Air conditioner maintenance may seem overwhelming as a homeowner. Don’t let it be. We can help. Step one is to turn it on immediately. Don’t wait for a super warm day; test it now, early in the season when the temperature is above 70 degrees. The reason for this is, if you do find that you have a problem, you can beat the “rush” and get it addressed before all of the HVAC technicians are swamped with service calls. Before rushing to the phone though, check a few things…. check your emergency shut off switch (in some cases you may have more than one) and your circuit breaker for the system (if you put your thermostat fan switch on “on” and it starts to blow then you know your circuit breaker is not tripped). Now that you’re sure that the electric is all working properly, walk around your home and make sure all of your vents are free and clear of furniture or other items that may have been placed in front of them or may be blocking them.
If you have turned it on and everything seems fine there are still a number of other air conditioner maintenance steps you should take. Go outside to your condenser unit. Look around it. Make sure there are no leaves or other debris on top of it or inside the case. If there are leaves inside, use a leaf blower to remove them. Pull any vines that might be growing on or near it. Spray the entire mechanism and blades down with a mild detergent, allow it to sit a few minutes, then hose it off. Trim all shrubs and bushes back a minimum of 15 inches from the unit and keep the top free and clear of everything, up to three feet. This three foot clearance includes awnings that might be on a window above it. This three foot clearance is necessary for air to circulate around the unit to ventilate it properly. If you have root mulch at the base, pull it back a few inches so it does not get pulled or kicked in. If you have a condensate pump for your air conditioning system make sure it is plugged in at this time. The condensate pump operates to pump the condensate water created by the cooled air out of your home and away from your air handler. Usually the water exits the pump through a ¾ inch pvc pipe near your condenser unit outdoors. Make sure the end of this pipe is clear of debris and there is ample room for the water to flow out and away.
Next, go back indoors and locate your air handler. In many cases this will in a crawl space, basement or utility room. It is often part of the heating system, or, in the case of baseboard heat, a stand-alone mechanism. Change the filter even if you just recently did it. This is very important in spring due to the pollen that is so heavy in our state. Many manufacturers claim that their filters are good for several months; this is not always the case. There are many factors that affect the efficiency of filters including the number of pets in the home, the environment, and trees around the home. Changing the filter is a cheap but often overlooked step – just do it.
If your house has a whole-house humidifier on the heating/cooling system, this is a good time to maintain that appliance also. It is very important to shut off the water supply to the humidifier unit. Leading to your humidifier you will find a clear hose or copper line. At the end of this there should be a valve. Turn it right until it stops; this should turn off the water supply. Humidity makes us uncomfortable and can lead to mold issues so simply ensuring that you are not adding moisture to the air is a simple, effective step. There is usually a humidifier damper in the duct work adjacent to the unit. Make sure it is in the “closed” position. Many installers will mark the duct with a “winter/open” position and a “summer/closed” position. If you are in doubt, you may want to phone your installer for assistance.
Some houses are built with both upper and lower air ducts (these are sometimes called High/Low Vents or Stacked Vents). If your house has a system like this, this is the time of the year to make the adjustments. Be sure to close off all of your lower vents and open your upper vents. Cool air naturally sinks (falls) so if your upper vents are open your house will cool more efficiently. If after closing the bottom vents you notice some whistling noises, you can crack the top or the bottom vent opening just a little bit and this should alleviate the pressure and thus stop the whistling.
Any other maintenance steps other than these described above, you may need to call a professional HVAC technician for assistance. If you need your air conditioner coils cleaned or if you have a mold issue, call a insured professional and have it done properly. You may also want to consider having your air ducts professionally cleaned out. The money you spend on this service will be offset by the increased operating efficiency you will experience as a result. Your system will also experience less wear and tear, and should last longer. The installation of an attic fan is another step you might consider to improve your system’s efficiency.