Air conditioning units can be a godsend on a hot day but how much do you really know about how your system works?
Would you know what to do if it started to malfunction? Luckily, with proper maintenance your air conditioning unit should be a faithful servant even during the hottest weather and if it does need a repair, it’s usually quite easy to work out what the problem is.
Common problems you may experience with air conditioning units.
- Thermostat. If one part of your building becomes very cold whilst another part stays the same, the problem is likely to be caused by the thermostat.
- Air remains warm. If you are struggling to get cool air, even when the air conditioner is turned all the way up, the system compressor may be at fault or the coolant levels too low. Unfortunately, this may mean the unit needs to be replaced.
- Weak air flow. If the compressor is failing, some areas will be getting cooled whilst others are not. This may signal a problem with the duct work which would need urgent repair. Getting the ducts cleaned means that previously obstructed airflow can travel freely. If debris does get caught in the vents and airflow becomes obstructed, this can pose a health risk.
- Moisture or leakage. If fluid collects around the system this would indicate either a refrigerant leak or a blocked or broken drain tube. Leaked refrigerant can cause health problems and so needs dealing with urgently. The drain tube is less serious but does need attention to avoid mould growth.
- Mysterious sounds. Unusual sounds generated by electrical items is rarely good news and that is certainly true of air conditioning units. Grinding noises may mean that the motor’s bearings are broken and a squealing sound can mean a slipped belt or indicates that more lubrication is needed.
- Unpleasant smells. A bad small usually means that the wire insulation has burnt out whilst a musty smell suggests mould.
How to carry out routine maintenance
Regular maintenance helps to avoid these problems happening. This is preferable as repairs can often cost a lot of money. Learning how to maintain your air conditioning unit ensures that it lasts for longer and costs you less over time.
- Filters. Some filters are reusable and others need to be replaced. Cleaning or replacing filters every month or two when they are in regular use is critical to maintaining your unit. This may need to be more frequent if the unit is in constant use or if the filters are exposed to a lot of dust or fur from pets. If you neglect to do so, the performance of the unit will decline and it will start to use up more energy. Clogged, dirty filters partially obstruct airflow. The airflow that is forced to find another route can carry dirt to the evaporator coil which in turn stops absorbing heat well. Well-functioning filters decrease energy usage by up to 15%. If you’re not sure where the filters are located, try walls, ceilings or the unit itself.
- Coils. Air conditioning units contain both evaporator and condenser coils. These coils are prone to getting dirty over time. Keeping your filters clean helps to ensure that your evaporator coil works at maximum efficiency but an annual check and clean helps too. Outdoor condenser coils are exposed to the elements and if the environment is dusty, they will pick up that dirt. You can easily see the dirt on the fins of a condenser coil. To minimise the collection of dust, keep foliage cut back away from the fins to keep airflow clear, remove the risk of falling leaves and avoid mowing lawns near the coil.
- Coil fins. The fins on both evaporator and condenser coils are made of aluminium so they bend easily. This blocks the airflow through the coil. A tool called a ‘fin comb’ can be used to move the fins back into their rightful place.
- Condensate drains. If these drains get clogged it can lead to your air conditioning unit malfunctioning. The unit will be unable to reduce humidity and the resulting moisture in the air can discolour walls and carpets. However, this is easily avoidable by using a stiff wire occasionally to clean through the drain channels.
- Window seals. Annual checks of window seals between the air conditioning unit and the window frame ensure that you become aware if there is any damage that would allow cool air to escape. Seals can be a damaged over time by moisture.
- Winter preparation. During the winter months, it is prudent to cover a room air conditioning unit or remove and store it away. Outdoor sections of the unit can be covered to protect the parts from cold weather and dirt.
When to call in a professional
Whilst there are many things you can do to carry out basic maintenance yourself, there are times when only a professional will do. The list of faults we identified above would require an air conditioning professional but these faults could require costly repairs. A better strategy is to employ a specialist to service your unit regularly in the hope that with proper servicing and maintenance you’ll never have to worry about any major faults.
A service should include the following:
- A check on your unit’s refrigerant levels.
- Ensure there are no refrigerant leaks.
- Should any refrigerant need removing, this should be isolated according to the law, and not released into the atmosphere.
- Ensure seals are intact and no cool air is escaping.
- Ensure good airflow through the evaporator coil by using a measuring device.
- Check that heating and cooling systems can’t work simultaneously by ensuring that the control sequence is working properly.
- Check that electrical terminals are clean and safe.
- Oil the motors and check belts for any signs of wear or slackness.
- Ensure the thermostat is measuring temperature correctly.
With these easy checks and thorough cleans as well as scheduling a regular service with a pro, your air conditioning unit should be successfully cooling you for years to come.