With just a small amount of effort and upkeep, Chicagoland homeowners can significantly extend the useful life of their air conditioner. This includes an annual A/C tune-up by a professional technician, as well as a few basic DIY maintenance activities. As added bonus your HVAC system will provide a lot more high-performance comfort while running more efficiently.
DIY Air Conditioner Maintenance
The main areas of do-it-yourself preventive A/C maintenance that homeowners should focus on are: air filters, cooling coils, and the area around the outside condensing/compressor unit. Neglecting basic maintenance can leave you with unnecessarily high energy bills, inconvenient breakdowns, and frequent repairs. Lack of maintenance can also shorten the life of your cooling equipment, which translates into having to replace it rather sooner than later.
Air Filters Help Keep You and Your Cooling Equipment Healthy
Your air filter performs several roles in your cooling system. For starters, it improves your indoor air quality (IAQ) so that you and your family can breathe easier and stay healthier. In addition, the air conditioner filter helps protect your equipment from damage by preventing dirt buildup. A nice, clean air filter also ensures that air flows freely through your cooling system which ensures optimized performance. A dirty and clogged filter will make your A/C work harder and use up to 15 percent more energy as it struggles to circulate cooled air in your home. To avoid these problems, you should replace or clean air filters monthly during the cooling season, especially if you have pets.
Do You Have the Best Filtration?
Consult with your HVAC contractor before buying a more effective filter for your cooling system. High-efficiency filters are great, but they can block the airflow through your A/C, if they’re not compatible with your system. The MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) number of an air filter indicates its effectiveness at removing particulates from indoor air. Higher numbers mean higher levels of efficiency. High efficiency filters can remove smaller particles from the air supply. For example:
- MERV 1-3 air filters (typically the minimum used in home cooling systems) can rid the air of some types of pollen and most types of dust mites.
- MERV 7 filters can filter out mold spores and chemical pollutants such as hair spray.
- MERV 12 filters rid the air of most Legionella bacteria and harmful lead dust.
- MERV 16 is near-HEPA filtration, and can clear the air of many types of bacteria and cigar/cigarette smoke. These filters are often used in health-care settings.
Highly efficient, high-MERV filters are generally too wide for standard residential central air conditioners and may require special installation or retrofitting of your HVAC equipment. Your HVAC contractor can help you find the best solution for improving the IAQ in your home.
Finding the Filter
The filter for your central air conditioner is typically located in the return duct inside your wall or ceiling, in the furnace, or in the A/C itself. In a room air conditioner, you’ll find the filter mounted in the front grill that faces into the house. For optimal IAQ, consider installing a whole-house air cleaner to work with your home comfort system. An air cleaner can help rid your home's air supply of contaminants and allergy-inducing dust. It can also reduce bacteria and mold spores. Duct cleaning can further improve your indoor air quality by removing dust and debris that was not caught in the filter.
Care for the Coils
Your indoor A/C evaporator coil and outdoor condenser coil inevitably will collect dirt over time. This dirt inhibits airflow and insulates the coil, so that it no longer absorbs heat properly to cool your home. Clean both coils annually, in the spring before cooling season begins and again in the fall before the heating season starts.
Straighten the Fins
The aluminum fins on the coil apparatus are easily bent, partially blocking airflow across an air conditioner’s coils. Use a specialized tool known as a fin comb to clean and straighten fins. Be sure to regularly clear away any debris, lawn cuttings or shrubbery from around the outdoor unit to avoid blocking airflow. Clear an area of about two feet all around the outside unit so that it provides sufficient airflow.
Clean Condensate Drains
Use a pipe cleaner or stiff wire to clear out the condensate drain channel. Neglected and clogged condensate drains can increase humidity and decrease the cooling system’s ability to control airborne moisture. In this part of the country, you may also opt to install a whole house humidity control system. Seamlessly integrated with your central A/C, this type of dehumidifier can ensure your comfort while decreasing the likelihood of mold growth on A/C coils and in your home.
Check the Window Seal (for Room Air Conditioners)
Make sure that the seal between the A/C unit and window frame is intact and in contact with the metal unit's case all around. This helps keep the cooled air indoors where you need it, rather than allowing it to escape out the window and waste energy.
End of the Summer Maintenance
This is the time of year to remove and store, or cover, your room air conditioner. You can also cover the outdoor unit of your central A/C to protect it from dirt, debris and damage during harsh winter weather. Do not wrap the condenser or use a plastic cover, because condensation and moisture will accumulate inside – causing your A/C housing to rust. Rodents are also attracted to a nice, warm covered air conditioner outdoors. They may gnaw on and destroy compressor wiring and insulation throughout the winter. Instead of a plastic wrap or covering, try using a piece of plywood. Place it on top, weighing it down with large rocks or bricks. For extra protection from Chicago area winters, apply a coat of car wax to the outdoor component of your air conditioner in late fall.
What you Can Expect from Professional Preventive Maintenance
An experienced and well-trained HVAC contractor can clean, oil, and inspect your air conditioning system, to discover and repair potential problems. This helps you avoid inconvenient, costly breakdowns and major repairs.
During annual professional A/C maintenance, your HVAC technician should:
- Check the accuracy of the thermostat. Inspect the settings of a programmable thermostat to help you save energy when out of the house or while sleeping.
- Check for the correct amount of refrigerant and look for refrigerant leaks.
- Make sure the A/C has sufficient refrigerant and if the level is low, check for system leaks.
- Inspect the duct network and seal duct leaks.
- Check for adequate airflow across the A/C evaporator coil.
- Inspect, clean and tighten electrical connections, applying non-conductive coating as needed.
- Verify the control sequence to ensure that the furnace and cooling system can’t run concurrently.
- Check belts for proper fit, tightness and excess wear, replacing them if necessary.
- Clean the system and lubricate moving parts.
Remember, proper air conditioner maintenance ensures that your energy bills remain as low as possible while your home stays comfortably cool throughout the summer.
At Comfort24-7 we help homeowners in Chicago, northwest Indiana, and southwest Michigan to locate experienced home comfort contractors. Our HVAC contractors are professionally certified experts dedicated to superior customer service. Contact us today!
Written by Randy Gailit