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How to Perform an Inspection on Your Air Conditioner

Central Air-Conditioning
System Inspection


A home's air-conditioning system should be periodically inspected and maintained in order to operate correctly and efficiently . While an annual inspection performed by a trained HVAC technician is recommended, you can do a lot of the work yourself by following the tips offered in this article.


Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit, Coil and Components


The exterior condensing unit is the large metal box located outside of the building that is designed to take heat from the inside of the building to the outdoors. Inside of the metal box are coils of pipe that are surrounded by lots of thin metal fins that give the coils more surface area to exchange heat. Follow these tips when cleaning the exterior condensing unit and its inner components -- after turning off power to the unit!


  • Air Conditioning CondenserRemove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit's exterior. Make sure any vegetation is cut back several feet from the unit to ensure proper air flow.


  • Take off the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit's interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task. Use it carefully, to much pressure can damage the fins.


  • combStraighten any bent or damaged fins with a tool called a fin comb. (photo at right)


  • Clean the condenser coil at least once a year. When it collects dirt it can cause the pressures in the system to rise, which puts tremendous strain on the compressor and will shorten the life of the system.



Inspect the Condensate Drain Line


Condensate drain lines collect condensed water and drain it away from the unit. They are located on the side of the inside fan unit, also known as the Air Handler. Sometimes there are two drain lines, a primary drain line that’s built into the unit, and a secondary drain line that can drain if the first line becomes blocked. Homeowners can inspect the drain line by using the following tips, which takes very little time and requires no specialized tools:


  • Inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae, insects, and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, potentially causing water damage to your home. Note: If you have an Air Handler that is located in the attic or upper floor there may be a second drain line, be sure to flush this line as well. To clean this, you will need to locate the drain access. This is usually a short piece of 3/4 inch PVC pipe with a cap on it. You normally find this near the air handler. Remove the cap, ( just pull, it should not be glued on ) with someone watching the other end of the drain pour about a gallon of water into drain. If it comes out the other end, then the drain is working. Next, pour about 1/2 gallon of bleach into drain. If it is still draining then pour about 3-4 gallons of water to flush out bleach. Repeat this for the secondary drain if you have one. Thats it! If the water and bleach flowed out of the drain just fine then you are good, if this didn't work sometimes you can use a long stiff wire to try and dislodge any blockage. If it is still clogged you will need to contact a professional. It is also important to check this secondary line from time to time where it exits the home for any signs of water. If you see water coming from this drain, this is an indication that the primary drain is blocked. This condition needs immediate attention!


  • Check to make the large copper line that goes from the outside unit to the house is insulated. May times this insulation is missing or damaged. You can find replacement insulation at most home centers for a few dollars.


Clean the Air Filter


filterAir filters remove, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 20 inches by 16 inches, and about 1 inch thick. They slide into the main return air ductwork near the air handler or in an interior wall or ceiling. The filter should be checked every 30 days and washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the fan 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 the air conditioning system is in constant use, if you or your family members have respiratory problems, if you have pets, or if dusty conditions are present.


The Registers


Registers are duct openings in ceilings, walls and floors where cold air enters the room. Make sure they are not blocked by drapes, carpeting or furniture.


Other Maintenance


In addition, homeowners should practice the following strategies in order to keep their central air conditioning systems running properly:


  • Have the air-conditioning system inspected by a professional at least once a year. Annual service contracts are available by most heating and cooling companies. Many times discounts on repairs and priorities for service are given to those customers that have a service agreement.


  • Reduce stress on the air conditioning system by enhancing your home’s energy efficiency. Switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents or LEDs, which produce less heat.


In summary, any homeowner can perform regular inspections and maintenance to their home's central air-conditioning system.


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