On the first day of a scorching Southern California summer, the last thing you want is to flip the switch on your air conditioner only to find that it does not work. When an air conditioner unit sits idle for months, collecting leaves and debris, a bit of maintenance is often needed to get it running properly.
If you wait until summer arrives to do this maintenance you may end up waiting several hot days for a busy service professional. Spring is the time to get your AC system in good working order.
Here you will learn what you should be doing now to get your AC unit into tiptop shape so that it is ready to operate and cool your home efficiently.
Central Air Conditioning Basics
A central air-conditioning system employs two main components: a condenser unit, which is typically located outdoors, and an evaporator unit mounted on the air handler or furnace. A central air conditioner cools in a single location, then distributes that cooled air throughout the house using a series of fans and ducts. When connected to the home’s furnace, the combined central heating and cooling is frequently called “forced air.”
Central air conditioning is an alternative to room air conditioners, such as window units or ductless mini-splits, which cool only the area directly around them.
You can do certain cleaning and maintenance tasks yourself to ensure efficient operation and keep the need for professional service people to a minimum. Some of those tasks are detailed below.
Spring HVAC Preventive Maintenance Check, Step by Step
1. Turn Your Air Conditioner On
If you live in Southern California, you likely live in a warm climate, meaning that your AC is probably already on full blast. But if you live in a cooler part of the state, it may have been months since you turned on your AC. Regardless of your climate, turn your system on now and check the air that comes out of the vents. Is it cold? That is a good sign that your air conditioning is running properly. If not, that is the first sign that something is wrong. But before you rush to call an HVAC professional, run through the rest of the checklist. You might be able to figure out the problem on your own.
2. Check Your Thermostat
How old is your thermostat? Thermostats come in all shapes and sizes these days and also have a wide variety of exciting features. Most are programmable, and some are even functional via WiFi when you are away from home. Most are easy to install on your own, too.
A new thermostat is a great investment any time a few years have passed; you will be amazed at what they can do today. You can save hundreds of dollars on heating and cooling each year with an updated thermostat. If yours looks like it is a decade or more old, it is probably time for a new one.
3. Remove Outside Debris Away from Your Air Conditioner
Depending on where you live, your outdoor unit can get covered with blown leaves, fallen branches, overgrown grass and other nuisances. It is important to make sure that your outdoor unit is free from all forms of debris such as tree limbs, leaves, pollen and large amounts of dirt. To accomplish this, we recommend performing the tasks below.
- Inspect the outdoor AC unit for tree limbs and leaves. Clean up any debris on or near it. Trim back branches and cut the grass around it. Try to provide a clear path of about 2 feet around the unit.
- If there are trees or shrubs lying on or against the unit, trim them as needed.
- Inspect the outdoor AC unit for any large amounts of dirt or pollen that has built up on the unit. Wash off the dirt or pollen or use a brush to clean it off.
Perform this task every week or two to keep the outdoor unit clear of any harmful debris. This can help prevent unnecessary breakdowns and the need for ac repair services.
4. Change the Air Filter
Change your air filter every other month to keep the air cleaner and to ensure your system runs smoothly. If you cannot remember the last time you changed it, it has been too long. One of the most common causes of major repairs and increased energy bills is a dirty or clogged air filter.
If you are not sure where the air filter is located, it is going to be with the furnace or air handler. The furnace/air handler is typically located in a closet indoors, the garage, or in the attic. The video below should provide you with some basic understanding of where the filter is located and how to inspect it and change it.
Follow the steps below to proceed:
- First, turn off your furnace or ac system at the thermostat. Simply set the setting to “off”.
- Check your air filter and determine if it is dirty or clogged. If the filter is dirty or if it has not been replaced in the last 90 days, replace it now.
5. Inspect the Registers and Vents
Inspecting your HVAC registers, also known as return vent covers, helps keep extra dirt and dust out of your air filter. It also helps prevent any hindered airflow to your HVAC system. Registers look like vent covers, but are actually used to pull in air into the furnace/air handler.
First, turn on your AC, so you can spot any leaks. Start with the duct connected to your outside unit and then check the ducts that are visible in your home. Hold up a stick of lit incense, a thin piece of toilet paper, or even your wet hand, and move it along the outside of the ducts. If there is a leak, smoke from the incense will be sucked up or twirled in an unusual pattern. The piece of toilet paper will flutter. Your hand will feel air. All of these indicate that there could be leaks.
Follow the steps below to inspect and clean your registers and vents:
- Inspect your registers and if they have dirt or dust built up on them, go ahead and wipe them off.
- Check behind large items, such as furniture, and make sure all of your registers have plenty of room to pull in air.
- Clean off any dust or dirt that might be on your vent covers as well.
6. Clean the Air Conditioner Coils
You will typically find your condenser unit located outside the home. It is a big metal structure with grilles on the side. You will notice large fan blades when looking through the grilles.
Clean out any dirt, leaves or other debris that may have accumulated since last summer. Dirt and debris have a tendency to clog the condenser coils, which look like radiator-style fins. This needs to be cleaned out so the condenser coils can perform correctly as the large fan blades move across them.
Correctly cleaning the condenser coils each spring goes a long way in avoiding the need for repairs or a complete AC system replacement. In order to perform this maintenance job, a nut driver or screwdriver is used to remove the grilles or top panels that protect the condenser unit. Care must be used to avoid loosening any fan wires as the side panels and top are lifted off the entire unit.
The condenser coils can be cleaned with a soft vacuum brush or a refrigerator coil brush. It may be necessary to use commercial coil cleaner when removing caked-on dirt and debris. It’s important that the unit’s electrical components or fan aren’t sprayed with coil cleaner. Your AC unit’s efficiency will increase once you have the condenser coils properly cleaned.
7) Consider Professional HVAC Maintenance
So far, we have shared some simple HVAC maintenance tasks that can be accomplished by most people. But you really should have a professional come out and perform preventive HVAC maintenance as well. A trained HVAC professional will be able to inspect, clean, and perform tasks that the average person cannot. They will know what to look for and how to perform the proper maintenance tasks effectively.
How Often Should HVAC Maintenance be Performed?
Preventive HVAC maintenance should be performed at least twice a year – once in the Fall and once in the Spring. This ensures that your HVAC system (both your air conditioner and furnace) are prepared to perform for their corresponding seasons.
What Does HVAC Maintenance Include?
Preventive maintenance tasks covered by most professional HVAC companies include:
- Inspecting the coolant levels and pressure
- Inspecting the air filter and changing it if needed (if you don’t want to do it yourself)
- Checking and adjusting the thermostat
- Inspecting wiring, contacts, capacitors, and relays
- Checking and cleaning the evaporator coil
- Inspecting and cleaning the condenser
- Inspecting the condensate drain
- Checking the outdoor disconnect
- Inspecting the condenser fan motor and blades
- Checking the compressor at startup
If You Face Any Issues, Turn the Unit Off Immediately
If the air does not feel cold, or there is no air at all, something is wrong. You should immediately turn off the system at the thermostat. We would recommend going through the checklist one more time. Leaving the system turned on when it is not running properly can do a lot of damage.
If the problem persists, turn the system off, and call a trusted HVAC contractor to diagnose the problem. Finding an HVAC professional to help figure out why your system is not working is always the best idea. A brief inspection of your air conditioner now could help keep your system running smoothly during the summer months. When performing this inspection, take note of the overall system health in order to assess the likelihood of a problem. If your system is old and has endured an unusually harsh season, it might be time to call for help.
A qualified technician can help you do a more thorough spring technical inspection to avoid a system failure in the hottest months of the year. The technician can also help address any concerns you have, so let the contractor know what you found during your own inspection. Summer is just around the corner and no one knows your house better than you.
Benefits of Spring HVAC Maintenance
Some of the benefits of performing HVAC maintenance on your air conditioner in or before the Spring include:
- Air conditioner operating at its peak ability
- Helping prevent major breakdowns and repair costs
- Ensuring airflow is unhindered
- Maximizing the efficiency of your unit (saving money)
- Ensuring the ac unit is clean and free of debris
- Peace of mind knowing that your ac system has been inspected and maintained by a professional
As warm weather approaches, it is important to take a few preventative measures to protect your home through the scorching months. If you follow the Spring HVAC Maintenance Checklist above, your air conditioner will be in a prepared state entering the Spring and Summer months. That’s a pretty nice place to be if you ask me!
You can always count on the Aire-Tech to keep your home cool. Perhaps you need repairs, new thermostat installation, or preventative maintenance—whatever the HVAC issue is, Aire-Tech is ready to help. If your system needs repair or inspection before summer, call us on 951-926-1002. You can also visit our Contact page and complete the contact form.