How often does central A/C need maintenance? Ideally, you should have your A/C serviced once a year, in the early spring, before temperatures climb and you need to rely on the unit to keep your home comfortable. But it can be hard to book a service appointment, especially since the best contractors tend to also be the busiest.
Fortunately, while there are some A/C maintenance tasks the average homeowner won’t have the skills or equipment to do, you can perform most A/C maintenance tasks on your own. If you’re wondering how to make sure your A/C is ready for summer, here’s what you need to know to perform your own A/C tune-up.
Change the Air Filters
The first step in your DIY A/C tune-up should be changing the filter in the blower unit. You can find it on your indoor furnace and A/C blower, between the large fresh air return duct and the furnace itself. You may need a screwdriver to remove the cover to the filter enclosure. Remove the old filter and put a fresh one in its place, matching up the airflow direction arrows to those on your unit. Replace your filter at least every six months, but preferably every one to three months if you have pets or someone in your home has respiratory issues.
Shut Off Power to the Unit
Before you start taking apart your outdoor unit to clean and service it, shut off power to the unit. There should be a shutoff box on the exterior of your home near the unit. Open it and shut off the power, usually by pulling out a plug inside the box, or removing a fuse. Go inside and shut off your A/C at the breaker box, too.
Clean the Inside of the Condenser
Use a screwdriver, nut driver or wrench to remove the top of the cage from the outdoor unit, and remove the fan, too, if it’s not attached to the top. Give the fan blades a spin to make sure they haven’t locked up over the winter. Remove any leaves, sticks, or other debris from inside the unit with your hands or a shop vac.
Clean and Straighten the Fins
You have to be careful cleaning the condenser coils, because you could easily damage them with too much water pressure or a heavy hand. If you don’t know how to clean condenser coils, you can at least rest assured that it’s not too technically difficult. Use a soft brush attachment on your shop vac to gently vacuum dust and debris from the coils, or wash them with a gentle spray from a garden hose.
Once you have cleaned the condenser coils, examine them for bent fins. Carefully straighten any bent fins with a butter knife or a fin comb. Take care not to damage the pipes inside the fins.
Clear Plants and Debris from Around the Unit
Your A/C unit needs at least two feet of clearance around it, so you’ll need to remove weeds, plants, and debris from around the outdoor unit so that it can get the airflow it needs to function properly. If you have garden plants growing close to your A/C unit, you should move them. If you have any kind of structure intended to camouflage your A/C, make sure it provides proper ventilation.6
Level the Unit
Check the concrete pad under your unit to make sure it’s leveled. If it isn’t, pry it up with a board and level it by placing gravel underneath. If your unit isn’t leveled, it could fail prematurely.
DIY tips are for informational purposes only. Please be sure to take the appropriate safety precautions and ensure your project complies with any applicable federal, state, or local laws and regulations.