With outside temperatures finally starting to rise, it won’t be long before we start to think about ways to keep the inside of our home cool. But are you ready for it? More importantly, is your air conditioner ready? Don’t be left stranded when the heat wave hits. Whether you leave it up to the heating and cooling pros or choose to DIY, don’t wait too long!
Like most systems, your home’s central air conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. Though an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, there are some simple tasks you can perform yourself.
No matter which option you choose, you should make sure power to the unit is turned off before any work is done!
Thoroughly clean out the unit
So much debris gets stuck in your air conditioner:
- Spider webs;
- Debris from the box of the air conditioner’s exterior unit.
Not only should all of that be removed, but you should also remove or at least trim foliage at least a metre from the unit to ensure proper air flow.
The fins and coils inside the unit need to be kept clean in order for the unit to work at peak efficiency. This can also be done with a garden hose using low pressure. Avoid using high pressure, for it could damage the fins.
If the fins are bent out of shape, do NOT attempt to straighten them yourself. This should be done by a licensed heating and cooling contractor.
Adjust its positioning
Make sure the exterior unit is level as possible and firmly positioned so as not to vibrate or rock, which can damage the cooling lines. The larger of the two copper lines going into the home should be covered with an insulating material much similar to the foam insulating tubes used to cover water pipes.
Here are some other things to watch out for when you’re inspecting your unit:
- Insulation. If the insulation is missing, worn or damaged, it should be replaced.
- Oil. Add lubricating oil to the motor. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions, or call one of our heating and air conditioning experts listed in our database.
Routine maintenance is necessary for your A/C
If you want to keep your A/C in tiptop shape, there are three things to focus on:
- Air filters;
- Cooling coil;
- Gas checks.
The interior unit contains air filters designed to remove pollen, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. The filter should be replaced on a regular basis. You may need to change the filter more often if home occupants have respiratory problems, you have pets with fur or if dusty conditions are present.
On most central air systems, this is the furnace filter unless it is a standalone system just for cooling. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 50 centimeters by 40 centimeters, and about 2.5 centimeters thick. They slide into the main duct work near the inside fan unit on the cold air return side of the furnace.
The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency.
This cooling expert explains how to change a furnace filter:
Sounds like too much work? Have a heating and cooling professional do the work for you!
The cooling coil in a central air system is in the main duct work just above the furnace. It needs to be cleaned by a licensed HVAC technician and is not something the homeowner should attempt to do. The condensate lines and pump (if installed) at the furnace should also be cleaned and inspected for proper operation. These lines pump drain water away ,and if not functioning properly could cause damage to the HVAC system.
Routine gas checks
The units (exterior and interior) should also be checked for proper gas pressures once a year by a licensed HVAC technician. If the gas pressure is too low or if the gas has leaked out, damage could be caused to the unit. If the unit freezes up and ice forms on the exterior unit it is a good indication the unit is low on gas and needs to be repaired or serviced.
This video gives you a thorough understanding of how to clean your air conditioning unit:
To cover or not to cover? The experts don’t always agree
It’s early to be concerned with this, but when it comes to covering the exterior units for next winter, some experts say yes while others say no.
I suggest you talk to your HVAC technician and follow their advice. Regardless, you should place something over the top of the unit to prevent heavy snow or ice that may fall from the roof and could damage the fan.
The hot season will come to and end and as fast as the opening season preparations came, so too will the winter season prep roll around. Here’s my advice to you:
- When turning on the furnace, you should turn off the power to the A/C unit at the electrical panel so that it can’t be turned on by accident in the middle of winter, which could cause damage to the unit.
- I recommend that you delay turning on the unit until outside day time temperatures have been above 18 C for at least three days. Failure to do so may cause possible damage to the compressor.
We know why this is important, but how does it all work? This infographic explains how the components you need to maintain work with each other:
Regular maintenance of your central air conditioner will help keep it in good operating order and increase its efficiency and useful life of the overall system. Contact one of our heating and air conditioning contractors before the heat wave hits!
About the Author: Rob Parker is a home inspector and columnist for the Toronto Sun.