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Keep It Cool: How to Maintain your AC in Summer

This year saw catastrophic heat domes in the Northwest, while other parts of the country experienced record-setting heat waves

As millions of Americans swelter under high temperatures, so too will millions of AC units be put to the test. Some units will break, others might groan and screech, and some will flat out refuse to work.

To make sure your AC does its job, here are seven tips to maintain your air conditioner throughout the summer season.

AC summer maintenance

1. Clean or replace filters

Like any air-breathing appliance such as vacuum cleaners and pumps, AC units can get clogged with dust or debris over time.

A clogged filter can severely restrict airflow, which in turn reduces efficiency and accelerates wear. A full dust filter can also recirculate dust instead of trapping it, which can lead to health issues.

  • Clean the filters at least twice a year.
  • Replace according to the maintenance schedule to ensure optimum airflow and dust protection.

For a detailed guide to AC filter cleaning, check out How to Clean & Change Your Air Conditioner Filter.

2. Clean those coils

The condenser unit can be buried under snow during the winter. It can also accumulate yard debris such as fallen leaves, dirt and environmental pollutants.

  • Ensure the fan box is clear of obstructions.
  • Wipe off built-up dust in the grills.
  • Check inside the box and examine if the coils are clean.
  • To service the coils, use a refrigerator coil brush to gently scour the coils. Alternatively, you can use dedicated coil cleaning tools like the SpeedClean SC-CS-100 CoilShot Condenser Cleaner to quickly clean coils and get into hard-to-reach areas without having to remove the housing.
  • For larger AC units up to 5 tons, the SpeedClean CoilJet can clean condenser coils more efficiently and conveniently than a cumbersome power washer.
  • Take care not to damage the coils or bend the fins out of alignment.

SpeedClean CJ-125 CoilJet Coil Cleaner

A dedicated coil cleaning tool like the SpeedClean CJ-125 CoilJet Coil Cleaner can make the task much easier and faster, especially for larger AC units.

SpeedClean SC-CS-100 CoilShot Condenser Cleaner
Price: $119.00 SpeedClean SC-CS-100 CoilShot Condenser Cleaner

The CoilShot Condenser Cleaner is an excellent choice for cleaning the condenser coils quickly and efficiently. It uses conveniently packaged CoilShot Tablets&n...

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SpeedClean CJ-125 CoilJet Coil Cleaner System
Price: $719.00 SpeedClean CJ-125 CoilJet Coil Cleaner System

Portable cleaning power for those dirty condensers and evaporator coils. The SpeedClean CoilJet CJ-125 does not require external water attachment or power. Prof...

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3. Vacuum those vents

It’s unavoidable for vents to get dirty throughout the year, whether it’s due to dust, pets, or household debris. Blocked vents force the AC to work harder and consume more energy to provide the same temperature. This is also one of the primary reasons why air conditioners stop blowing cold air.

  • Vacuum vents according to the manufacturer’s schedule.
  • Make sure that household items do not cover the vent. Most vent obstructions are appliances, furnishings or wires that move microscopically throughout the year.

4. Dry out the internals

Water can accumulate in the condenser through long periods of operation. Left unattended, stagnant water can cause mold, health issues, and damage over time.

  • Mop up any excess water inside the unit.
  • Make sure the drain is clear and free of obstructions.
  • For window AC units, check that the frame is slightly tilted outside upon reinstallation. This ensures the water flows down and out through the drain, instead of accumulating in the condenser box.
  • Humidity can also affect AC performance. A system that’s overwhelmed by water vapor tends to work harder to cool the home, so frequent checks are a must for areas with high humidity.
  • Also check that the aircon is not leaking water after prolonged use.

5. Check the coolant pipes

The AC evaporator is connected to the condenser via refrigerant lines. These pipes are covered by a layer of foam or rubber insulation to protect the coolant line.

  • Inspect the insulation for frayed or missing segments
  • Partial damage can be repaired with foam insulation tape, wrapped around the frayed area.
  • In case of advanced wear, replace the whole segment with a new insulation sleeve.

6. Keep the condenser cool

The condenser is the external part of the AC that sits out in the elements. The hotter it gets, the harder it has to work.

  • Try to shade the condenser from direct sunlight to reduce temperature.
  • Keep in mind that it needs unobstructed airflow, so avoid placing the shade too close to the condenser that it blocks air.

7. Get it serviced early

Most people take their AC for granted until it starts developing problems. Just like your car and HVAC maintenance, be proactive and head off issues before they occur.

  • Make sure that your AC unit is serviced at least once a year.
  • The ideal time is in the spring before temperatures start to rise and the AC gets a full workout.
  • Waiting until the summer can lead to delays, as more people crowd to have their AC units serviced or repaired.

Safety Considerations

  • Before opening up your air conditioner, make sure the power is off.
  • Switch off the circuit breaker, and check that the power to the condenser is also off at the service panel.
  • Some models have a 240-volt disconnect box near the condenser unit, which contains a circuit breaker or lever to shut off the condenser. Make sure this is switched off as well.
  • Clean only the user-serviceable parts of the unit as recommended by the manufacturer. Leave the rest to professionals.

AC Statistics

  • According to the Department of Energy, air conditioners account for 6% of the electricity produced in the US.
  • Residential AC accounts for $11 billion out of the $29 billion utility cost racked up annually by air conditioners. 
  • Homeowners can dramatically reduce their AC energy consumption by up to 20-50% by switching to high-efficiency aircon or mini split systems, and making sure their existing units are properly maintained and serviced.
  • The Energy Information Administration’s annual Residential Energy Consumption Survey shows that 90% of US households have air conditioning of some sort. Majority (62%) are central AC, while wall and window types account for 26%.
  • The same survey found that the most used thermostat setting fell in the 74-76 degree Fahrenheit range, accounting for 26%., followed by 71-73 degree Fahrenheit at 20%.

For more tips on proper AC care, check out our article on Air Conditioner Cleaning & Maintenance

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

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