Like a car, air conditioning systems require routine maintenance to maintain efficiency and proper operation. It is recommended that you perform comprehensive service at least once a year, and replace air filters once every one to two months during summer operation. Although some central air conditioning maintenance can be done by a homeowner, some of the work may require a licensed professional.

A comprehensive maintenance by a professional, licensed HVAC service company should include cleaning the condensing unit coil, checking the evaporator coil to make sure there is no blockage, corrosion or leaks, changing the air filter, checking the electrical connections of all the equipment and components, clearing the condensate lines, checking the system’s refrigerant pressures and temperatures against the manufacturer’s specifications, as well as checking the overall condition of the equipment.

Without regular maintenance an air conditioner loses about 5% of its original efficiency for each year of operation. This means that the 13 SEER unit that you bought just a few years ago may be functioning like a 10 SEER unit today! The good news is that you can recover most of that lost efficiency by servicing your equipment now. Studies show that with regular maintenance a unit will maintain up to 95% of its original efficiency. It is certain that the ROI (return on investment) is worth the effort, given the potential electrical savings and reduced chance of a mechanical breakdown. A properly serviced air conditioning system will also do a better job of dehumidifying your home.

Many local licensed air conditioning companies offer preventive maintenance agreements, where the annual service is included.  Ideally this service would be provided in early Spring or the beginning of Fall, but if you’ve just realized it has been a while since your last service, it is not too late to make an appointment.  If you wait, and your air conditioning system breaks down because of lack of preventive maintenance, it 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 the maintenance done.

There are some things in addition to yearly tune-ups that you can do to help ensure a high level of comfort and proper system operation. First, buy good filters and change them monthly, or at least every other month during summer operation. Ask your service company to provide you the air filter size and keep a box of filters handy. Next, keep bushes and debris away from the outdoor air conditioning condenser. It can damage or dent the protected fins, which can affect the operation of your air conditioning system.  Furthermore, keep pets away from the outdoor unit as urine can cause it to rust and rot.

If you have a sense that your air conditioning system isn’t working properly, you are probably right and should have a licensed professional diagnose the program. Continuing to use your air conditioning system if it is on the fritz or beginning to show signs of a more complicated repair can further damage the equipment and cause electrical components to burn out, or even worse, burn other components out.

While away from your home during the day, or while on vacation, keep your air conditioning on – set a little higher than when you are at home.  This will allow your home to maintain a lower humidity level, and will allow your home to cool down on a hot summer day when you return.  By shutting down your system completely, your system may not be able to make up the temperature difference once it is turned on.  A hot and humid house can damage wood casings, flooring and furniture.

All equipment, even the most reliable, needs routine maintenance. As the air conditioning industry manufactures more intricate electronic safeties and components in their equipment, it is more important than ever to have it serviced regularly.  Equipment that is maintained operates more efficiently, provides cooler, less humid air and is less likely to experience emergency breakdowns. Translating that to the end user experience – the equipment will just last longer, you will be more comfortable, and your energy bills will be less.

Jim Hall, President – Jim Hall HVAC