As the warm weather comes, so does broken down air conditioning systems. We are getting into he season of the year where the weather gets warmer and people start turning on their air conditioning systems. Unfortunately many people don’t maintain their systems and they break down when you need it the most. In this article, Ill tell you the importance of maintaining your air conditioning system and give you some tips to forgo costly repairs.
I spent fifteen years in the HVAC industry doing sales for a wholesale distributor and being the service manager for a HVAC contractor. I can tell you from experience that not maintaining your air conditioning system can cause costly unneeded repairs and service.
In the wintertime nobody really thinks about their air conditioning systems because you aren’t using it. Yet when the time comes to use it everyday, all day long; you expect it to work properly without breaking down. The truth is, during the warm and summer months of the year; air conditioning contractors and service people are extremely busy. The summer times are the busiest time of the year for service contractors, so if your system breaks down; there’s a good chance a service professional will have to put you on a waiting list that could be a good week out if not more! Who wants to deal with that?! Lets talk about what you can do to prevent being hot and spending a ton of money when your system breaks down.
Normal scheduled maintenance is your very best option to prevent disastrous money grubbing repairs. Having a scheduled maintenance plan is your best option to insure your system will work when you need it the most. For residential, it is suggested to have a complete system check up at least twice a year;for commercial it is suggest on a quarterly basis. Of course there is a service charge for maintaining your system, but I guarantee itll be a lot cheaper then waiting till it breaks down.
What does regular maintenance include? The following list is what every HVAC service professional should look at when performing a standard maintenance.
- Filter – Replace filter and clean grill.
- Electrical Contactors – Making sure they are in good condition and replacing if needed.
- Capacitors – Making sure they are in good working order and not leaking.
- Fuses – Making sure there are no fuses out.
- Wiring – Checking to insure the wiring is not worn out or burnt.
- Coils – Checking to make sure both your evaporator and condenser coils are clean.
- Condensation Drain Line – Making sure that your condensation drain line drains properly.
- Oil Leaks – Visual look to make sure there is no oil leaking at welds in your system.
Filters – This is an easy replacement and you can find a new filter at almost any hardware store. The resident can replace this filter in less than five minutes.
Electrical Contractors – Your contactor is located on the condenser part of the system (the actual unit people call the air conditioner). An electrical charge is sent to the contactor from your thermostat telling it to turn on. Once the charge goes to the contactor, it closes completing the circuit and turning on the condenser to create cool air for your home. Your service professional is going to look this over to make sure it is in good condition because they can and do go out. The part is usually not included in a standard maintenance and if it should need to be replaced; you will receive a quote on replacement. I DO NOT recommend a home owner replacing this part especially if you have no experience with electrical. Please let a professional for this for you.
Capacitors – You normally have three capacitors on your system, one for each of your fan motors, and one for your compressor of the outside condensing unit. Your service professional will look at these for possibly oil leaks. He or she should also put an electrical meter on them to make sure they are in good electrical order. This is another part I do not suggest a home owner replacing, please let your service tech replace if needed. The part is not included in a standard maintenance and you should receive a quote if repair is needed.
Fuses – The amount of fuses on your system depends on the actual system. Normally you will have two for your outdoor unit and one for the inside unit (fan unit/furnas). If your fuses go out, your system will not run. Your service tech will visually look at these for any kind of burn marks and quote you on replacement if needed. Fuse replacement is not included on a standard service maintenance. Usually a fuse will go out on your condensing unit during the really hot days of the year.
Wiring – Your service professional will have a quick look at the wiring of your system. Since parts move, so does wiring. Its rare, but sometimes your wiring will rub against something and wear out the protective plastic around the actual wire; causing it to not work.
Coils – You have two coils to your system. One for the condenser, and one for your evaporator. Your service professional will check both to make sure they are clean, this is important for the efficiency of the system. If you have a standard split system air conditioning unit, your evaporator will be located near your fan for circulation of air in your home. It is important your evaporator is clean as all the air circulating in your home, passes over the evaporator. If your evaporator is clogged and dirty, you will not only lose air circulation; but you could also find potential water leaks. The leaks are horrible especially if your fan system is in your attic. Cleaning your coils is not normally included in a residential maintenance plan so you may be quoted “if” it needs to be cleaned.
Condensation Drain Line – All air conditioning system have condensation, and condensate drain lines. Your condensation will drain to a sink, or lead to outside your home. Cleaning out your condensate drain line is normally included in any maintenance plan. Its a pretty easy thing to do, all you really need to do is hook up a wet vac to the end of it and suck it out. That is of course, if there isn’t a bunch of algae in the line. Algae is a normal thing just to let you know.
Oil Leaks – Your service professional will visually check for leaks in the system. Leaks are pretty noticeable because you will see some oil around the leak. You normally find leaks on service ports or on welds. Leaks on a service port is a pretty normal find and a simple repair. Leaks on a weld can be pretty costly and only a service professional should perform both of these repairs. If you have an oil leak, that means that your refrigerant is leaking (refrigerant is what pulls the heat out of your home making it cool for you).
The cost of a service call varies depending on company. Back when I worked air conditioning, the company I worked for charged $120 just to come out and say “Hi” to you. Then, it was $120 an hour plus parts for any repair. A maintenance contract may actually cost you less, and it will help insure your air conditioning system works properly when it gets really hot.
In my professional opinion, I highly suggest a residential maintenance contract twice a year. Once in the winter time, and once in the summer. I also suggest you change your air conditioning filters on a quarterly basis (four times a year). I hope this helps everybody out and gives you an idea why you shouldn’t wait until your system breaks down to call a qualified contractor. Do yourself a favor and get on a maintenance contract instead of waiting for your system to break. You could actually save thousands of dollars.