Your AC unit is a complex system of energy sources and parts that work in harmony to deliver the exact temperature you desire. Besides ruining your home comfort, not taking care of your AC unit can lead to a host of expensive problems and can even affect your health. The last thing you want is to have your AC unit break down in the middle of a heatwave and have to wait days or even weeks to get it repaired. Knowing how to maintain your AC unit and when to call a professional is vitally important. Here’s the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about home AC maintenance.
How Your Air Conditioning System Works
It’s helpful to first understand how your air conditioner works to understand the importance of maintaining your unit. The moment you turn your thermostat on, there’s a series of operations that kickstart to condition the air to your desired temperature. The air inside your home is drawn into the AC duct installation and directed to the furnace. The furnace air filter strains out any airborne pathogens and particles. Compressed refrigerant is sent to the evaporator coils to cool the air as it passes through. Once the air has been conditioned by the furnace, it travels through a network of ducts and dispenses into the various rooms of your home through the vents.
There are three types of air conditioning systems for a residential home. A split-system air conditioner has both an indoor and outdoor unit and offers a variety of options to provide consistent and reliable temperature control. A packaged air conditioner is commonly used in the southern portions of the U.S. and is ideal for rooftop installations. A ductless air conditioner delivers cool air to specific areas of your home. The type of system you choose will depend on your specific needs.
Why You Should Perform Home AC Maintenance
Home AC maintenance can help prevent many of the issues that can cause your system to break down. Outdoor temperature fluctuations, grass clippings, insects, and trapped dirt can take a toll on your system. More than half of HVAC system repair calls are due to a lack of home AC maintenance. By performing regular maintenance, you’ll extend the life of your system and avoid needing a new air conditioning installation. A regularly maintained HVAC system can last you between ten to fifteen years.
Another reason to perform home AC maintenance is to improve the air quality in your home. Proper air filtration can significantly reduce the number of allergens in your home. Mold, insect droppings, and pollen can travel through the ducts of your HVAC system and cause respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Keeping your air conditioner clean and changing the filter regularly will help it remove these allergens so you and your family can live healthier lives.
Home AC Maintenance Costs
The home AC maintenance costs will vary depending on whether you perform them yourself or hire a professional. These costs will also vary depending on what HVAC company you choose. It can cost you around $50 to complete the project yourself. If you need to call an HVAC professional, it can cost you up to $300 for a home visit. This is still much cheaper than having to replace the entire unit.
You can expect to pay anywhere between $4,000 to $12,000 for a new whole house HVAC system installation. The costs for new ductless air conditioning can range from $1,800 to $7,000 on average. If your air conditioner is over 10 years old, it may be more cost-effective to replace it than repair it. The best way to know how much your AC repairs will be is to have a qualified HVAC contractor to perform an inspection and provide you with an estimate.
Schedule a Professional Maintenance Tune-Up
Before the hot weather arrives, it’s a good idea to invest in the inspection and tune-up of your HVAC system. An HVAC company will take a look at your system and make any necessary adjustments to keep it operating at optimum energy-efficient levels. During the HVAC services tune-up, a technician will tighten up all the electrical connections, check the coolant levels, and lubricate the fans. Seasonal tune-ups can increase your energy efficiency by 30% on average. You should consider having a tune-up at least once every two to three years.
Most air conditioners are covered by a warranty. The warranty may require you to have regular tune-ups on your system. If you don’t, you could nullify your warranty. If you need to have home AC maintenance repairs performed and your warranty is nullified, you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for the parts and labor to fix it. This can be quite expensive, depending on what needs to be replaced.
DIY Home AC Maintenance
Home AC maintenance is one of the thousands of DIY projects that don’t take a lot of money to complete. There are a few things you can do yourself to help avoid AC repairs. Before you do any cleaning or maintenance, make sure the unit is turned off and unplugged to prevent any risk of electrical shock. Change the filter once a month and make sure you have the right air filter for your home’s needs. Vacuum the return air ducts when you clean the unit to remove dirt and lint that can block airflow. Inspect the wiring for wear or signs of overheating.
You may also want to check the pipe insulation. If the insulation becomes torn, it can disrupt your air conditioner’s cooling power. Inspect the pipe at the start of every summer and replace it if necessary. If you’ve had rodents or other pests visit your home recently, you may have droppings inside your ducts that can impact your air quality. Get the ducts professionally cleaned by HVAC contractors to improve your home’s air quality. Also, make sure the condensate drain isn’t clogged.
Another home AC maintenance task you can do yourself is cleaning the outside compressor and condenser coils. If you have regular tune-ups from air conditioner repair companies, then you won’t have to worry about this step because it’s included in tune-ups. Wipe down the condenser coils but be careful about getting any electrical connections wet. Straighten any bent fins and remove any grass clippings or other yard debris from the unit. Avoid landscaping or storing any items within two feet of the compressor to prevent airflow from getting blocked.
Professional Home AC Maintenance
There are certain home AC maintenance tasks that you should leave to the professionals. If you’re looking to purchase a new unit, they can recommend one that’s the perfect size and capacity for your home. An HVAC professional can give you the right numbers you need to cool your home in the most efficient way possible. If you’re having electrical issues, you should have an HVAC professional who is more familiar with the wiring system to resolve the issue.
Another issue you’ll want to leave in the hands of the professionals is compressor short-cycling. If your compressor turns on and off every 15 minutes, it can create a significant strain on your AC unit and can be complicated to solve yourself. There are several components that can be at fault and should be left to an experienced HVAC technician to figure out.
Give Your AC System a Break
If your air conditioning unit is running constantly, it will lose its efficiency and need replacement faster. Giving your AC system a break will also lower your monthly energy bills. There are a few things you can do to still stay comfortable without running it constantly. Upgrading to a smart thermostat will help you control your home’s temperature from anywhere so you don’t waste AC when nobody’s at home. Seal air drafts with spray foam, caulk, or weather stripping.
Use heavy drapes or blackout curtains to block out heat from the sun and consider planting trees or shrubs near your windows to provide extra shade. Run the blades counterclockwise on your ceiling fans to better circulate air throughout your home. Run appliances after dark that generate heat, such as the dryer, oven, and dishwasher. Keep your doors and windows closed whenever you run your HVAC system. You can also save money on your energy costs by turning up the temperature on your thermostat by a few degrees.
AC Off-Season Storage
You’ll need to know how to store it properly once summer is over. One AC maintenance tip for off-season storage is covering the exposed pipe of your HVAC unit with a foam pipe cover to protect it from freezing temperatures. Avoid storing your unit in a box or a bag as moisture can get trapped and cause mold to develop. Store the unit in a well-ventilated space such as the attic or basement. Make sure to run a dehumidifier to keep your AC unit free from contaminants that can affect indoor air quality.
Before storing for the winter, make sure your air conditioner is completely turned off. Your air conditioner can kick on during the winter if there’s a warm spell. If that happens, moisture from the ice and snow can get drawn into the unit. To turn off the air conditioner, you must find the outside circuit typically under a flip lid for the condenser unit. You can switch the air conditioner off from there. Cover the unit with a breathable material.
Why You Shouldn’t DIY HVAC Repair
Repairing certain HVAC units can be tricky and dangerous. These units require large amounts of electricity that can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are also chemicals and refrigerants that you may be unfamiliar with. You need proper training and safety equipment to avoid exposing yourself to deadly chemicals. HVAC repairs also require specialized tools to diagnose and repair problems. If you don’t have the right tools, you could damage your HVAC unit.
Small problems can be symptoms of much larger ones. If you attempt to make repairs yourself, you could be patching an issue that can become a more expensive problem down the road. An experienced and licensed HVAC technician will know exactly what to look for and save you money on air conditioning services.
Home AC Maintenance Plan Contracts
Many HVAC companies offer long term home AC maintenance plan contracts that bundle air conditioning and furnace maintenance together. The HVAC professional will check your furnace before the fall season and your air conditioning unit before the summer starts. If you have one of these contracts, you can get priority attention without emergency costs. These home AC maintenance contracts can cost you up to $325 a year and typically include HVAC system tune-ups. You can expect a discount between 5% to 15% on parts and repairs.
If your HVAC system is under warranty, an AC home maintenance contract may not make financial sense. Wait until the warranty expires to sign one of these contracts to achieve the maximum value. Compare the costs and services of various plans before signing any agreements. Be wary of any company that offers free tune-up for your HVAC system.
There are a few things you should look for before signing an AC home maintenance contract. Research the company and make sure they’re reputable and have the proper licenses and certifications. Inspect the contract thoroughly and make sure all services and payment terms are clearly detailed. Ask questions about anything that you don’t understand. Inquire if your maintenance contract can be customized for your specific needs.
If you don’t want to get stuck in a hot house waiting for the repairman to fix your air conditioner, home AC maintenance should be at the top of your priority list. You can save yourself time, money, and a few headaches by keeping your HVAC system in optimal condition. Use the information in this guide to maintain your unit properly and you’ll be able to enjoy cool air this summer and for many summers to come.