the unit. The shutoff will be located on the wall of your home near the unit.

2. Tidy the Area Around the Outdoor Unit

Winter winds and drifting snow can leave a mess behind in spring. Make sure you can get at the air conditioner by getting rid of any plants, leaves, sticks and other debris around the unit. Trim back any overgrown branches.

You should leave about two feet or 60 centimetres of space clear the unit itself so you’ll have proper airflow. If you use mulch on your lawn, ensure that none has also been used near the AC unit.

While you’re at it, make sure the air conditioner condenser unit is level. The ground underneath the concrete support may have shifted over time, and even a small tilt can result in inefficient performance and possible damage.

3. Remove the Winter Cover

Some people forget to remove the cover on the air conditioner after winter. Not to scare you, but running the AC with the cover left on could severely damage your system. Remove the AC’s cover before temperature climbs to 16 degrees centigrade. It could save you thousands of dollars in repair or replacement costs.

4. Examine the Outdoor Unit Panels

There are flat metal panels on the outdoor unit of your air conditioner that protect the electrical connections from the elements. If they’re missing, you’ll have a safety hazard on your hands.

The panel might also have become misaligned. If so, call a professional to have a look at your system before starting it up again. This will prevent you from getting an electrical shock when you use your AC.

5. Inspect the Condenser Coil Fins

The condenser coils live along all of the sides of the outdoor unit. They’re covered by hundreds of metal blades called fins, and they help heat to flow away from the unit.

It’s important to make sure no debris is trapped in these blades, as that will prevent them from working efficiently. You can use a garden hose or an air compressor to clean them. Some pressure washers may damage the fins on some units, however.

Once they’re clean, check the fins and make sure they’re straight. If you notice bent blades, we recommend calling a professional to straighten them.

6. Replace Damaged Pipe Insulation

There is a large pipe that goes from the AC condenser into your home called the suction pipe. Its role is to carry refrigerant back and forth between the indoors and out. Check the layer of foam insulation covering the pipe for damage. Damage can be caused by:

  • Exposure to sunlight.
  • Frozen water trapped in the foam.
  • Animals looking for food and shelter in the winter.

Replace this insulation as needed before you first run your air conditioner this season. You can buy insulation from your local hardware store.

Be aware that only the larger copper line needs to be insulated. The smaller copper line does not.

Check Your Air Conditioner’s Indoor Unit

The indoor half of your air conditioner also has a number of key checks that are needed. Again, turn off the power before starting. This is to prevent accidental shocks and also to prevent dust from getting into your HVAC system if the blower accidentally turns on.

Not sure where the power or any of the parts mentioned below are? Your system’s manual should have a diagram.

7. Change Your Filter

Your AC’s filter should be located where the air duct meets the blower unit. It is vital that this filter is kept clear of debris to make sure you get the highest airflow possible. This is one of the most important things that homeowners should remember to do.

If the winter has been particularly harsh, you should change the filter outright. In any event, be sure to replace or clean the filter about once a month.

While you’re close to the ductwork, there’s another check you can do if you can see right into the ducts. See if there’s any mould in these vents or ducts caused by water condensation – if there is, it’s time to call a professional.

8. Check for Water Damage

When warm air passes over the evaporator coil, it causes water condensation. Most AC systems have a pan to collect the water, and pumps to push this water into a drain when the water level gets to a certain point. Check the water pans and drainage system and make sure there are no leaks. If you’re not sure about where the water drainage system is, scan around for signs of water damage in the area.

9. Vacuum Vents and Grills

Ensure your home’s air vents and grills are clear of any debris. It’s a good idea to vacuum vents and grills at the start of the season to get rid of unwanted dust or pet hair that might have built up.

Cleaning your vents and grills will help keep the cost of cooling your house lower. If your AC has to work harder due to blocked ventilation, it will eat up more energy.

10. Test

Once you’ve done your clean up, don’t forget to turn the power back on and do a test. If there are any odd noises or other problems, it’s better to know before that first painfully hot day of the summer.

Finally … Get a Professional Tune Up

By doing the simple things listed above, you can get the very basics of your spring AC check taken care of. And the best thing of all is that you don’t have to be an expert.

But they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There are some things regarding your air conditioner spring check up that you’ll need a professional to check, like ensuring proper refrigerant levels. Most people don’t know this but if the level of refrigerant in your air conditioner should not get low – if it does it means there’s a leak. If refrigerant gets into the environment it can damage the atmosphere (even though modern refrigerants are WAY less damaging than the CFCs that were banned in the 1990’s).

Air Quality Dunrite offers a 21-point comprehensive, professional maintenance check and cleaning. This is the most thorough check and cleaning available, and goes far beyond what the average homeowner is able to do on their own.

With every check, you get a full report to keep for your records, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have while we’re visiting.

Learn More About our 21-Point AC Tune Up >* Image credit: HowStuffWorks.com’s great article on how air conditioners work.
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