While a Houston autumn is warmer (and much shorter) than even our northern neighbors in Dallas, we still have to deal with our own temperature and weather challenges as the calendar moves forward. In the next few weeks, as households begin the back to school rush, it’s important to start thinking about fall home maintenance. Because of our warm autumns, our focus is maintaining the air conditioning unit to ensure that it keeps running at maximum efficiency through the next few months. A complete professional HVAC tune-up should be scheduled twice a year, before major seasonal changes. But it is important to perform a few key DIY maintenance procedures to keep your home cool throughout our humid fall.
Fin Comb/Flathead Screwdriver
Change the AC Filter
During the hottest months, when your air conditioning is in constant use, you should be changing out your air filter every month. If you are one of those diligent homeowners who have already changed your filter, you are ahead of the game. A dirty filter will make your HVAC system work harder and ultimately compromise the performance. Keep your air conditioning running smoothly throughout the hot fall and change out the filter regularly.
Clean the Condenser (Exterior)
The condenser is the outdoor component of your air conditioning, usually located in the back yard or side of the house. Make sure before you begin cleaning the outdoor unit that you turn off the power. There should be an outdoor shutoff close to the unit, but if you are unable to locate it, you will want to turn off the power through the electrical panel. Do NOT proceed until the power has been turned off. Wipe away branches, leaves and any yard detritus that built up over the summer. Pay special attention to the fins, which need to be free from debris in order for the air to properly circulate. Consider vacuuming the fins if they are particularly dirty, but make sure to use a brush attachment as they are easily bent.
Fix Bent Fins
Bent fins are a common problem with condenser units. During cleaning did you find any areas that were bent or dented? If so, you will need to straighten them out. Any blockage can affect the unit’s performance. Fin combs are tools made specifically for straightening both condenser and window unit fins. You can find them at your local home improvement store. You can also use a screwdriver to straighten them out, though you will want to be careful not to harm them further. If there has been any major damage to the fins, you might need to have a professional technician take care of the problem.
Clean the Condenser (Interior)
Not all condenser units are the same. Some have a grille top (also known as the fan cage), while some have a solid top. If it’s a grille design, you should be able to easily unscrew it. A grille/fan cage is attached directly to the fan. If you have a solid top, check your owner’s manual for the proper way to gain access to the fan. You can’t entirely remove the fan, which will remain attached by wires, but you should be able to set it aside to gain entrance to the interior. (You might need someone to help hold the fan while you continue cleaning.) Once you have access to the interior, vacuum out all the debris that has found its way inside. Note: If you have had some experience working with your unit, you might want to lubricate the fan motor and compressor. This step is not mandatory – and only suggested to those more familiar with the mechanics of their condenser.
After you have thoroughly cleaned the inside of the condenser, make sure that you have properly screwed the grille top/fan cage back into place. Return the power to the unit and then run an A/C cycle to make sure that it is running efficiently.
If you have scheduled maintenance every spring and fall, you might not need (or want) to attempt DIY cleaning. But if you are not on a regular bi-yearly plan, or feel that your unit had an especially rough summer, taking these steps to improve efficiency will save you both energy and money. Remember that Universal Home Experts can help you with all aspects of HVAC service – including professional maintenance. Call us at (713) 364-0226 to schedule service today!