12 Tips to Prepare Your AC Unit for Summer
When the snow starts to melt and the days begin to heat up, that’s the time to start thinking about your air conditioning system. The last thing you want is for those sweltering days set in and you discover your AC isn’t working.
Just as you schedule regular maintenance for your vehicle, your air conditioning system is a significant investment that requires the same attention.
Before you turn on your AC unit on that first hot day follow these 12 simple tips to ensure your air conditioning system is prepared for summer and ready to cool your home efficiently.
1. Schedule an Annual Inspection
Annual maintenance of your air conditioning system can not only improve your comfort and the efficiency of the system but can also prolong the lifespan of a unit.
While some routine maintenance is easy enough for a homeowner to tackle, it’s always a good idea to call a professional to inspect more complicated aspects, such as refrigerant levels, airflow, and the condensation line.
Regular check-ups can help prevent larger, more costly issues in the long run.
2. Change Air Filters
Perhaps the most important tip to ensure your air conditioning system is running properly is replacing or cleaning the air filters. Routinely changing the air filters can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5-15%.
Not only can a dirty filter block airflow and reduce efficiency, but it can also lead to greater damage to the evaporator coils.
The Department of Energy recommends cleaning or replacing your air filters every month or two, during the summer. However, if your unit is in constant use, operating in dusty conditions or you have furry pets in the house, filters may need more frequent changing.
3. Check Coils
You should be checking your unit’s evaporator coil and condenser coil and brushing away dirt and any obstruction from the system. While having a clean filter will mitigate dirt build-up on the coils, eventually, coils will become dirty over time. This can reduce airflow and insulate the coil, preventing it from absorbing heat.
Outdoor condenser coils are especially susceptible to dirt due to nearby foliage, dryer vents, falling leaves, and your lawnmower. Be sure to clean the area around the coil.
Because coil fins are typically made of aluminum, they can be easily bent, blocking airflow. You can purchase a “fin comb” to straighten them.
4. Clean Condensation Lines
It’s not uncommon for the pipe that carries condensation away from your AC unit to get clogged. This can lead to a mess inside the home and an expensive repair bill.
To prevent this from happening, regularly check the hose pipe and ensure it’s in place and draining properly. You can also periodically pass a stiff wire through the drain channel prevent a clog.
5. Check Duct Work
Air ducts are the backbone of your home’s HVAC system. Regularly checking and maintaining the duct system will ensure your AC is running efficiently and properly.
Duct leakage can account for 20%-40% loss of energy, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). You should periodically check for leaks, joints that may have separated, stuck dampers and blocked registers.
Sealing your leaky ducts could equal an extra half-ton of air conditioner capacity for free.
6. Visually Inspect Your Outdoor Unit
If you’re not using a cover, your outdoor unit will be subjected to dust, mud and other debris. This can clog the unit.
You can disconnect the power and spray down the unit with a hose, however, if the unit is heavily soiled, consider hiring a professional to clean the system.
Other things to consider when inspecting your outdoor unit:
- Remove any leaves or debris from around the unit. Having at least two feet of space around the unit will help it run more efficiently.
- Use a level to ensure the concrete slab is level. Your system could be working overtime if it’s on an uneven surface.
Continue to check the unit through the summer to ensure a clean, debris-free operating space.
7. Install a Smart Thermostat
Nearly half of your utility bill goes toward heating and cooling your home every year, according to the U.S. Department of Emergency.
Turning your thermostat back 7-10 degrees when you’re away can save you up to 10% on cooling and heating costs each year.
Making the investment in a programmable thermostat can save you money, help your system run more efficiently and ensure a comfortable summer.
8. Clean Air Vents
If you wipe the louvers of your air vents and come away with years of dirt, grime and pet hair, it’s time to clean your vent covers.
Not only will vent covers look better but cleaning them will reduce allergens in the home and increase your AC unit’s efficiency.
9. Lubricate Moving Parts
Central air conditioning systems rely on fans to circulate air through the condenser coils to help dissipate the heat. While newer models are built to sustain adverse outdoor conditions, older models often require periodic lubrication.
Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and reduces the energy efficiency of your unit.
Each year, at the start of summer, inspect the fan blades and oil the fan motor. If you are not comfortable working on the compressor/condenser unit yourself, be sure and call a professional to avoid damaging the unit.
10. Check Electrical Connections
Before you turn on your air conditioning unit for the summer, checking the electrical connections is critical for safety, check:
- Circuits to make sure electrical connections are on
- The power is turned on at the unit
- For visible signs of wear on the outdoor electrical wiring
If you see any damage or wear to the electrical components, call a professional for service. Professionals can also tighten electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors.
11. Consider a Replacement
Everything has a lifespan, including your AC unit. Most central air conditioning units last around 20 years. However, even at its mid-life point, most air conditioning units are not running as efficiently as they could. Replacing a 10-year-old unit could save you 20%-40% of your cooling energy costs, according to Energy.gov.
While a significant investment, buying a replacement unit could save you in the long run, especially if you purchase an ENERGYStar-rated unit.
12. Lighten the load
No matter how smart your HVAC system is, you can always improve efficiency by lightening the load – or how hard it has to work to cool the house down.
There are several ways to help your air conditioning unit work more efficiently:
- Improve insulation and seal cracks: Make sure you’re not letting heat seep in through cracks, while your A/C is working to cool your house down.
- Cover your windows: Close windows, blinds and shades during the day to prevent direct sunlight from heating your home.
- Alternative ventilation: Fans can help increase cooling in your home, especially when partnered with your air conditioning.
- Shift appliance use: Bigger appliances such as washers, dryers and ovens can generate a lot of heat, making your A/C work overtime to cool the house down. Wait to use bigger appliances when it’s cooler.
- Exhaust fans: Remove heat and humidity from your kitchen and bathroom.