Ask The Contractor: Things To Know About Air Conditioner Maintenance

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Summertime is upon us. While that’s welcome news for many, it also means it’s time to start thinking about the state of our air conditioners. The change of seasons is an excellent time to fire up that central, window or portable unit and ensure the AC works properly. After that, it’s time to prioritize maintenance to keep it in good shape for years to come. We spoke with our resident expert for insight and how-tos related to air conditioner maintenance.

Q: How do you maintain an air conditioner?

A: Several steps are involved in maintaining your HVAC continuously, and even the best air conditioners on the market require routine check-ups. Regardless of whether you have a window or portable unit or a central AC system, the most important steps are to keep clutter away from the machines to allow abundant air flow at all times and to keep the inside and outside as clean as possible.

Keeping an air conditioner clean means replacing the filters often to allow air movement and help ensure the condenser coils remain free of grime. Scrubbing the condensate drain and the evaporator coils is necessary too. Also, if you have window or portable units, anytime you do maintenance, check the window seal around the air conditioner or the window vent.

Q: How often do you need to change the filters?

A: Filter changing frequency varies depending on how often the air conditioner runs, the number of furry pets in the home and how much dust gets into the system. The only rule is to change the air filter before it becomes clogged, allowing air to pass around, rather than through it. Unfiltered air will dirty the condenser coils and reduce HVAC efficiency.

Typically, a standard filter for a central AC will last for a month or two during the cooling season. If you’re uncertain, check every two weeks, and when dust accumulates on the outside of the filter, change it. Families with several furry pets will likely need to change filters more often.

The same rules apply to filters on window and portable ACs. The filters in these units are often reusable and simply need occasional cleaning rather than replacement. Typically, you’ll find the filters behind the machine’s front panel or air intake.

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Q: What does cleaning the coils mean, and how do you do it?

A: Air conditioners have two sets of coils, including evaporative and condensing. The evaporator coils are inside the air conditioner and typically only require annual cleaning during your HVAC tune-up. However, for window and portable air conditioners, you may be able to cleanse the evaporator coils with mild detergent and water.

The condenser coils are outside the home for central and window air conditioners and inside the machine on portable ones. You can recognize them by the numerous fins encasing the coil.

Thorough cleaning is often part of your annual tune-up. However, the coils do require some maintenance throughout the season.

Maintaining the coils starts with spraying off the built-up debris with a garden hose, followed by straightening any bent or damaged fins with a fin comb that can be found at most hardware stores. For a deeper refresh, you can spray on coil cleaning solution, which is also available at most hardware shops. But the important part is to get the thick debris off to allow airflow.

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Q: What is a condensate drain, and how do you keep it clean?

A: All types of air conditioners that use condensation and evaporation have a drain to funnel away excess water that’s removed from the air during the AC process. Central air units typically have a drain pan and hose leading away from the furnace area to a drain. Window units empty directly outside the window. And portable ACs require a drain hose or occasional manual emptying.

Add about a cup of vinegar every couple of months to the drain pan located directly underneath the evaporator coils to maintain the drain and keep the water flowing. If the drain becomes plugged, use a wet and dry vac to remove the debris and run hot water and vinegar through the drain.

A clogged drain will eventually cause a central AC to turn off until it’s repaired, window ACs could begin to drip water inside the house and portable ones will stop working until they’re emptied.


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