AC Repairs and Maintenance: When to Do it Yourself and When to Call the Pros
Here in the USA, different types of air conditioning systems are used throughout the year with little to no care and maintenance at all. When was the last time you actually took a good look at your air conditioner? A few months ago? Last year? Never? A good air conditioner will last you many years, but if you want it to last even longer, you’ll need to take a deeper look at your HVAC system. This system comprises of heating, ventilating and the air conditioning system, and if you can maintain all of these systems well, you won’t have to think of about servicing or replacement for years to come. In this article, however, we will focus primarily on air conditioning service and maintenance, as well as how you can tell when your AC needs to be replaced.
Maintenance Tips for a Longer Lasting AC
Before wasting hundreds of dollars on unnecessary air conditioning servicing or AC replacement, you could consider taking matters into your own hands. If you follow these simple tips, you’ll save money and get much better air conditioning than before. Before starting any work on your AC, make sure that its power is disconnected from both the exterior and interior units. Always take cautionary steps before doing any work regarding electrical networks for safety.
- First, you’ll need to deal with the exterior part of the air conditioner which contains the condenser/compressor unit. You’ll see a fan inside a cage on top of the unit. This fan accumulates dust, debris, and other airborne particles over time. Remove fasteners of the cage with a screwdriver, get the fan out and clean it using your vacuum cleaner.
- Move on to the fins. You’ll need to clean the fins inwards and outwards. Start by using a shop vacuum cleaner to clean the inner sides. Using a gentle garden hose, you can then clean the outward sides of the fins. Do not use a pressure washer to clean the fins, as the high pressure could end up breaking them.
- You might see that some parts of the fins are bent. These unusually shaped fins can reduce the air flow, which means reduced efficiency of the AC itself. Use a butter knife to straighten the fins, but do this very carefully and precisely. Be gentle because otherwise the fin tubings could break apart.
- Place the fan cage back into the unit. It’s time to clean around the unit so that it remains clean for a much longer period of time. If there are any branches or small amounts of vegetation around the unit, you should cut them off. Remove all leaves that have fallen nearby. Your external unit should be clear from any debris or vegetation at least within 2 feet of its perimeter. During the winter season, you won’t need your air conditioning system much, so you could cover the unit with plastic or plywood to prevent debris from settling in. Don’t cover completely because moisture could accumulate within the unit and corrode the metal parts. The build-up of moisture could also give rise to organisms that could harm your health in the long run. Keep an opening. When summer arrives, remove the cover and then operate your air conditioner.
- Level the pad on which the condenser unit is placed, since the soil beneath may settle lower over time. If the condenser unit is left as it is, the compressor may fail early.
- The interior unit of an AC consists of the evaporator and blower. Look for the evaporator coil door and remove dust on the coil. Additionally, you could use a coil cleaner that is available in any home improvement stores. Clean the drain pan with water and soap mixture or bleach solution. The drip pan is associated with the drain. To prevent the drain from clogging, you have to clean it by pouring 50:50 bleach water solution down the drain. If necessary, reseal the evaporator coil door with foil duct tape.
- The drain may end up accumulating mold or algae over time, causing it to plug and hence reducing the performance of your AC. It may also cause flooding, especially if the drain pan is full of condensed water. The drain is a PVC pipe which could drain near your condenser unit, basement floor drain, outside walls of an attic unit or utility sink. Follow the pipe and see where it drains out. Use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of debris and organisms from within the drain.
- Remove and replace the filters in the AC at least twice a year, once before summer and once before winter. This is especially important for those living in dusty regions, where replacing might have to be done more than twice. HEPA filters are known to reduce airflow, so check if your AC system has HEPA filters or not. When you place a new filter, ensure that the direction of airflow on the filter matches to that mentioned on the unit. Then close the door.
You can follow these tips to ensure a prolonged lifespan of your AC. However, there are a few things only an HVAC technician can solve. For example, if refrigerants are leaking from your AC, a homeowner might not have the necessary equipment to help solve the issue. Even if you are a careful homeowner maintaining all these equipment well, you should still call up a technician to ensure the best air conditioning service possible.
How Often Should You Consider Air Conditioning Service?
As mentioned before, other than the periodic maintenance, air conditioning service should be availed from HVAC experts twice a year – once before the autumn season and once before spring. Some HVAC services come in packages. A typical package may include cleaning and replacing air filters, cleaning the evaporator coil, cleaning the condensate pump, refrigerant leak repair and overall inspection. Routine servicing is important as it would help you detect and fix problems early, reduce energy costs, increase air conditioning efficiency and lifespan, and ensure environmental safety.
When to Replace Your AC
AC service does require a little bit effort from your end, as well as money when you contact a technician for help. If all of this seems too much hassle, you might consider full AC replacement. But how do you know when to replace your AC? These few signs ought to help.
- If your HVAC system is more than 10 years old, it’s time to say goodbye to your existing air conditioning system. The average lifespan of a typical well-maintained HVAC system is around 10-15 years. So when your system hits this milestone, you need to think of replacing the whole unit, not some parts only. You could upgrade new parts, but this would only mean replacing them with newer models later and hence recurring expense. By replacing the full unit, with proper maintenance your new AC system will last long.
- Older models may run better but may also use up more electricity. If you see an unusual spike in your bills, it means your AC system has lower SEER ratings, thus lower efficiency. A newer model will save both costs and energy and will also have higher SEER ratings. So if your AC equipments are causing you money problems, it’s time to replace them with newer models.
- R22 is a refrigerant that has long been used in ACs, but according to the EPA, it’s a dangerous hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) that has certain environmental risks. R22 has been held responsible for ozone depletion due to the presence of free chlorine. If your system uses R22, you should replace it with a newer model that uses R410A, which is environmentally safer and chlorine-free. Most models nowadays use R410A; R22 using models have phased out of the market over the years. Remember that R410A can’t be used on R22-compatible models, so simply switching the refrigerant won’t work. You’ll have to replace the whole system.
- If you see that your use of AC hasn’t increased recently yet your electric bills have, it could be due to the system losing its efficiency and wear and tear of major internal parts. Getting them repaired could be costly, so it’s only better to replace them. So, if you notice that you’re calling your technician for repair way too often, get your AC replaced.
- Having noise issues? This could mean the HVAC system isn’t compatible with your house in terms of size. Take help from an HVAC professional when it comes to getting an appropriate system for your home size.
Air conditioning service and maintenance can be done all year round, whether you do it yourself or with professional help. The real challenge, however, comes when the parts start to wear down, and you need to think of AC replacement or repair. You should make a cost-benefit analysis first to judge whether replacing or repairing is the better choice. Depending on your budget you should make your move.
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