Central air conditioning systems require maintenance to ensure they operate as efficiently as possible, and to lessen the chance of a breakdown during high volume use. There are many parts of a central air conditioning system that require routine maintenance. One of the most important maintenance tasks is the routine replacement or cleaning of your air filters, preferably on a monthly basis during seasonal usage.

Clogged, or dirty air filters block the normal air flow of your system, and therefore, reduces the efficiency of your system significantly. Replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can increase your air conditioning’s efficiency by about 10%. Filters are routinely located somewhere near the indoor equipment, or somewhere along the return duct. In many cases, it is located inside a return air grill that is fastened to the wall or ceiling.

When filters are obstructed, the air that is pulled in through the return duct work can carry dirt into the evaporator coil, creating a blockage, which inhibits the cooling ability and efficiency of the system. Furthermore, a blocked evaporator coil will cause your outdoor unit undue wear and tear, causing more frequent breakdowns.

Homes with pets should check their filters more frequently, and consider higher efficiency filters, as pet dander and hair can easily clog a filter within a couple of weeks.

Without regular maintenance an air conditioning system loses about 5% of its original efficiency for each year of operation. This means that the 13 SEER unit that you bought a few years ago may be functioning like a 10 SEER unit today. Studies show that with regular tune-ups a unit will maintain up to 95% of its original efficiency.

As part of the routine maintenance to your equipment, your evaporator coil should be checked annually, and your outdoor condenser should be cleared from debris, long grass, brush and shrubs. Blocked coils reduce air flow and insulates the coil, reducing its ability to absorb heat, which is what your air conditioning system is designed to do.

In the beginning of the season, and prior to starting your air conditioning system, go to the outdoor unit to make sure there is nothing covering the top or sides of the unit. Remove any leaves, branches or paper that may have got caught on the sides or inside the unit. With the condenser off, you can easily hose down the inside and outside of your outdoor unit.

Foliage and shrubs should be trimmed back at least 2 feet from the condenser to allow for adequate airflow.

Checking the condition of the outdoor unit should be done routinely as well. The budding of trees in the early spring creates a lot of pollen. This pollen and other light weight debris can easily be sucked into the unit, causing it to operate inefficiently. A good routine would be to check your outdoor condenser every time you change your air filter to make sure it is free of damage and any blockage.

When looking at your condenser, check the coil fins, as they are easily bent and can block air flow. Air conditioning wholesalers sell a tool called a fin comb that can help comb the fins back to their original position. If you notice that your coils are beyond repair, or missing, consult with a professional air conditioning contractor to assess whether your system is repairable.

You may not know until it’s too late, but a byproduct of your air conditioning system is condensation. Not only do dirty filters cause your system to operate inefficiently, they also cause the dirt to accumulate on your evaporator coil. As the indoor coil creates condensation, the dirt, dander and hair drips down with the water into your coil pan and condensate drain line. This dirt creates a blockage, and as many homeowners know, causes water to back up and leak all around the indoor equipment.

A condensate leak can be catastrophic, especially if your air handler is located in your attic. A restriction in your condensate line could cause severe damage, including water damage to your ceilings and lighting fixtures.

When your air conditioning system needs more than regular maintenance, or it hasn’t been serviced in a while, hire a professional service technician. A well-trained technician can properly service your equipment, address any concerns you may have, check if the system is operating safely and efficiently, and identify any unforeseen issues.

During the maintenance visit the technician will take a look at each component of your air conditioning system. The technician will make sure that your coils are clean, and replace or clean your air filters, and clear your condensate drain line and condensate pump, if you have one. In addition, the technician will inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections, and check the accuracy of your thermostat.

The technician will also check to see if your system is correctly charged with refrigerant. A system that is only 10% low on refrigerant can cost you about 20% more to operate.

If your unit is low on coolant, and more must be added, there are new laws governing the use of certain types of refrigerant found in older systems. Freon in particular, also known as R-22 refrigerant, is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) that will damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer if released into the atmosphere. The laws governing CFC’s do not allow your air conditioning contractor to add Freon to a leaking system. If your system is low, speak with the technician about your options and try to find the best solution for you and your family.

The investment in having a professional check your system operation before the season starts is worth the time and expense. It will provide you the comfort of knowing that when you are ready to turn your air conditioning system on, it will be ready for uninterrupted use.

If repairs related to lack of preventive maintenance occur during the high temperatures of the summer it can be a big inconvenience, and can lead to costly emergency repairs. Repairs like condensate leaks that cause water to leak from the indoor coil or no cooling because of a dirty condenser coil, can be avoided by just having some simple maintenance provided during the pre-season.

All air conditioning equipment, even new systems, require routine maintenance. It will increase the life span of the equipment, increase your comfort and provide energy savings, requiring you to spend less money on your electric bill.

Jim Hall, President
Jim Hall HVAC
(718) 948-2456