Central air conditioners have two separate components: the condenser and the evaporator. The condenser unit is usually located outside the house on a concrete slab. The evaporator coil is mounted in the plenum or main duct junction above the furnace.
Most central air conditioners are connected to a home's forced-air distribution system. Thus, the same motor, blower, and ductwork used for heating are used to distribute cool air from the air conditioning system. When a central air conditioner is operating, hot air inside the house flows to the furnace through the return-air duct. The hot air is moved by the blower across the cooled evaporator coil in the plenum and is then delivered through ducts to cool the house. When the air conditioner works but the house doesn't cool, the problem is probably in the distribution system.
Both the evaporator and the condenser are sealed. Therefore, a professional service person should be called for almost any maintenance other than routine cleaning. Central air conditioners should be professionally inspected and adjusted before the beginning of every cooling season. However, don't let your maintenance end with this annual checkup. While there aren't many repairs you can make yourself, there are specific maintenance procedures you can follow to keep your system operating at peak efficiency.
An air conditioner's filters, coils, and fins require regular maintenance for the unit to function effectively and efficiently throughout its years of service. Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increases.
Air Conditioner Filters
The most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace or clean its filters. Clogged, dirty filters block normal airflow and reduce a system's efficiency significantly. With normal airflow obstructed, air that bypasses the filter may carry dirt directly into the evaporator coil and impair the coil's heat-absorbing capacity. Replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your air conditioner's energy consumption by 5% to 15%.
For central air conditioners, filters are generally located somewhere along the return duct's length. Common filter locations are in walls, ceilings, furnaces, or in the air conditioner itself. Room air conditioners have a filter mounted in the grill that faces into the room.
Some types of filters are reusable; others must be replaced. They are available in a variety of types and efficiencies. Clean or replace your air conditioning system's filter or filters every month or two during the cooling season. Filters may need more frequent attention if the air conditioner is in constant use, is subjected to dusty conditions, or you have fur-bearing pets in the house.
Air Conditioner Coils
The air conditioner's evaporator coil and condenser coil collect dirt over their months and years of service. A clean filter prevents the evaporator coil from soiling quickly. In time, however, the evaporator coil will still collect dirt. This dirt reduces airflow and insulates the coil, reducing its ability to absorb heat. To avoid this problem, check your evaporator coil every year and clean it as necessary.
Outdoor condenser coils can also become very dirty if the outdoor environment is dusty or if there is foliage nearby. You can easily see the condenser coil and notice if dirt is collecting on its fins.
You should minimize dirt and debris near the condenser unit. Your dryer vents, falling leaves, and lawn mower are all potential sources of dirt and debris. Cleaning the area around the coil, removing any debris, and trimming foliage back at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) allow for adequate airflow around the condenser.
The aluminum fins on the evaporator and condenser coils are easily bent and can block airflow through the coil. Air conditioning wholesalers sell a tool called a "fin comb" that will comb these fins back into nearly original condition.
Before doing any work on an air conditioning system, make sure the power to the system, both to the condenser and to the evaporator assembly, is turned off.
How to clean the indoor unit (filters and louvres)
Manufacturers usually recommend that you clean the dust filters every few weeks, but it really depends on how often you use the air conditioner. Simply put, the more you use it, the more often you should clean the filters. At the least, aim to clean them a couple of times a year. For example, if you mainly use the unit in summer, clean the filters in spring so it's ready for the peak season, and again when the hot season is over.
Some models also have an air purification filter (such as an ionizing filter) that can be removed and cleaned; this type of filter will eventually need to be replaced, perhaps every year or two, depending on usage.
Check the instructions for how to clean or replace this filter.
How to clean your air conditioner's louvres
How to clean the outdoor unit
We don't recommend that you open up the unit to clean its internal components; leave that to a professional service.
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