Air Conditioning Service, Repair, and Maintenance – All You Need to Know

Published by 
AllThingsHVAC
Last updated: 
August 2, 2016

Choosing the Right Air Conditioning Service: Comfort or Misery

The air conditioner is a vital part of our homely existence. It has multiple functions that keep us happy and comfortable, which include cooling, heating, dehumidifying, and cleaning the air of possibly dangerous particles. Therefore, when it breaks down, immediate action must be taken, to ensure it’s back on track in no time. But how do you do it? Do you do it yourself or do you use the proverbial ‘call a guy’ method? If you’re not quite sure what to do, this article will definitely help you. Moreover, we have also listed some top tips and tricks to maintain your AC unit, apart from fixing it.

What does actually go wrong with an AC unit?

As opposed to furnaces, which are quite simple, AC units are complex pieces of equipment. This means they require a whole array of conditions to work properly. For example, they need to have a certain size, so as not to hang too heavy on the house. They must also have a certain volume of refrigerant, also known as the ‘charge,' they need a certain amount of air to flow through the coils and many other criteria that need to be met. When one of these criteria is not met, the entire system will suffer.

Here are some examples of things that may go wrong with your AC and what causes them.

  • if you generate more heat indoors than you normally do, because you are having a party and there are a lot of people in the house or because you’ve plugged in a high number of appliances at the same time, the AC will not be able to keep up
  • if the refrigerant leaks out, evidently the AC will not have the same power to cool the air anymore
  • if airflow across the condenser reduces, so will the AC’s ability to reject heat outdoors. Yet again, its capacity to keep up when the load increases will diminish, especially when confronted with high outdoor temperatures
  • the same problem occurs in dry climates, only with the indoor (evaporator) coil. A low airflow hurts it.
  • In humid climates, the problem tends to become more complex. When the airflow is high, there will be less humidification, which will lead to high indoor humidity. But, if the airflow gets too low, the evaporator coil will actually freeze. Not only will this make the AC’s performance drastically decrease, but its compressor can fail. This means you will have to seek help to repair it, and it will not come in cheap.

Air conditioning repair and service – how to do it yourself

If you’ve decided not to ‘call a guy’ and tackle the AC repair yourself, it’s best if you start by doing some research. To help you with that, here are some DIY AC repair and service projects you can try at home and all the ins and outs to help you make them successful.

#1. Cleaning the AC in the spring

This is one chore you’ll be grateful you performed. Not only will you be more comfortable in using you AC afterwards, but you will also pay less on your cooling bills. There are three ways in which you can clean the AC.

Method 1 - Cleaning the indoor unit of an AC

  1. Turn off the power towards your furnace or blower. If you can’t find the switch, turn it off from the main panel or unplug it.
  2. Replace the air filter. Make sure you consult the manual before you buy a new one, to make sure it’s the right size.
  3. Vacuum all the visible dust, hair, and debris in the blower compartment.
  4. If the motor is equipped with lubrication ports, pour a few drops of oil into it, according to the manual specifications.
  5. Check to see if any algae have grown in the condensation tube. If so, remove them and pour a solution made of bleach and water into it.
  6. Clean the drain tube using a brush with small bristles
  7. Hook the drain line back to the unit and restart it carefully.

Method 2 – cleaning the outdoor unit of an AC

  1. Shut down the power at the shutoff box which should be located on the exterior of your house. If there is no visible shutoff box, turn off the circuit breaker which normally powers the AC. Either way, the appliance needs to be turned off completely, to avoid it starting unexpectedly and causing accidents.
  2. Vacuum the condenser fins using the attachment that has a soft-bristle brush. Make sure to check for any debris or gunk that might be trapped in there, such as leaves, grass or weeds. Also, trim all the greens surrounding the box, so that it’s completely free on a 2 feet radius.
  3. There should be a grille on top of your AC, which you need to unscrew and take off. You will notice the fan lifts even without it, so be careful not to damage the electrical wires. Gently clean the fan with a damp cloth.
  4. Should your fan have lubrication ports, pour a few oil drops into it. Make sure the oil is specially made for electrical motors and not regular oil.
  5. You can also clean the empty unit from the inside out, by lowering a water hose in it and lightly spraying it.
  6. Re-assemble everything together and screw the lid back on.
  7. Disable the AC by going inside the house and switching it from ‘cool’ to ‘off’.
  8. Allow it to sit idle for 24 hours so that it has time to dry out completely.
  9. Restart it and wait at least 10 minutes for it to start working again.
  10. Check to see if it works correctly.

Method 3 – cleaning a room AC

  1. Just like for the other two, you need first to unplug the room AC or turn off the breaker that leads to that circuit.
  2. Remove the appliance’s rear exhaust panel and clean all its fins and coils with the soft-bristled brush of your vacuum cleaner.
  3. Remember to check the drain channels for clogs. They are usually located at the bottom of the AC. Should you find any clogs, clean them with a pipe cleaner.
  4. Remove the ACs front grill, take out the filter and clean it. You can do so by either vacuuming it or washing it with some sudsy water, lukewarm. Before you reattach the filter to the unit itself, make sure it has completely dried off.
  5. Power it back up

Maintaining your AC

As far as central air maintenance goes, the old saying does prove to be correct once more – it’s better to maintain it than having to fix it. There is a whole array of things you can do to make sure it keeps running as smoothly as when you bought it. These things, if done correctly and at regular intervals, will not only help your AC not breaking down but will save you energy as well. Therefore, here are the most important things you can do to maintain your AC.

  1. Arguably the most important task you need to perform is to clean regularly the ACs filters. It will ensure it keeps on running efficiently, because a dirty or clogged filter blocks the normal air flow and forces your AC to run twice as hard, overheat and, sometimes, malfunction.
    Also, replacing a dirty filter will lower the unit’s energy intake by 5% to 15%. Filters need to be replaced every one or two months, but you may need to do it more often if there is an infant or a pet in the house.
  2. Cleaning the evaporator and condenser coils is important as well. They collect an incredible amount of dirt over the years which insulates the coils and reduces their ability to take in heat. Therefore, the coils need to be checked and cleaned every year. The time between cleanings can be even longer, seeing as the filters, if clean, normally trap all the dirt and dust before they reach the coils.
  3. Clean the coil fins. The evaporator and condenser coils have some fins that can easily be clogged by debris or get bent. If so, they will block the airflow that should normally run through the coils. Use a ‘fin comb’ to comb them back into their original position.
  4. Clean the unit’s drains by inserting a stiff wire through them from time to time. If they are clogged, they will stop the AC from absorbing humidity. In turn, this might discolor your walls and carpets and produce condensation.
  5. Cover the outdoor part of your AC in the winter to protect it from the bad weather and debris flying around.

Hiring a professional to manage the central air conditioning repair service

In case you do not wish to turn fixing and even maintaining your AC into a DIY job, you can always hire a professional. In terms of central air service, here’s what he or she should do.

  1. Check if the unit has a sufficient volume of refrigerant
  2. Test said refrigerant for any leaks that might damage the unit
  3. Capture all the refrigerant that escapes the unit and not release it into the environment, as that is illegal
  4. Check to see if there are any seal duct leakages in the central system
  5. Check the evaporator coil by measuring the airflow that passes through it
  6. Inspect all the electrical terminals, apply a non-conductive coating if they need it, and clean and tighten all the connections
  7. He or she should also check the oil motors and the belts to see if they have worn down or lost their tightness
  8. Check how accurate the thermostat is.

Checking, maintaining, and repairing the AC unit might seem like a daunting task or a somewhat unpleasant chore but, as we demonstrated above, it’s crucial. Not only will checking and maintaining it keeps it from breaking down, but it will save you money and energy as well.

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