As with many mechanical devices, maintenance is an essential part of ensuring proper function and optimum performance in air conditioners. Whether central, in-house, or portable, air conditioners should be maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications and in accordance with a manual. Central air conditioning systems, as commonly used in large industrial spaces and inside professional buildings and homes, consist of two main components, each of which require specific maintenance and treatment.
The exterior component of a central air conditioning system, called the condenser unit, is composed of several important subcomponents: a compressor, a condenser coil, a fan, and coolant lines that connect the unit in its entirety to the interior evaporator coil. Typically, a condenser unit is located outside, either on the roof or in another safe, outdoor location. The evaporator coil tends to be installed in close proximity to the furnace.
Because the condenser and evaporator are often sealed in a central air conditioning system, do-it-yourself maintenance is somewhat restricted and annual system maintenance should be scheduled prior to using the system for an extended period. However, if the system isn’t sealed, there are several methods for maintaining a properly functioning unit.
If the evaporator is easy to access, cleaning it once annually is recommended. To clean the evaporator, first remove the foil insulation, carefully saving any tape so it’s easy to replace later. Next, remove the screws on the access plate and lift the plate. Using a stiff-bristled brush, clean the area around the evaporator and the tray directly beneath it. Because the tray catches condensation, pour a little (one tablespoon) of basic household bleach into the weep hole to help prevent the development of fungus. If the tray seems overly full, the weep hole may be clogged; open the weep hole with a piece of wire and check the drain. When cleaning is complete, replace the plate, screws, and foil insulation.
After cleaning the evaporator, maintenance on the condenser unit can begin. Because the condenser unit is located outside, maintaining the area around the unit is important. Maintenance of the surrounding area typically includes making sure plants and grass do not grow into the unit and disrupt airflow, or removing snow or other environmental hazards.
After taking care of the surrounding area, open the condenser unit and clean the condenser with coil cleaner (check with a manufacturer for cleaner specifications), flush the coil, then let it dry. Next, clean the fins to remove grime, but do so carefully: fins are typically manufactured from light aluminum, which can easily be damaged. A fin comb may be used to straighten any misshapen fins. In winter, cover the unit with a prefabricated condenser cover.
Lastly, check the platform upon which the condenser sits using a level, to ensure that it sits evenly.