During the summer months, my old window air conditioner frequently caused me distress, as it was an appliance that could find no middle ground. It fluctuated between providing temperatures that ranged from "icebox" to "miserably lukewarm." Imagine the difference when I finally got a clue and made the switch to a place with central AC!
The summertime indoor climate is now much more to my liking because the AC unit runs more efficiently. Plus, there have been some significant reductions in my electric bill. As long as you remember to keep up with maintenance every so often, you can have reliable in-home comfort for years using central air or a similarly high-end cooling system.
Here are some critical points of why central AC maintenance is so valuable:
The bottom line
As with so many other things in our lives, dollars and cents loom large on any list of reasons why you should check the status of a central air conditioner on a regular basis. The unit isn't cheap at first. Central air can cost at least $3,000 to install and connect to your house's ductwork and expenses can climb $7,000 or more if ductwork also needs to be installed. Although the increase in energy efficiency is a positive, it's important to be aware of the up-front costs.
But the appliance isn't foolproof, and it's also not capable of cleaning itself. If you don't take the time to check on its inner workings and remove the dust, dirt, pollen, leaves and other miscellaneous material that accumulates throughout your central air conditioner, it will likely still work, but it won't function nearly as well as it should. As a result, efficiency and cooling quality will decline, effectively setting some of the money you could've otherwise been saving on fire.
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Filter cleaning essentials
If your central air conditioner works with reusable filters, as plenty of models do, you should remove and clean them on a regular basis, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Home Guides. At an absolute minimum, you should do this twice a year, at the beginning and end of the summer. Here's how to clean your filters:
- Remember to always turn the unit completely off before any maintenance.
- Remove the filters by unscrewing the unit's top access panel.
- Wash the filters using your water from your garden hose and soap - depending on how dirty they are.
- Let the filters dry and then put them back in as you found them.
It's worth noting that certain central air models keep their filters separate from the rest of the appliance, under separate access panels that'll be fairly close to the unit.
Disposable filters aren't handled that differently - you use remove them entirely and install new ones in their place. Usually made of cardboard or thin fiber, these disposable filters are actually even more important to change regularly than their reusable counterparts. A serious accumulation of dirt and grime could end up occluding the normal airflow cycle, increasing malfunction and flammability risks. If you add thin cardboard to that alarm-inducing mix of factors, the danger of fire only becomes more serious.
Condenser coil cool-down
Your central air conditioner's condenser works just as hard as the filters to keep the unit functioning properly. As a result, it similarly accumulates layers of dust and debris over time. The condenser's coils bear the brunt of this buildup.
Fortunately, it's pretty simple to clean them:
- First, use a screwdriver to remove any panels or grilles covering the condenser, as HomeTips explained.
- With either a soft vacuum brush or refrigerator coil brush, delicately remove the dust and grime from the condenser. (If you don't have either of those, most hardware stores will have at least one; probably both.)
- If the coils are especially dirty, you can use a hose to clean them, but be sure the stream isn't too strong or broad.
Being prepared for central air conditioning repairs is always a smart move. See how plans from HomeServe can help with the costs of covered repairs.