How to Care for Your Air Conditioning Unit
Plus, find out how long these appliances typically last in the first place.
When those hot summer days roll around each year, the first thing on most of our minds is keeping our homes cool. Thanks to central cooling systems or air conditioning units, a refreshing blast of cold air is just a switch away. The latter, however, needs a little more attention to function at its best and run smoothly with every use. Here, experts explain how to tend to your unit to maximize its efficacy and prolong its longevity.
Units last for about 15 years.
According to Marla Mock, the vice president of operations at Aire Serv, a Neighborly company, your HVAC or AC units will likely last upwards of two decades—so long as they are the correct size for the room. "Their power is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs) per hour. The higher the BTUs, the more powerful the cooling system," Jessica Petrino, an educator and appliance expert at AJ Madison, adds. "Room air conditioners are fussy—if you oversize an AC, the room will feel clammy and damp. If you undersize an AC, the unit will work too hard and eventually burn itself out."
Proper upkeep is also critical, say our experts. "Maintenance is the key to the longevity of today's HVAC units," notes Mocks. "The age of the equipment, the reliability issues outside of the warranty, how many repairs have been done previously, and the cost of an at-hand repair needed are all major factors to consider when replacing your unit [instead of repairing it]." There are other perks if you do decide to upgrade your system. "The most compelling reason for you to replace your air conditioner is energy efficiency," Petrino says. "Energy bills run high in the summertime, and old AC units use more electricity, resulting in higher cooling bills. Many local utility companies offer incentives for you to recycle old energy-hogging appliances, including air conditioners."
Clean the coils, filter, and air vents.
To ensure your unit lasts as long as possible, keep it clean; this is the most important step towards saving money and preserving the appliance. Petrino recommends first looking at your manual for cleaning suggestions. If you install your air conditioner every season, you'll need to "clean out any buildup of leaves, dirt, pollen, or dust from the coils before having it installed in your window or wall sleeve," she notes. Mock adds that, at a minimum, the condenser coils should be cleaned twice per year (at least once before the warm-weather season and again after temperatures rise, around July or August).
Another essential step? Clean out your air filters or simply replace them if they are too soiled. "The job of an AC filter is to remove debris from the air before it enters your system," Mock shares. "When things clog up, the unit will not cool as well and, in fact, will have to work much harder and use more energy—causing a substantial rise in the electric bill." A dirty filter can also shorten the lifespan of your air conditioner itself, since debris is constantly being pulled into the unit. As a rule of thumb, replace your filter a least once a month. Last, but certainly not least, get those air vents clean. Mock advises rubbing the vents with anti-static dryer sheet to keep dust at bay.
Monitor the machine for problems.
Beyond general cleaning, understanding the difference between an efficient and nonfunctioning system is key. "The best way homeowners can tell if something is wrong is by understanding how the air conditioning system should sound and appear," Mock says. "If the system is vibrating loudly, making abnormal sounds, or not performing the way it was, you will want to have it checked by a licensed technician." Keep an eye out for any leaks, too, especially when you aren't using it. Another important sign to watch for? Moisture in the AC unit. Monitor the moisture indicator on the high- or low-pressure lines—and if your unit's refrigeration system becomes too wet, a technician should be called so they can vacuum the line and make repairs, Mock says.