Your air conditioner works tirelessly to keep your home comfortable when it’s sweltering outside. Through all the heat and humidity of an East Coast summer, an AC makes your household a climate-controlled oasis. Too often, however, we tend to take this convenience for granted, neglecting HVAC maintenance until a costly breakdown occurs.
Performing proactive upkeep is a crucial part of being a responsible homeowner and prolonging your appliances’ lifespan. Here’s what you need to know about AC preventive maintenance for each type of air conditioning system, what tasks you can do yourself and which are better left to professionals.
Why You Should Maintain Your AC
An AC system is an investment in your family’s comfort that helps you avoid health and safety issues on hot days. For maximum energy efficiency, cost savings and reduced risk, it’s crucial to learn some air conditioner fundamentals and how often to perform maintenance.
These days, many people are looking to reduce their carbon footprint by taking steps like recycling, eating less meat or buying electric vehicles, but they might not stop to consider their air conditioning’s environmental impact.
As an AC unit ages, its efficiency diminishes. An older unit can use twice as much energy to produce the same amount of cooling as a newer one. Ongoing improvements in energy efficiency have revolutionized the air conditioner manufacturing industry and allowed qualified HVAC techs to help their customers save money on new, quiet, energy-efficient AC installations.
Improved Air Quality
If you have respiratory issues such as allergies or asthma, many of your symptoms may result from poor indoor air quality. Though we tend to associate air pollution with things like vehicle emissions, the air inside your house might be significantly unhealthier than the outdoor air. That’s an issue of growing concern for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, especially as Americans are spending more time indoors.
Poor indoor air quality in your home can cause you to suffer from headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability and congestion. Indoor pollutants such as mold, cigarette smoke and volatile organic chemicals can contribute to these issues and make the air in your home dangerous to breathe, especially if you or someone in your family has existing respiratory problems. Maintaining your HVAC system is one straightforward way everyone can breathe a little bit easier.
Reduced Fire Risk
Did you know your HVAC system might pose a fire hazard? In rare instances, some poorly maintained air conditioners can create the conditions necessary to spark a flame.
Though the odds of your AC unit catching on fire are low, we recommend proactive maintenance as the best way to prevent fuel leaks or dangerous problems with the gas connection or electrical wiring. If you suspect your HVAC system has a problem, or you smell smoke or a fuel leak, call us for emergency maintenance immediately.
Different Types of Systems
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 75% of American households have an air conditioner installed. Further, air conditioner usage accounts for an estimated 6% of total nationwide electricity consumption. If you’re building new construction or thinking about replacing your older AC with a newer, more efficient one, you have several options to consider.
Central Air Conditioner
When you hear the phrase “air conditioner,” a central AC system is probably the first thing you picture in your mind’s eye. These units remove heat from the indoor air using refrigerant, then redirect warm air outdoors and push cooled air into your home through a network of ductwork and vents. Central air is an ideal choice if you value overall comfort and efficiency, especially during hot and humid weather.
- Temperature control: Central air conditioning can keep your home comfortable, even during a heat wave. Installing a programmable thermostat is a wise decision that can slash your monthly utility bills.
- Filtered air: Central air conditioning units have filters that trap dust and allergens and keep the indoor air clean. However, these are only an effective solution if you are careful to replace or clean yours following a regular schedule.
- Requires ductwork: If you want to add a central AC unit to your house, but it doesn’t have ductwork, you will need to get it installed. This extensive renovation project can significantly impact your total cost of buying a new air conditioner.
- Can be costlier to use: A central AC needs a lot of energy to cool your home. These models also lose efficiency as they get older, requiring more frequent upkeep and inspections. Even if you install a programmable thermostat, you might find yourself facing higher energy bills during the summer.
A ductless mini-split is an alternative air conditioning option that does not rely on a network of ducts and vents to circulate cooled air throughout your home. With a ductless system, you will have compact air handlers mounted in each room or temperature zone. This low-maintenance, affordable solution might be an ideal choice for you if you are building on to your home and don’t want to deal with the effort and expense involved with reconfiguring your ductwork. They are also excellent for people who want to cool or heat each room separately.
- Easy to install: Instead of ripping holes in your walls to access the ductwork, installing a ductless mini-split system requires drilling a single hole. Often, experienced HVAC technicians can complete a ductless system installation in one day.
- Flexibility: If you like some rooms to be warmer or cooler than others, ask your installer to configure your mini-split setup with various temperature zones, each controlled by a separate remote.
- Less maintenance: Ductless systems allow you to skip some routine maintenance tasks, such as having your ductwork cleaned.
- Higher initial costs: Ductless mini-split installations can be more expensive than traditional central AC units. However, if your budget allows for the higher upfront cost, you might qualify for government tax incentives or rebates because ductless systems are so energy-efficient.
- Filter requirements: To keep your mini-split’s air exchangers operating in top condition, you’ll need to clean your air filters monthly – more frequently if you have pets or if someone in your household smokes. Failing to stick to a maintenance schedule will result in decreased performance and potentially costly repair bills.
Window Air Conditioner
Window-mounted AC units are another choice for homeowners whose houses lack existing ductwork. Many people prefer window air conditioners because they are affordable and relatively straightforward to install and maintain. If you only have a small area to cool, such as a bedroom, you might want to consider a window air conditioner.
- Versatility: You can use a window AC with many window styles, making them an excellent fit for your house. However, remember that the window’s frame must be sturdy enough to support the unit’s weight.
- Affordability: Window air conditioners are also inexpensive. Depending on which model you buy and what add-ons you want, you might be able to find one for around $150 to $300.
- Only capable of cooling small spaces: One window air conditioner won’t be sufficient to keep up with your whole family’s cooling needs. When you need climate control for several rooms, you’ll have to get multiple window air conditioning units, which is not very energy- or cost-efficient.
- Take up the entire window: Window air conditioner units block whichever window you choose to install them in, leading to a loss of natural light. Once you have installed a window air conditioner, you also won’t be able to open the window to enjoy fresh outdoor air on pleasant days.
- Possible security risk: A window air conditioner might make your home more vulnerable to a break-in. Thieves can remove the window unit and access your house through the gap it leaves behind.
Geothermal Air Conditioning System
Environmentally minded homeowners are gravitating toward renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind to power their homes. Geothermal air conditioners are one such all-natural option for homeowners who wish to use the earth’s ambient temperatures to heat and cool their homes. Geothermal energy is a reliable, unlimited and clean climate control method.
- Energy efficiency: If you want to reap maximum savings on your utility bills, geothermal AC is what you’ve been looking for. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal heat pumps can be 300 to 600% more efficient than conventional HVAC systems in the winter.
- Low maintenance: Geothermal HVAC systems far outlast traditional HVAC units, with minimal upkeep. A correctly installed and designed geothermal system can last up to 50 years.
- Costs more to install: Geothermal systems tend to have a more expensive initial installation cost, including digging in your yard to set up the system underground. However, they pay for themselves over time by operating so efficiently and reliably. You might be eligible for local, state and federal incentives after switching to renewable energy.
- Requires an experienced installer: It’s essential to hire a knowledgeable professional to design and install your geothermal system. An improperly installed geothermal HVAC won’t perform to a high standard, meaning you’ll miss out on many of the benefits of investing in geothermal.
How to Maintain Each AC System
As a homeowner, you can take some straightforward DIY steps to maintain your AC system, no matter which kind you have at your home. A well-maintained AC system will give you more confidence that you are preserving your indoor air quality and extending your unit’s lifespan, preventing emergency breakdowns.
Central AC Systems
By following a consistent maintenance schedule, you can slash your energy bills, keep your equipment running longer and maximize your AC’s function. Luckily, you don’t need to hire the pros to complete some of these tasks. Here is your DIY central AC maintenance checklist.
Trim Any Surrounding Vegetation
To ensure adequate airflow around your AC’s outdoor component, keep the surrounding area clear. Remove leaves and debris outside the condenser with a leaf blower, and prune any nearby bushes or trees at least two feet in all directions.
In the winter, when you aren’t using the condenser, you may wish to cover the top of the unit with a piece of wood or plastic to keep debris from falling in. However, do not fully enclose the entire outdoor AC unit, since doing so can allow moisture to accumulate and corrode the metal. A completely covered unit also provides an ideal environment for small animals to build their nests inside. If you have a top cover, be sure to remove it when you’re running the unit.
Clean the Condenser Unit Regularly
With the power to the air conditioner shut off at the circuit breaker and the unit itself turned off, open the evaporator coil door, removing fasteners as necessary.
Use a soft-bristled brush to dust off the coil, then spray it with a coil cleaner (which you can get at your favorite hardware store). After foaming up, the spray will drip into the drain pan. Clean the drain pan with soap, hot water and a little bleach. Then, pour a half-water, half-bleach solution down the drain. To keep the drain clean and prevent algae growth, put a commercially available drain pan tablet in the pan.
Never Fully Close All Registers
You might assume you can save energy by closing the registers in any rooms that don’t see frequent use. However, fully closing registers will restrict airflow, forcing your AC to cycle on and off more frequently to keep up. That’s because closing even one air vent reduces the number of channels available for circulating air throughout your home.
Opening all the registers will reduce pressure buildup, heat buildup and imbalanced air circulation, allowing your air conditioner to work with the duct system as designed.
Change Your Filter Regularly
Air filters play a crucial role in your AC’s ability to function. Clogged or dirty filters impede your AC’s operation by making it have to work harder to keep up with demand. Regular filter changes are essential, particularly if anyone in your household has respiratory issues.
Some HVAC systems have reusable air filters, while others use disposable ones that require periodic replacement. During peak cooling season, you’ll need to clean or replace your air filter more often. You may also wish to do more frequent filter changes if your family includes pets. Set reminders on your calendar so you’ll never forget when it’s time to clean or replace your filter.
While ductless AC units are one of the most flexible and efficient home climate control options, you will still need to proactively prolong their lifespan, keep them in top condition and maintain their efficiency. Here’s our list of simple DIY maintenance tasks to get more from your investment in a ductless mini-split system.
Dust It Thoroughly
Ductless air conditioning units are prone to accumulating dust, which can get inside the system and impair its ability to function efficiently. Once per week, wipe off the exterior with a damp cleaning cloth and check to ensure the vents remain clear and clean. If you see dust building up around the vents, use your vacuum’s hose attachment to remove it.
Make Sure the Operating Area Isn’t Congested
While ductless air conditioners are self-contained, you should still create space around them to limit the chances of foreign objects entering the system. Maintain a clearance of at least four feet in every direction between the unit and other furniture.
At the same time, remember to keep the area around the outdoor heat pump clean and free of debris. Leaves, twigs, dirt and other objects can restrict airflow and decrease the system’s efficiency.
Change Your Filter Regularly
Your mini-split’s air filter requires periodic attention to maintain the unit’s functionality. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning twice per week, though you might not need to do so as often if you don’t have pets or if you rarely use your mini-split.
To inspect your filter, turn off the unit and open the filter housing panel on the front. If it looks dirty, gently remove it and clean it using your kitchen faucet’s sprayer or your vacuum cleaner’s brush attachment. Be careful not to use too much force, which might damage your filter. Then, return the clean, dry filter to its original position inside the mini-split and turn the unit back on.
Clean the Coils
A mini-split’s coils are crucial in its overall ability to operate correctly. Since dirt and other debris can collect on and in the coils, keeping them clean is essential. Use a standard garden hose to gently spray the unit, being cautious not to bend any components. Dust off any remaining debris manually, ensuring everything is completely dry before powering it back on.
Don’t Forget the Pipes
You’ll also need to clean your mini-split’s pipes to keep everything functioning correctly. Various pollutants can build up inside them and inhibit airflow. Visually inspect for cracks and leaks. If you notice signs of these problems, call a professional HVAC tech to replace the pipes.
Since smaller, window-mounted air conditioning units can quickly lose efficiency, protect your purchase and save money on your energy bills with DIY window air conditioning maintenance.
Wash the Filter
If your window AC has a reusable filter, you’ll want to clean it monthly to remove any built-up dirt and debris. First, shut off the unit’s power, then carefully remove the filter. After soaking it in warm, soapy water for a few minutes, thoroughly rinse it and ensure it’s completely dry before putting it back in the same position.
Clean the Fins
Window air conditioning units have fins that assist with heat transfer. Keeping these fins clean is vital. To complete this chore, turn off the unit, unplug it and remove it from the window. Open the panel to access the fins, then spray them with a solution of water mixed with a few drops of standard dish detergent. After letting the solution sit on the fins for a few minutes, gently remove it with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse the fins and let everything dry before putting the unit back in its window.
Straighten Bent Fins
If you spot any bent fins while cleaning them, you can straighten them with a tool called a fin comb, which your nearest hardware store should sell. Insert the comb into a gap where the fins are straight, then carefully move it through the bent section. This project may be a bit more time-consuming than some of the others described in this guide, but it’s worth it to improve your window unit’s efficiency.
Wash the Fans and the Pan
Clean your AC’s fans with the same water/detergent mixture you used on the fins, then rinse them with a hose and let them air-dry.
Finish cleaning your window AC unit’s interior by pulling out and emptying the drip pan. Rinse it, then leave it to dry before reassembling. Check the drain to ensure no clogs or blockages are preventing water from exiting your unit.
Store It in the Off-Season
Unless you use your window AC all year long, you’ll need to take it out of the window and store it somewhere warm and dry in the colder months or anytime you know you will not use it for long periods. While you have it in storage, be sure to cover it with a tarp or dropcloth to keep out any dust or dirt.
While geothermal systems are highly reliable and involve less maintenance than other AC options, any machine can break down over time if you fail to take care of it. Though most of the system is inaccessible because it’s underground, you can still take proactive steps to keep your geothermal HVAC in peak operating condition. Here are the steps we recommend.
Change the Air Filters
Like all the other air conditioner options we’ve described here, a geothermal HVAC system uses filters to improve your indoor air quality by preventing the accumulation of dust and other environmental pollutants. Refer to your owner’s manual for manufacturer recommendations on how often to change the filter. Most suggest every one to three months, but you might decide to do so more often if you have pets or year-round allergies.
Clean the Condensation Pan
Standing water can create the ideal conditions for mold and mildew to thrive, thus becoming a health risk. Check the condensation pans for excess water, and clear any drain blockages. Annually rinse the drain with a solution of two tablespoons of bleach mixed with half a cup of hot water to keep it flowing freely.
Manage Refrigerant/Antifreeze Levels
Antifreeze and refrigerant are vital to the heat transfer process. If there are insufficient amounts of these two substances circulating inside your system’s ground loops, it will make the system work less efficiently.
When you call a professional HVAC technician for preventive geothermal HVAC maintenance, be sure it’s on their checklist to inspect the antifreeze and refrigerant levels and top them off as needed.
Manage Loop Pipe Integrity
With a correctly designed and installed geothermal HVAC system, it’s rare to encounter problems with the underground loop pipes. Still, leaks can occur, and you will want to get them repaired as soon as possible. Checking the loop pipes is another item that should always be on a qualified HVAC technician’s geothermal maintenance checklist.
Reliable HVAC Repair and Installation in Delaware and Maryland
At Above & Beyond Heating and Air Conditioning Services, we provide outstanding HVAC repair and installation to our residential and commercial customers throughout the Delmarva area. We offer reasonable rates and never try to upsell you to a product or service you don’t need. We back all our work with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and will go out of our way to ensure you are happy and comfortable.
Whether you choose a traditional central AC or one of the alternative options described above, trust us to respond quickly with an affordable estimate or a free second opinion. To schedule preventive service or 24/7 emergency repairs, contact us today.