‘Spring Cleaning’ For Your Central or Ductless Air Conditioner
Just like in the fall, when you need to make sure that your heating system is ready for winter, in the springtime it’s equally important that your central or ductless air conditioning system is ready to effectively and efficiently cool your home before the first heat wave arrives.
Why Hire A Pro?
While there are a few things that a handy homeowner can do themselves to help prepare their AC system for summer, the reality is that you can’t perform many of the most important aspects yourself. Only an experienced HVAC service technician has all the specialized tools and experience needed to fully check out your AC system and make sure it’s ready to go.
For example, when outdoor temperatures are warm enough, refrigerant levels in the air conditioner’s sealed system should be checked with special pressure gauges, in order to determine if the refrigerant charge in the system is proper, allowing it to perform at optimum levels. If refrigerant needs to be added to the system, or a little bit removed, additional specialized tools are required to accomplish this task properly–as well as legally! Be aware: All technicians that handle refrigerants must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to handle these products, and must be fully trained to make sure that R22 or R410A refrigerants, for example, will not be released into the atmosphere. In addition, your technician will use an electronic leak detector to make sure the sealed refrigerant system is not experiencing any major or minor leaks.
While operating your air conditioner and testing response from the thermostat, your HVAC service tech will also check the cooling performance of the system, ie. its ability to properly lower the temperature of household air as it recirculates through your furnace or air handler. The ‘temperature drop’ of the system is measured with a precise portable electronic thermometer, placed in a specific location on the output side of your system. A temperature drop that does not fall within a certain range can indicate issues that should be investigated further.
The above examples are just a couple of the things that a professional HVAC service tech does when a thorough annual checkup is performed on your air conditioner. There’s plenty more! For instance, checking the electrical amperage draw of the system and the reliability of related components in the outdoor condensing unit are also crucial aspects of annual servicing.
What Can You Do?
There are a few things that a sharp, handy homeowner may be able to accomplish themselves in order to assist with annual maintenance of their AC system. But remember, these alone are not a substitute for regular, professional, annual service.
If you are familiar enough with your system to replace or clean the air filter in your furnace or air handler, then you can potentially save your technician some time–and save yourself some money–by performing this task yourself. Many homeowners perform this task on a regular basis throughout the heating and cooling seasons–always with the system turned off! However, when replacing a disposable filter, make sure that the product you install is appropriate for your system. Some ‘high efficiency/ultra allergen’ filters available at home improvement stores can be too restrictive for your system and create unforeseen problems. If you take care of the filter yourself, we recommend that you consult your HVAC contractor to determine how often this should be performed throughout the season, and make sure that your choice of filter is right for your system. Having a clean filter is crucial to system performance and efficiency!
Other tasks that homeowners occasionally choose to perform themselves include inspecting and replacing pipe insulation on the copper line set tubing that carries refrigerant to the indoor part of the system, and cleaning the outdoor unit with a garden hose–again, always with the system turned off!! You may also choose to perform a general inspection of the outdoor unit, as well as various drains associated with the system.
Important: Before attempting any of these projects hands-on, we strongly recommend that you first consult your HVAC contractor for specific recommendations on what and how these should be done, or if it even makes sense for you to do this work. Attempting to perform annual cleaning and inspections of your system without being fully informed can potentially create unforeseen, costly problems.
Not surprisingly, we recommend that you hire a pro to perform complete annual inspection and maintenance of your air conditioning system for you. The relatively small savings to be gained by taking the DIY approach could easily be overshadowed when a well-meaning homeowner makes the wrong decision and accidentally creates a costly service call in the process.
Annual Maintenance Agreements Make Sense!
Many reputable, professional HVAC contractors offer annual maintenance plans at discounted rates to their regular customers, thus allowing you to receive complete, thorough servicing of your system at below-market rates–often making the concern about what you can do to save a little money in the process essentially a non-issue!