A Closer Look: Take care of air conditioner and it will take care of you

Originally posted in the London Free Press

By Rob Parker, Special to Postmedia Network

With record-setting temperatures predicted for this month, the last thing you want is a problem with your home’s air-conditioning system. The key to ensuring your system will function properly when needed is periodic inspection and maintenance. Though an annual inspection should be performed by a licensed professional, most homeowners can perform many of the following tasks as regular maintenance of the system.

 

  • July or August is the perfect time to trim foliage back at least a metre from the unit to ensure proper air flow.
  • Remove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit’s exterior condenser unit, which is the large box located on the side of the home designed to remove the heat from the gas used in the cooling system.
  • Remove the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit’s interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task.
  • The condenser box contains coils of pipe surrounded by thousands of thin metal “fins” that ­allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. These fins and coil need to be kept clean in order for the unit to work at peak efficiency. This can be done with a garden hose using low pressure. Using high pressure or a pressure washer could damage the fins so be careful.
  • Make sure the exterior unit is as level as possible and secured so as not to vibrate or rock which can damage the cooling lines.
  • The larger of the two copper lines going into the home should be covered with an insulating material similar to the foam insulating tubes used to cover water pipes. If the insulation is missing, worn or damaged, it should be replaced.
  • There are two schools of thought regarding covering the unit for the winter. I suggest you talk to your HVAC technician and follow their advice, whatever it is.
  • In the fall when you turn on the furnace, you should turn off the power to AC unit at the electrical panel so it cannot be turned on by accident in the middle of winter which could damage the unit.
  • Do not turn on the unit until the temperature has been above 18 C for at least three days or damage to the compressor may occur.
  • The cooling coil in a central air system is in the main ductwork just above the furnace. It should be cleaned by a licensed HVAC technician and is not something the homeowner should attempt to do. But homeowners should regularly clean or replace, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, the air filter that slides into the main ductwork near the inside fan unit on the cold air return side (input side) of the furnace. The air filter helps to remove pollen, dust and other particles. Air filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 50 centimetres by 40 centimetres or larger. A dirty air filter will reduce air quality and will strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency. You may need to change the filter more often if home occupants have respiratory problems, you have pets with fur or dusty conditions are present. On most central air systems this is the furnace filter unless it is a standalone system just for cooling.

An important safety point to note is that any maintenance should only be performed when the power to the unit is turned off.

In addition, homeowners should do the following to keep their central air conditioning systems running ­properly:

  • Increase the home’s energy efficiency by adding insulation in the attic and ensuring it’s properly ventilated. Windows and doors should be weather stripped to ensure they seal properly.
  • If you have a programmable thermostat, increase the desired temperature during the day and lower it at night.
  • If the furnace is equipped with a humidifier, make sure the water to the unit is turned off and the damper is set to summer position (setting).

Rob Parker is a registered home inspector (RHI) with the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, and an ASHI certified inspector (ACI) with the American Society of Home Inspectors . Rob can be reached at Thamespec Home Inspection Service 519-857-7101, by email at thamespec@rogers.com or visit www.thamespec-inspections.com

Date : 7/11/2016