Congratulations on your new Phoenix home! Well, new to you, anyway. It could be several decades old and have had a series of owners. Not to worry, no doubt your home was owned by a succession of HVAC technicians, each of whom kept the central air conditioner in tip-top shape. No? The sad truth is, you often have no idea what kind of maintenance your AC system has received.
5 Ways to Better Protect Your A/C Unit
#1 Form an Alliance
To best protect your new investment, form an alliance with your local HVAC contractor to wage relentless war against the enemies of your central air conditioner:
Each of these can rob your HVAC system of power, life and cooling comfort. A good local HVAC technician can inspect and correct any issues with your new system. The technician, says the U.S. Department of Energy, should:
- Check your refrigerant level;
- Test for leaks using a leak detector;
- Check for leakage in ducts, correcting leakage with metal foil tape (not duct tape);
- Measure airflow through the evaporator coil;
- Oil motors and check motor belts for tightness, wear and fraying;
- Verify the accuracy of your home’s thermostat;
- Confirm that your home’s heating system cannot operate simultaneously to the cooling system, a tremendous waste of energy;
- Clean and tighten electrical connections to prevent sparking and short circuits.
While your home may already have had HVAC service, arranging an initial appointment with a trusted local contractor sets a benchmark from which you can measure any later changes in energy efficiency or cooling power. An early visit is also key to keeping minor repairs from becoming large, expensive repairs.
#2 Get a Calendar
Perhaps your real estate agent gave you a wall calendar as part of a welcome package, or you got your first batch of third-class mail, which included a charity’s calendar. Use the calendar as a guide to follow up on air conditioner efficiency tips by placing quick reminders on it.
- Before the cooling season, write an appointment reminder to get your ductwork checked for dust, insect parts, grit and pollutants. These all get pulled into your AC system and then into your home’s air. Indoor air quality suffers when your ducts are dirty. In a newly purchased house, you have no way of knowing when the ducts were last cleaned, so make sure to mark this one down well before you turn on the central AC. Air duct cleaning is a must for a move-in.
- At the start of the cooling season, confirm that your programmable thermostat is programed correctly, with daytime occupancy settings of 76 degrees and overnight settings a few degrees higher, to save money. When your Phoenix home is empty, keep the AC on a higher setting.
- During cooling season, replace the disposable air filter every three to four weeks. A dirty air filter robs your AC of cooling power, sufficient airflow and humidity control. It can also allow grit and dirt to impact internal parts.
- During spring and summer, drop a note to yourself on the calendar to keep bushes, grass and trees trimmed well away from the outside unit of your central air conditioning system. This improves airflow and prevents clippings and twigs from being sucked into the fan.
- In the middle of summer, write a reminder to check the outside unit’s fins. Use a fin comb to realign and clean them.
- At the end of the cooling season, mark a reminder to contact your HVAC contractor to set up an appointment for annual service at least a month before the next cooling season.
#3 Little Things
A collection of little tasks can undo years of neglect on your inherited central air conditioner. Many of these tasks are within the average homeowner’s abilities. Add years of useful life to an older system by:
- Cleaning a clogged condensate drain line to help drain the collected moisture the evaporator coil drew out of your home’s air;
- Cleaning the condensate drain pan;
- Vacuuming and dusting the room in which the interior portion of your AC system resides; dust and dirt stirred up can find their way into the air handler, and then into your lungs;
- Cleaning the evaporator coil on the interior unit — this sometimes freezes over, or mold forms, but the coil can be sprayed clean with special coil cleaner available from hardware stores;
- Following your HVAC contractor’s programmable thermostat tips, such as replacing the batteries annually on battery-powered thermostats, running through the program to verify accuracy, and nudging the set points up to improve energy efficiency.
Your central air conditioner may be unknown to you when you first move into your new home. Seek out the manufacturer’s nameplate and the model name and serial number. A quick internet search can give you much more information, such as the unit’s age and its cooling power.
If you discover you have something very nearly an antique in the cooling community (a unit 15 to 20 years old), your HVAC contractor may be able to suggest more modern, energy-efficient AC units that will improve your home comfort. Modern, high-efficiency central air conditioners can deliver more cooling power at lower cost with less electricity than many units a decade old.
If you are in love with your new home, a new AC system may be a worthwhile investment. It can pay for itself in lower energy bills, a smaller carbon footprint and increased home comfort.
If the existing system is 10 years old or younger, your HVAC contractor can develop a strategy to keep it working well for you, instead of against you. Begin with a basic tune-up. Expect to see systematic parts replacement with the service calls, such as new motor drive belts or a new central air fan motor. Electrical components may need to be swapped out as they wear out. All these routine repairs can still cost less than a new system, so that may be a sensible path for you.
Online research can also help you with simple questions like, “Which air filter should I buy?” You may wonder if you can safely oil the motors yourself, or what a deep-media filter is. You can call your HVAC contractor for these questions, but you can also save yourself some time and money by learning the basics of your own new home system on your own.
#5 Complete Services
Research can also take you to your own HVAC company’s website, where you can find out the full range of services it offers. As a new customer in your new house, the contractor may be able to offer you discounts when you sign up for an annual maintenance plan. You can also learn about important other services that affect the life and health of your central air conditioner:
- Equipment repair
- Indoor air quality test
- Air duct cleaning
Once you begin to understand your central air conditioner is part of a complete system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning — the H, V and AC of HVAC), you will see how proper maintenance across your home can keep an existing system operating efficiently.
Your contractor can balance the airflow throughout your home. Some existing homes have imbalanced systems because homeowners, in misguided attempts to save money, closed off rooms or registers. If you find your new home has hot and cold spots, a rebalancing service call is probably needed.
Need A/C Help? Call the Pros at ACE Home Services
ACE Home Services is ready to answer your call for a local, reliable, community-oriented HVAC contractor. We can handle your existing central air conditioner’s needs, or point you toward a new, energy-efficient system that can save you money for many years to come. We are glad you moved into the neighborhood; contact ACE today at (602) 428-3341 to learn about our specials on air conditioning!