Air conditioner maintenance

… isn’t a bunch of hot air—in fact, it’s pretty darn important considering your unit will probably be running nonstop during the hot summer months. If you’re used to living in a crisp, temperature-controlled environment, you know the pain of having to repair a malfunctioning AC unit when it’s sweltering outside.

To prevent your AC from glitching out too soon, there are some basic but essential steps you should take throughout the year.

1. Change the air filter

Regularly changing the air filter is key to keeping your AC unit running efficiently.

“A plugged-up filter is going to limit airflow and make the machine work harder, so you’re going to spend more money to cool your house,” says Mike Donley, president of Phoenix-based Donley Plumbing and Air Conditioning.

Change or clean out your filter about once a month, and make sure any replacements are the right size for your specific unit. A pleated filter will catch more debris than a flat one, so take that into consideration when you’re at the hardware store.

2. Clean the coils

The AC unit will also run more efficiently when the coils are clean. Since the coils are located outside on built-in central air systems, you can easily hose off dust and dirt on the coils. Just be sure to unplug the unit before applying any water. The coils should be cleaned once a year.

Changing the filter frequently will help keep the coils clean.

“As long as you’re changing your filter regularly, coils will typically stay clean for 10, 12, or even 14 years,” says Donley. “If you run the unit without a filter, the coil acts as a filter and that loads up with dirt, dust, and pollen.”

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3. Clear the clutter around air vents

Reduced airflow wears out your HVAC system. To make sure it’s working at optimal capacity, remove any objects that are blocking the air vents and returns throughout your home, says Richard Ciresi, owner of Aire Serv in Louisville, KY. This includes everything from last week’s laundry to pet hair.

4. Clear the space around the outdoor unit

The same goes for the outdoor AC unit—it’ll be most efficient if you keep weeds, plants, and debris from building up around it.

“Use a soft broom to remove debris that has gathered on the fins, and a hose to wash off the condensing unit every now and then,” says Ciresi.

5. Unclog the condensate drain tube

When the AC is running, it’s generating moisture and that condensation funnels through the condensate drain tube. If the drain tube gets clogged, mold can grow, or it can flood and cause damage. But you can clear it yourself. This drain is typically located outside the unit or inside a closet.

To clean it, place a wet-dry vacuum over the drain opening. Wrap an old towel around where the drain and the wet-dry vac meet to make sure it’s as air-tight as possible. Run the vacuum for a minute or so to clear the clog.

6. Schedule an AC maintenance audit

If your AC unit is more than 8 years old, you may want to consider booking a maintenance audit with an HVAC company. A thorough appointment should last approximately 30 to 60 minutes and cost around $85 to $100.

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