With Easter now officially behind us, it’s time for Britons to prepare for the coming summer – and all of the barbeques, festivals and holidays to the Mediterranean the season brings. But as well as enjoying the sunshine, we’ll also need to protect ourselves from it – particularly when it comes to work and home interiors. The most popular and powerful means we have of doing this is through climate control, and specifically air conditioning.
Just before summer arrives, therefore, is an ideal time to invest in new air conditioning systems. But it’s also the best time of year to arrange some maintenance for the ones that you already have installed. That way, they’ll be in the best possible shape to handle the time of year where they’ll be worked their hardest. Let’s take a look at what this preparation might consist of.
Cleaning the coils
Within an air conditioning unit, you’ll find a coil of piping. In outdoor units, it’s the role of this coil to draw heat out of the system and into the outside world, thereby cooling the interior. Unfortunately, debris has a habit of accumulating within a system outdoors, and thus it will require occasional cleaning. You might minimise the effect of this by covering the unit with a special tarp during the winter, but it’s best to break out the appropriate brush and clear the coil. If there’s a blockage, then airflow will be restricted, which will impede the function of the coil.
To clean the coils, turn the unit off and unplug it. Remove the side and protective grilles. The fins are delicate, so be sure not to warp them as you deconstruct the unit. To do the actual cleaning, you can use either a proper refrigerator coil brush, or the soft brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner. You can get special cleaners that will lift the dirt from your coils – just be sure that you don’t spray any electrical components that might be exposed inside the unit.
As well as changing the temperature in your interior, an air conditioner will also clean the air by circulating it through a filter. This is a fine mesh that’ll catch any sufficiently large particulates from the air. This means that any smoke or grease globules will be removed. When this happens, however, those particles will become stuck to the filter. Over time, they’ll accumulate until a layer of grime has built on the filter, blocking airflow. Depending on the design of your unit, you’ll be able to either replace or clean your filters. Doing so will vastly improve the efficiency of the unit, and prevent dust from recirculating through your home.
While you’ve gotten the unit open, it’s worth scooping any stray leaves and dust from the bottom of the condenser. Such things will only build up and pose problems in the future, even if they aren’t doing anything now. Use a vacuum to get the fan blades clean, and tighten any loose screws or mounting bolts. Many units will come with an oil port for the motor. Spray in some WD40 to keep things ticking over nicely for the coming summer. If there are any weeds growing around the condenser, get them removed now.
Many air conditioning units will drain condensation into a special channel, which must be periodically emptied. Do this while you’ve got the unit open – it takes seconds and will prevent overflows in the future.
We’ve already touched upon the grilles that you’ll find on set of condenser coils. These grilles are covered with thin lengths of wire called ‘fins’, whose role it is to conduct heat away from the coils and allow air to pass unrestricted. Since they’re so thin, these fins are prone to deformation over time, which can block the flow of air. It’s possible to bend them back into shape manually using a special device called a fin comb. Correcting the warping is a simple matter of running the comb’s teeth through the fins.
Check coolant piping
As well as the units themselves, you’ll also want to pay attention to the piping which transports coolant from the evaporator coils to the condenser coils and then back again. These pipes must be well-insulated and in good shape in order to function well – coolant leaks will gradually erode the system’s capability until it breaks down completely, while poor insulation will cause heat to be lost before it reaches the condenser coil – and probably inside the home, where it’ll place a greater load on the evaporators. Check the lines for frayed insulation, and replace anything you see with foam insulation sleeves. You’ll be able to pack these up very inexpensively from almost any reputable hardware shop.
Once you’ve allowed the unit to thoroughly dry, you’ll be able to power it back on. Turn the thermostat in your home off, then turn on the power at both the disconnect box and the unit’s main panel. Then set the thermostat to cool. If you’ve gone through all of the above steps, you should notice an immediate improvement in your unit’s function – and especially so if the condition of the unit was poor before you got started.
Should I hire a professional?
Naturally, it’s possible and advisable to carry out much of the maintenance an air-conditioning unit needs without any special expertise. This will allow your maintenance and protective measures to be carried out more frequently, which will make them more effective. But it’s also advisable to occasionally bring in someone who really knows what they’re doing so take a look at the unit. If you don’t feel comfortable taking apart the unit and cleaning coils, then you might do this even more often than that. Just make sure that you’re hiring a reputable professional – a recommendation from a friend or a proper air-conditioning company is sure to help sort the cowboys from the people who know what they’re doing.