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Practicing at-home AC maintenance

Attic Air Conditioning Unit

If you're thinking about investing in or have already purchased a central air conditioning system, be aware that maintenance is important to ensuring efficient service.

Cleaning vital parts of your outdoor condenser unit once a month is crucial to lasting performance. Always remove leaves and debris from around your condenser, especially during times of heavy use. Check the base pan under the unit and remove anything that has accumulated there as well. Keep vegetation at least 2 feet away from outdoor AC units on each side and above. Aim grass clippings away from the condenser when mowing the lawn, and during the fall, keep the fan grill free of leaves.

When cleaning the AC itself, start with the filter. Be careful not to have the fan running while the filter is removed. In fact, the power should be off when attempting anything other than exterior cleaning. It is recommended that you routinely clean or replace dirty clogged filters in order to maintain cooling efficiency. If you wash it, be sure to allow it to dry completely before reinstalling.

Next remove the fan grill on top of the unit and the attached blades. Gently brush any debris off the blades with a cloth. Then uncover the condenser coils inside the device. After shielding the mechanical and electrical components like the motor with a plastic bag, use a hose to clean the inside. If the fan makes a clicking or grating noise when you turn it on this means either its impacting something or it's bent. If the latter is the case, you should buy a new fan instead of trying to straighten it. Straightening the blade yourself can cause it to become unbalanced and it may loosen the fan motor or hit the condenser coil. Once you replace the new blade, ensure it fits well and doesn't wobble. It must be able to rotate freely. Modern fan motors generally don't need to be lubricated, but excessive noise or vibration could indicate a problem.

During the fall and winter months protect the condenser unit with a form-fitting cover, and to avoid damaging the compressor, don't operate the unit when it's below 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Before each summer, it is recommended that central air conditioners get a professional tune-up. This is the biggest step to preventing major malfunctions in an AC unit. Call John C. Flood, the Arlington, Washington, D.C. and Gaithersburg HVAC service experts. Our specialists will ensure you get lasting, efficient cooling from your AC system.