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How To: Tune Up Your AC

How To: Tune Up Your ACIt’s summer time and and the heat is here! We Americans are pushing our air conditioners to the max as our utility bills are pushing our wallets to the max.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Modern AC units are extremely long-lived and efficient, but just like anything, they are not completely maintenance free. A little care each year will help your AC not only keep everyone cool, but also keep us from busting our budgets.

There are a few simple things you can do to keep your unit running at peak efficiency. They are really so simple that anyone can do them in just a couple hours each year.

1. Change the AC Filters

The simplest place to start is to make sure you change the air filters on your HVAC system at least every 3 months. During heavy use, it’s best to change them every month if possible. Dirty filters make your system work harder to get the air it needs and that causes more wear and higher bills.

Be sure to clean off the grill on the returns if they are dusty too. Also, consider using a mid-range (MERV rating of 5-8) filter unless you have serious allergies, asthma, or other breathing issues. These filters allow more air flow than higher rated filters. The higher the number, the smaller the particles it filters out. Higher filters (MERV 8-12) are great at removing microscopic particles, but they sacrifice air flow due to their tighter design. If you don’t need the extra filtration, don’t waste the money on more expensive filters and less efficient HVAC energy performance.

2. Keep Plants Away

The outdoor unit on your system needs adequate air flow and if you have a bunch of vines or shrubs growing right around it, then it’s important to keep them trimmed back. Also, if you have lots of trees in the area, then the leaves can build up in the bottom of the compressor and disrupt proper operation. Keep the area clean of obstructions to allow the free flow of air.

On a side note, outdoor units that are in the shade will perform more efficiently as well. So, consider planting a tree in the area to keep your compressor in the shade and you will notice a nice savings in your energy bill right away.

3. Clean the Drain Line

Go to the pantry and grab a 1/4 cup of white vinegar (not red or balsamic, trust me!). Go find the drain line clean out on the indoor unit of your system. Pour in the vinegar. Repeat every 3 months.

Your condensate drain line is constantly filled with water as your system operates and pulls moisture from the air. If you don’t clean it out every few months, it can get clogged by algae and back up your system. It’s a simple but very important part of regular maintenance.

4. Check the Overflow Pan

While you’re looking at the interior unit, take a peek at the overflow pan beneath it. The pan should be dry and rust free. If you see either, then that means there is something wrong. It’s possible your drain line backed up (because you neglected to do #3), or there is something else wrong that is causing water to be somewhere it doesn’t belong. Have this checked out by a pro if you have issues here.

5. Straighten the Fins

If you have bent fins on your condenser coils outside, then your system is not working as efficiently as it could. Usually the damage is caused by stray balls or lawn mowers, but straightening them out with a Fin Comb Set can put things back into line and get back your lost efficiency.

6. Check the Insulation

pipe insulation for refrigerant lines
Pipe insulation for refrigerant lines

The copper lines that run the refrigerant between the inside unit and outside unit should be covered in foam insulation. This insulation keeps the refrigerant as cold as possible and it makes the trip from outside to inside. Without insulation, you’re missing a lot of the cooling power that you’re paying for.

This insulation can break down after just a few years in the sun and may be in need of replacement. You can find replacement pipe insulation at most local hardware stores. Just make sure to check the diameter of your refrigerant lines to make sure you have the right size insulation.

7. Wash the Unit

Your car runs better when it’s clean and so does your AC unit. Pick up some foaming coil cleaner and spray it on your outdoor unit’s coils and then wash it clean. It not only improves your AC’s performance, but it will look great too. Now if only you could get some cools rims for your unit too!

These may all seem like little savings, only a percent here or there, but add all of them up, and you’ll find some significant savings. Not only does this help with your monthly utility bill, but it will also extend the life of your AC unit by a few years. And avoiding buying a whole new system for a few years is a major savings.

Good luck and stay cool!

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2 thoughts on “How To: Tune Up Your AC

  1. What is your opinion on cleaning the air ducts? We have lived in our house for 30 years and never had them cleaned. Just finished remodeling kitchen with lots of dust. Is it necessary?

  2. Great tips for helping your A/C unit last longer, and be more efficient! I’ve got an A/C system that is at least 20 years old and works ok, but is probably pretty inefficient. It drains outdoors, the fins on the compressor are badly bent, and there’s zero insulation on the line running into the house. Probably time to spend a little time on it to fix it up!

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