Paying a contractor is expensive, and the last thing you want to do is fork over that fee every time your air conditioning unit acts up. This is why it is smart to learn how to do at least a basic level of maintenance on your A/C unit yourself.
Replace your air filters at least once a month. If you live in a particularly hot or dusty area, you should change it more often. This is not debatable. Even if you think your filter has a little life left, go ahead and replace it. It’s better to be safe than to wind up sorry, right?
Keep the drain line clean. This one simple task can save you tons of money on extensive repairs later on.
Cleaning the drain is almost ridiculously easy. If your unit has a cap or plug that you can remove, pour a few ounces of bleach down it once every quarter. Pouring a little bit of bleach through the air handler (if you are able to reach it safely) every few months is also a good idea. If you can’t get to these areas easily, it might be worth the cost of hiring a technician to install access so you can save money over the long term.
Check the outside part of the unit regularly. Make sure that the coils are clean and that there isn’t any debris blocking them.
The coils are easy enough to clean by hosing them off, but you need to be careful that you don’t bend any of the fins. If you’re not sure about using a hose, you can easily brush off debris with a brush. When you go in to clean your coils, take a moment to make sure that water actually comes out of the drain while the unit is in operation. If it doesn’t, that’s a sign that you need to call someone to come help you.
Make sure that everything with Freon in your unit is operating the way it should be. This is as simple as checking the line to make sure that it is still sturdy and that it is not showing signs of wear or tear. If it looks a little worse for wear, it’s time to call a professional.
Warning: Don’t Touch the Freon
If you are getting into the idea of doing your own A/C maintenance—especially if you are someone who really likes learning to take care of things him or herself, it might be tempting to mess with the Freon (the juice that actually makes the air cold). This is not something you should ever try to repair or mess with on your own. Always call a qualified technician to take care of any problems you have with the Freon.
It’s tempting, once you master these do-it-yourself tasks to want to learn how to do more. Suddenly, you look at your A/C unit and think, “I could totally take that apart! How hard could it really be?”
No, really: STOP.
It’s good that you want to do things yourself. You’re obviously a handy person. Unless you have formal training in the care and keeping of A/C systems and units, though, there are some things you need to leave to the professionals:
• The checking out, lubricating, and putting back together of any parts that move.
• Anything that has anything to do with capacitors, relays, condensate drains, or electrical connections.
• Going anywhere near the motor—even just for measuring voltage.
The last thing you want to do is accidentally sever a limb or appendage, electrocute yourself, or render your entire A/C unit useless!
To give yourself some peace of mind, though (knowing how costly A/C maintenance can be), here are a few things you can do to make sure that you hire the best and most cost-effective maintenance professional:
1. Spend some time checking out each person you’re thinking of hiring. Look them (or their company) up on Angie’s List, in the Better Business Bureau, and run a quick reputation search on Google and in social media.
2. Meet with the person (or a representative of the company) before having the technician out at your house. Ask questions! In addition to learning about rates and availability, you want to know about customer satisfaction. It’s okay to ask for references you can check out.
3. Use your referral network! Your friends and neighbors probably have a company through which they contract to get their maintenance done. Ask for phone numbers and reviews. These reviews are the best because they come from people who know you, your situation, and who are familiar with the local A/C techs in your area.
Note: It’s okay to ask who your friends and neighbors wouldn’t work with. If someone had a bad experience with a company or repair individual, that is important information to have!
The key to A/C maintenance is prevention. By taking care of the unit itself, replacing the filters regularly, etc., you reduce your risk of needing to make major repairs later on. It’s kind of like how you brush your teeth every day so you don’t have to spend more than a couple hours at the dentist every six months for a cleaning.