5 Secrets for Getting Your A/C Ready for Summer


5 important ways you can get your central air conditioning into tiptop shape before the summer heat hits.

too hot too coldCohdra | MorgueFile

When the temperature rises, don’t be caught hot!

On the first really hot day of summer, the last thing you want is to flip the switch on your central air conditioner only to find that it doesn’t work.

When an air conditioner sits idle for months, collecting leaves and debris, a bit of maintenance is often needed to get it running properly. If you don’t do this maintenance before summer arrives, you may end up waiting several hot days for a busy service pro—and paying top-of-the- season prices, to boot.

Now is the time to get your A/C system working well. You can call an A/C pro to do this–but that may cost you $250 or more. Here you will learn how to replace the filters, clean the condenser, and otherwise get your AC unit into tiptop shape so that it’s ready to operate and cool your home efficiently.

 

A/C Basics

A central air conditioner utilizes an indoor air handler and an outdoor compressor.

A central air conditioner utilizes an indoor air handler and an outdoor compressor.

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. Together these extract heat from room air through refrigeration technology. The air handler or furnace blower blows the resulting chilled and dehumidified air through ductwork to the home’s rooms. (For more about this, see How a Central Air Conditioner Works.)

Repairs to a central air conditioner’s sealed refrigeration system are not a do-it-yourself job. They should be handled by a professional HVAC service pro. You can, however, 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.

 

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Turn off the circuit breaker before working on the AC system.

Safety First

Before working on a central air conditioner, always turn off the power to the condenser at the service panel, as shown at right. The condenser also typically has a 240-volt weatherproof disconnect box located near the unit; this contains a lever, fuses, or a circuit breaker to shut off the condenser. Turn this off, too.

(Note: The condenser contains a capacitor that stores an electrical charge and can be dangerous; allow about a half hour for the charge in the capacitor to dissipate. As an added precaution, avoid touching all electrical components. The furnace or air-handler cabinet often has a separate switch or a circuit breaker in the main electrical panel to control it. Shut this off, too.)
1

Clean or Replace the Filters

This is the easiest and often most important step. Clean or replace your furnace or air-handler filters twice a year or whenever they begin to look clogged with dust. If you don’t, air flow will be restricted, reducing efficiency, and you will recirculate dust into your home. For information on how to do this, see How to Replace Furnace & AC Filters.
2

Clean the A/C Condenser Coils

A central air conditioner’s condenser unit, typically located outdoors, is like a large fan in a metal box with sides that look like grilles. Ideally, it is protected through the winter by a condenser cover or tarp to prevent accumulation of debris inside it. Otherwise, it is likely to contain leaves, yard debris, and dirt—and you will need to clean it.

Central AC unit's outdoor compressor unit contains a fan that should be clear of debris.©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Central AC unit’s outdoor compressor unit contains a fan that should be clear of debris.

A large fan inside the metal box moves air across radiator-style condenser coils. If debris has gotten inside the unit, dirt has probably clogged some of the coils, as shown at right. Anything that obstructs the flow of air will cut down the condenser’s efficiency, so these coils should be cleaned at the beginning of every cooling season if they are clogged.

To clean the coils, you’ll need to remove the side and top panels or protective grilles from the condenser unit, using a screwdriver or a nut driver, depending upon the type of fasteners that have been used. Be sure the power to the unit is turned off before you open up the condenser. Just unscrew the side panels and pull them away from the unit, and then lift off the top, which may be heavy due to the weight of the fan attached to it. Don’t tug any of the wires connected to the fan.

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Dirt caked onto the coils of an AC condenser unit reduces efficiency.

Using a refrigerator coil brush or a soft brush on a vacuum, gently clean the coils from the outside of the unit. Be careful not to bend the delicate fins or damage the coils. If you do bend the fins, you can straighten them with a “fin comb” made for this purpose. After cleaning from the outside, vacuum the coils from the inside.

To release stubborn debris, spray on a commercial coil cleaner from the inside, being careful not to spray the fan or electrical components. Sometimes it’s necessary to use a hose with a trigger-style nozzle to blast dirt and debris out of the coils from inside the unit with a strong but focused stream, but be very careful if you do this. Take care not to bend the fins, flood the area, or spray water on electrical components or the fan motor so cover those parts with a plastic garbage bag. Also be aware that doing this can cause mud to block some of the areas between the fins, so you will need to be thorough.

HA2016 Air-Conditioners---Central

3

Clean and Clear Debris

Scoop leaves and debris out of the base of the condenser and, if it has a drain, make sure the drain is clear.

Use the vacuum and a rag to clean the blower’s fan blades. Then tighten any loose mounting bolts and, if the fan motor has oil ports, put a few drops of lightweight oil or spray WD-40 into the ports for lubrication. Mop up any excess water inside the unit, and then reassemble the condenser.

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Replace frayed or missing insulation on coolant lines.

Cut and remove any weeds or vines that may obstruct airflow through the condenser unit.

4

Check the Coolant Lines

The refrigerant tubes or pipes that run from the evaporator on the air handler to the condenser outside are typically covered with foam coolant line insulation to prevent them from losing energy. If you see areas where the insulation is frayed or missing, replace it. To do this, install foam insulation sleeves or wrap the lines in a spiral fashion with foam insulation tape (you can cut both with a utility knife).

5

Test the Unit

Allow the unit to dry thoroughly and then turn the power to the condenser back on by doing the following: First, turn the thermostat in your home to OFF. Then turn on the power at both the disconnect box and at the main panel. Last, switch the thermostat to COOL.

If your A/C unit isn’t running properly, please see Central Air Conditioner Troubleshooting & Repairs or call an A/C repair pro (below).

get an a/c service pro

 

If you would rather hire an air-conditioning pro to inspect and maintain your AC equipment, Home Advisor—a FREE service—will help you find a qualified local AC professional.

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
1-866-342-3263

Join the Conversation

  • Julia Hilger

    I just replaced the filters on my central a.c. unit and now it won’t go back on…help!

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      I’m going to assume you opened up the air handler (furnace) and replaced the filter inside it. There is a small switch on the panel/door that must be depressed by the door in order for the unit to work. Be sure the panel/door is back on the unit properly.

  • Cristina Kiki Avila

    My central air doesn’t shut off when temp has been reached. I switched the thermostat to off and the fan is still running. It’s too cold in my house. What am I doing wrong?

    • Motor Club of America

      Is it set on automatic shut off or just fan? When it’s set at automatic it will shut off once the temp has been reached.

  • That’s all good to know. We usually go from 1 straight to number 5 and skip everything in between :)

  • Casa Smith

    I live in South Florida and my air handler is in garage with temps as high as 98 degrees. Can I wrap my handler with foil insulation

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      Casa, foil insulation is most effective at bouncing away radiant heat—seems to me that the ambient air temperature is more the problem in your garage. Is your delivery ductwork wrapped with fiberglass insulation? That would probably be the most effective thing you can do, since the air is moving through the air handler and then all of the ductwork.

      • Casa Smith

        Dan

        Yes duct work in attic wrapped. My question is more towards the handler garage.

        A/C works fine just thought maybe it would be a good idea.

        Thanks,

        Alicia

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