Alright, I don’t know about you but we may have completely skipped Spring and jumped straight into Summer in the Midwest. Summer time is just around the corner and that means A/C time so let’s make sure your unit is running at its best so you can benefit from lower utility bills, enhance IAQ and decrease the likelihood of needing to call out a tech on the hottest day of the year because your system decided it was going on strike. I don’t think homeowners are fully aware of the effects blockages have on their cooling equipment but it’s no different than a dirty air filter on your car dropping MPG by up to 20%. These 4 simple tasks will rid most to all the blockage you A/C unit might experience so you aren’t left with a sauna for a home and you are more than capable of doing them if you have time to spare.
One. Clean the outside of your unit. This is pretty easy and self-explanatory but between leaves, bugs, and other debris that can build up, you may have unnecessary blockage which will then affect the efficiency and performance of the unit. Ever hold your hand over the end of a shop-vac and listen to it stress? Same concept, the more obstacles reducing air from easily flowing the more wear you put on the equipment. Remove the outer shell of your unit and hose it off. Maybe even put a coat of wax over it to defend against the sun and keep your unit looking new. Every little bit adds up so don’t skimp here, besides... you need to take off the outside shell to get to the next part anyways.
Two. Clean the condenser coils. With the outer shell taken off, make sure to clean the condensing coils. I must advise that you be very careful when doing this as the coils have the same integrity as aluminum foil meaning they are flimsy. There are products available that you mix in with water to spray on the condenser and it will kill/breakdown much of what might be deeper in the coils and then there are aerosolized spray cans that are ready to go. Just spray and let the foaming action do its thing for the recommended amount of time per the instructions and repeat as needed. Similar to above but on an even greater scale, blockage creates issues for both you and your equipment so this is crucial.
Three. Replace your air filter as necessary. This is the easiest and sometimes most easily forgotten step in routine maintenance that any homeowner is capable of doing. A dirty air filter creates blockage which again means inefficiencies and potential damage to your A/C unit. This blockage will lower or possibly stop the flow of cold air causing it to back up and build inside of the unit which isn’t good. On a side note, a higher performing filter typically catches more particles but only because it has tighter webbing in the filter material, meaning it also allows less air to freely pass. I noticed this on my home that the filter itself actually changed the performance of my unit in terms of air flow at the register. So it could be a balancing act between performance and IAQ to think about when selecting the proper filter.
Four. Clean the evaporator coils. While you are now in your home and the filter has been replaced, take a look at the evaporator coils in your system. Sure the furnace isn’t running during the summer (evaporator coils will be above the furnace section of your stack) and you've already cleaned the coils outside but that doesn’t mean these shouldn’t be cleaned as well. Especially if you let your filter go for too long, the evaporator coil will more than likely be suffering from some dirt build up. Pop off the cover to find an "A" shaped set of coils. You should know what the coils looks like after cleaning the ones on the outside unit however you won’t be using a hose on this. There are spray cans like what you'd get a can of WD-40 in that are specially designed for these coils. Follow the instructions, spray it on, let it foam and sit, repeat as necessary.
All of these tasks are fairly simple and remove most of the blockage your unit may face. Maybe in the past you have seen or heard of frozen lines outdoors coming out of the unit, even when you know there is no possible way the outside temperature was near freezing. This can many times be worked back to a blockage somewhere in the system. A blockage will stop the cold air it is producing from circulating as intended and leave it trapped in the same area. Prolonging this then creates things to freeze over and that’s when you get big problems. The kind where the thermostat is set to 72F, the system is running and air is coming out of the vents except its warm and your home can’t seem to lower the temperature inside. Even worse, the temperature begins rising in the home while the system is operating. The longer it runs the more ice builds up and the worse the problem gets. Don’t let that happen to you or your family. Make sure to check up on your system or get an expert to tune it up. If it’s a new unit then you may be obligated to get a professional tune up to continue staying under warranty anyway.
There are many other things that go into a tune up that are best left to the experts such as checking for refrigerant leaks, any improper electrical draws, thermostat calibration, oiling the motors and any moving parts, checking for proper air flow, and more. Many of these require a deeper understanding of the system and special tools to analyze it. For the amount of time it will take the average person to go to the store and pick up the evaporator/condenser spray, take apart the outside shell of your unit to hose off then clean the condenser coils, put it back together, then go inside and take apart the stack to get to the evaporator coils, spray those down, cover it up and call it a day... you are sitting around an hour from beginning to end, maybe shorter maybe longer depending on comfort/skill level and how far the store is from you. For $50-$100 you don’t have to worry about any of that plus you get a more in depth tune up from a professional with their expertise and special tools. All of a sudden the investment doesn’t seem so painful when all things are considered. Some places may even offer maintenance agreement programs to significantly cut the cost of the tune up.