Record heat reaching across the country hints that summer is near, but your air conditioner needs a little TLC before waking it up from its long winter nap and jumping into action.
Don’t have an AC? Don’t sweat it
You can rent an air conditioner that is already professionally cleaned for between $350-$450 per season, but you better call soon.
"Honestly, if you're calling now, you're late. We're already pretty busy," said Jim Amon, General Manager of Rent an AC. "We started putting them in April 1st."
The company rents, delivers and installs air conditioners that are guaranteed to work. That means no maintenance, shopping or winter storage. Right now, they are in New York and Boston.
"Our biggest advantage is that we take them out during the winter. A lot of units in New York City get super dirty, and we clean them during the winter months," said Amon. "We get them back and running starting in April."
The decade-old company started buying new units in March to get ahead of the supply chain issues. They expect to rent about 3,000 units, 99% window units, which is 50% more than last year.
Simple tips to get you’re AC ready for the summer heat or snowbird retreat
Repairing an air conditioner should be left to the pros, but you can stretch out those visits by performing simple maintenance. Easy, do-it-yourself tasks on central air units keep the running cost and energy-efficient.
"People … have to do maintenance on their units before the summer, usually in April or May," Peter Pietruszko, owner of Speedy Air Conditioning in Naples, Florida said. "So check that the drains are clean, filters are replaced, so it's less likely that there is a fail during the summer."
He knows how to take care of hardworking air conditioners that work overtime in the subtropical heat and humidity.
Window air units are easy to shape up. Unplug the unit, wash the filter behind the front panel and enjoy the cold air.
Central air maintenance should be done before the first time you use the air conditioner. Some steps can be done on a weekly or monthly depending on where you live and if you have shedding pets.
Turn off the power
Turn off the circuit breaker switch to the air conditioner before you begin any maintenance. For most systems, there are two breakers, one for the condenser (outside the home) and another for the air handler (in the attic or closet).
Take a look at the filter in the air handler. (Sometimes the filter may be in the house at the intake area.) If it’s dirty, change it. If it’s clean, check it in a month.
Most one-inch filters are available at hardware stores and online.
"The dust gets in when you open the door or window, it accumulates because an air conditioner is a central air movement machine. So it’s very important to check the filters more often when you have dusty environments," Pietruszko said. "Filters are reasonably cheap compared to what it could do to not have a good efficient air conditioner."
Look around the outside/condenser unit and clear away leaves, dirt, twigs and grass clippings from the louvers. You can use a shop vac.
"Anybody that cuts the grass or uses a weed wacker – make sure that they are away from it so that all these clippings are not going on the unit," cautions Pietruszko. "Because when the unit runs outside, it sucks the air from an area of that unit into the coil."
Dirt and grass can block the inflow. You may want to check the unit weekly or monthly.
Clean the condenser coils
Take off the louvered panels and grill and check the inside of them for dirt and cuttings. Clean it with a vacuum, rag, soft brush or hose.
Check the condenser, the coil covered with fine metal fins, for dirt.
"Wash it with the hose, nice and easy, up and downs," Pietruszko continued and emphasized spraying in the direction of the fins, not against them which could bend them. "So it washes it off nicely. And dirt’s not impacting the coil because if it's dirty the air conditioner won’t perform as it should."
There are specialized cleaning sprays you can use on the coils before rinsing. Professionals also use soft coil brushes and a shop vac but Pietruszko recommends that homeowners get advice from a licensed repairman before attempting the gentle work.
Never spray the fan motor with the hose. It can handle the rain, but not the pressure of the hose.
Clear out any errant leaves or cuttings from the bottom of the unit. Wipe down or vacuum the fan blades. If there is a drain at the bottom, test it out and make sure it works and is not clogged.
Look over the coils and fins for discoloration that could indicate a refrigerant leak.
If you live within a mile from the coast, rinse off the unit more often.
"You have a salty environment in the air. Salt creates oxidation between aluminum and copper coils and then deteriorates them," said Pietruszko, recalling many expensive units he replaced in Florida due to salt air damage. "Wash it pretty good so that it washes off that accumulation of salt and extends the life of the unit."
Air conditioners cool the air by compressing it and removing moisture. The by-product is always a little water drip. On most indoor air handlers, there is a drain into a reservoir at the base of the unit.
"Use a goods shop vac, put it where the drain is at, they can't damage it," said Pietruszko "Just make sure that it sucks all the stuff that may be accumulated."
He recommends getting algae tablets to leave in the drain pan to prevent blockage.
Find the pipe outside the house where the water drains from the unit and use the shop vac on that too. Some are harder to identify than others. Have your HVAC pro show you the next time they make a service call.
"It’s draining from the attic [or HVAC closet] down to the outside. So there is a pipe going somewhere throughout the house and throughout the attic and then out in the condominiums or some houses," he explained. "The unit inside may be vertical in the closet, but it then it goes down and under a slab, and then goes out. That definitely has to be cleaned up because there's always the horizontal run under the slab. And if there's a blockage, that's when it happens."
Test the unit
Put everything back together and turn on the breakers. Take the temperature of the air coming out the vents. If is not cool or if the unit is making a loud noise, call a pro, the unit may need repair.
Check your sprinklers, they should not be spraying the outdoor unit. Minerals in well water can corrode the inner workings.
Snowbirds flying north for the summer take note
Snowbirds should consider a few precautions before flying north for the summer. A thermostat that connects to WiFi can send you or a house minder a text warning of a change in temperature, humidity or an emergency system shutoff.
"When the drain [on the air handler] has not been draining properly, then the sensors sees that the water is backing up to the unit, then it shuts off the system to protect against leakage," said Pietruszko. "Then the air is off and then within a week or two they may have mold."
He recommends setting the relative humidity between 50-55% to prevent mold growth. You can also purchase a WiFi sensor to place under the handler that sends an alert if it detects a water drip.
Next time you do need a service call to repair your well-maintained air conditioner, ask the service person to clean the evaporator coil which is in the ductwork.
Enjoy the summer, stay cool and spend the cash you saved on something more fun.