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Air Conditioners, Maintenance

AC Maintenance

By Ryan Mayes

Find a Carrier expert nearby to help with your air conditioner maintenance.

A couple shaking hands with dealer next to ac after air conditioner maintenance

Basics of Preventative AIR CONDITIONER MAINTENANCE

Most car owners understand how regular maintenance like oil changes, tire rotations and filter changes can go a long way towards maximizing performance. It’s a small price to pay to extend the life of the vehicle. The same goes with air conditioners. And, understanding the value of air conditioner maintenance means understanding a little more about how your air conditioning unit works.

Regular AC maintenance and tune-ups can minimize many of the issues caused by build-up of dirt and debris. If they are performed by an HVAC technician, these inspections allow your contractor to check for longer-term issues and in some cases take proactive steps to prevent premature failure or inconvenient breakdowns during the cooling season.

Annual air conditioner preventative maintenance can not only increase energy efficiency, but may also be a requirement to keep your warranty valid as well. Many manufacturers state on warranty documentation that installation and maintenance by a licensed HVAC professional are a part of the warranty conditions.

A graphic of ac system showing airflow after air conditioner maintenance

Figure 1: Sample Diagram of Air Conditioner

What Does AC Maintenance Include?

When a professional technician conducts AC maintenance, the service typically covers a comprehensive check and tune-up of your system to ensure it is running efficiently and effectively. The technician will start by changing the air filters, which can improve air quality and enhance the system's efficiency. They'll also check the thermostat to ensure it's accurately gauging and controlling the temperature. Additionally, tightening electrical connections is a critical step to prevent potential safety hazards and improve the unit's reliability. Here are some additional tasks usually included in an AC maintenance service:

  • Inspect and clean the condenser coils to ensure they are not hindering the system’s efficiency.
  • Check refrigerant levels, check for refrigerant leaks and recharge if necessary, to keep the system running smoothly without overworking.
  • Clean and adjust the blower components to ensure proper airflow and enhance the system’s overall efficiency.
  • Examine ductwork for leaks which can lead to energy losses and reduced system effectiveness.
  • Lubricate motors and bearings to reduce friction and prevent overheating or wear.
  • Test the system's controls and safety mechanisms to ensure they are functioning correctly, providing safe operation.
  • Clear the condensate drain line to prevent water backup and potential water damage or humidity issues.

A Carrier dealer performing maintenance of AC system.

The complete AC maintenance process usually lasts between 1-2 hours, but this duration may vary based on the system's condition and the specific maintenance tasks needed. Air conditioning professionals advise having a comprehensive service performed every 12 months to maintain peak performance and extend the life of your system. It is recommended to schedule this service in the early spring, before temperatures begin to rise, ensuring your system is prepared for the hotter months ahead.

On average, the cost of professional AC maintenance can range between $65 to $200.1 This variation in price depends on geographic location, the complexity of the system, and the specific services included in the maintenance package. Regular maintenance not only helps in reducing emergency repairs but also contributes to more efficient energy use, which can help save money on heating and cooling bills in the long run. Ensure your system is always running at its best by scheduling your next maintenance check. Find a dealer today and set up an appointment.

AC Maintenance Routine for Homeowners

One of the most effective ways to save money on professional AC maintenance is by taking proactive steps to care for your unit yourself. Regularly keeping your air conditioner free from leaves and other debris, changing its filters, and ensuring that it is serviced annually by a professional can significantly extend its lifespan and enhance its efficiency. These simple routine tasks can prevent more costly repairs and reduce the need for emergency service calls. By keeping your unit well-maintained, you not only save on the costs associated with professional services but also benefit from reduced cooling bills due to more efficient operation.

Clean the Air Conditioner

One simple way to potentially save money and prolong the life of an AC system is to make sure the outdoor unit stays clean. During normal operation, a fan in the outdoor unit pulls air through the condenser coil. Airborne dust and dirt particles and debris from nearby foliage can get lodged in the coil fins, restricting airflow and affecting performance. Four air conditioner preventative maintenance tasks that can keep the outdoor unit clean:

  • Removing debris/foliage: Trim back or clear the area of shrubs or flowers that can restrict airflow to the unit. Physically remove any leaves or other debris that has accumulated near the base of the unit or is clinging to the side of the unit.
  • Vacuum the coil fins: Your dealer will turn off the system either at the thermostat, the power cutoff near the outdoor unit, or the breaker box. Once they have ensured the system is disconnected from power, they will vacuum the coil, which wraps around most of the outside of the unit using a soft bristle brush attachment. Most AC coils are composed of refrigerant tubing and thin metal “fins” that bend easily. Your dealer will be careful not to bend the fins as this can also restrict airflow and affect performance.
  • Cleaning the coil fins: Your dealer will turn off the system either at the thermostat, the power cutoff near the outdoor unit, or the breaker box. Once they have ensured the system is disconnected from power, they will clean the coil fins with heavy-duty coil-cleaning chemicals and using a garden hose (NOT use a power washer – too much pressure can bend or damage the fins), they will gently rinse dirt and debris from the coil starting at the top and moving down.
  • Cleaning the evaporator coil: The indoor evaporator coil also requires airflow for proper operation, but because it is typically difficult to access, we recommend leaving cleaning AC coils to a licensed Carrier indoor comfort expert.
  • Check the seals (window units only): Checking the window seals around an AC unit is crucial to prevent air leaks which can significantly decrease the efficiency of the system. If these seals are not maintained properly, it can lead to increased energy consumption, higher cooling utility bills, and can strain the air conditioner, potentially shortening its lifespan.

Replace the Filter

One of the easiest air conditioner preventative maintenance tasks you can perform yourself is to clean or replace your system’s air filter. The air filter for your AC system will be located in or near your indoor unit. Whether it is a basic 1-inch filter, a larger, 4-inch media filter or a more sophisticated electronic air cleaner or purifier, the filter should be cleaned or replaced periodically. These air conditioner filters can help with indoor air quality by removing airborne particles and pollutants from your home. They can also help keep your system operating at its peak performance by reducing the buildup of dust, dirt and other particles from accumulating on internal components like the blower motor.

How often to change air filters depends on a number of factors:

  • The quality and type of filter
  • Environmental issues such as pets and smoke from a fireplace, tobacco or cooking
  • If you or family members suffer from allergies or asthma
  • How often the system runs due to thermostat settings/personal preferences
  • Use of constant fan for air circulation

It’s a good idea to check and inspect your filter at least once every 2-3 months. Some filters, such as the wider 4-inch media filters can last up to 1 year before replacing. Whenever possible, follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for filter maintenance. In general, to clean or replace your AC system filter, follow these steps:

  • Turn off system power at the thermostat, the breaker box, or the power shutoff switch located on/near the indoor unit.
  • The exact location of the filter can vary depending on the indoor unit. Look for the filter along the sides, top or bottom of the blower cabinet. The filter may be positioned horizontally or vertically, depending on the model. Or in some cases, especially on older models, the filter may be found inside the blower cabinet.
  • Once you have ensured the system is disconnected from power, remove and inspect the filter for excessive dust buildup or debris. Clean the filter with a vacuum attachment or replace with a new filter.
  • Make sure the filter is positioned properly and that the airflow arrows are pointing in the correct direction.
  • Replace the cabinet cover and restore power.

Prepare for Winter

Preparing your air conditioner for winter is essential, especially if your home heating system includes a furnace that shares components like the blower motor with the AC unit. Ensuring your air conditioner is well-maintained in the spring can significantly enhance the performance and efficiency of your heating system during the colder months. One important step is to schedule a professional maintenance check in the spring; this not only ensures your AC is ready for the summer but also confirms that it's in good shape to support your furnace in the winter. Additionally, it's vital to set your thermostat correctly when transitioning to heating mode. If you have a furnace, make sure the thermostat is switched from cooling to heating and set to an efficient, comfortable temperature that won't overwork the furnace, keeping your home warm and reducing wear on the system. Properly maintaining your AC and setting your thermostat appropriately can help ensure that both your heating and cooling systems operate optimally, providing comfort and saving energy throughout the year.

Know When to Call a Professional For Air Conditioner Maintenance

While it’s true that regular air conditioner maintenance can help prolong the life expectancy of your air conditioning system... and there are a handful of DIY maintenance tasks that can be performed by an average homeowner... there are times when it’s just best to call a certified HVAC technician. Some signs that it’s time to make the call might include:

  • HVAC System is not cooling adequately or not running at all
  • HVAC System is constantly running for long periods of time
  • HVAC System turns on and off frequently
  • Copper refrigerant tubing or outdoor coil showing signs of icing up or freezing

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, a trained technician can further evaluate your cooling system during their air conditioner maintenance visit. If you don’t have trusted contractor in mind, follow the link to our dealer locator to find a Carrier HVAC dealer in your area.

You may also visit our Air Conditioner Repair page, Air Conditioner Maintenance page for more information or our mini split ac repair and troubleshooting guide or our mini split ac repair and troubleshooting guide

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1https://www.thisoldhouse.com/heating-cooling/reviews/ac-tune-up-cost

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