Gearing Up For Summer? What Preseason Maintenance May Your Air Conditioner Need?

After a long season of short days and chilly nights, you may be looking forward to nothing more than playing sports and relaxing outdoors while soaking up the sun. However, few events can kill this excitement for hot weather more quickly than turning on your air conditioner to find that it no longer functions. In addition to testing out your air conditioner unit well before hot weather hits, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk that your a/c will fail at an inopportune time. Read on to learn more about some preseason maintenance and repairs you can perform on your a/c unit to ensure it remains in good operating condition all summer long.

Clean the unit itself

If you have an outdoor air conditioning compressor (as many homes with central air do), covering this unit with a thick canvas or plastic tarp each fall is crucial to keeping out dirt, debris, moisture, and other outside elements that can make your a/c less efficient or even damage it over time. Even if you have properly covered your a/c all winter, cleaning any twigs or leaves that have accumulated beneath this cover before turning your unit on will prevent this debris from making its way inside the compressor unit. You may need to remove the outermost grate with a screwdriver to really get down inside your a/c (be sure to turn off the fuses powering your a/c unit or disconnect the power supply first). 

While you're doing this, it can be a good opportunity to mow or weed-eat any tall grass that has grown up around your a/c unit. This grass can be a breeding ground for insects, and the dust and tiny particles of insect exoskeleton emanating from these patches of grass can settle inside your a/c unit when it's not running.

Inspect your base pan and compressor coils

Both the base pan (which permits condensation drainage from the compressor unit) and the compressor unit's coils are key components of your a/c, and often the ones most prone to damage. 

A clog in the base pan's drainage system can result in moisture buildup that fries your a/c unit's electrical systems, while dust or corrosion build-up on the compressor coils can result in compressor failure. Replacing a failed compressor is often nearly as expensive as replacing an entire a/c unit at $1,500 to $2,400 per compressor (including labor costs) -- therefore, keeping your compressor in good working condition should be a priority. 

When inspecting your base pan, look carefully for any clogs in the drainage tubes leading to this pan, as well as signs of algae growth or corrosion on the sides and bottom of the pan, which could indicate a problem with your refrigerant. Inspecting your compressor coils can often be done visually. To remove this dust or corrosion, you may want to start with compressed air and then use a dry toothbrush to remove any more stubborn bits of debris. 

Invest in a professional a/c tune-up

If your a/c unit is more than a few years old, enlisting professional help to keep it running in peak condition may be a wise investment. Although there are a number of air conditioning maintenance tasks and small repairs you should be able to perform yourself with the tools you have on hand, a/c technicians have the knowledge (and more specialized tools) to perform top-to-bottom maintenance -- including adding algae-reducing chemicals to your refrigerant and monitoring the electrical input and output of the compressor unit. Scheduling a tune-up early in the season can help stave off any potential problems and prevent you from requesting a service call during an a/c repair person's busiest time of year.