I played in a flag football game last weekend, and, like the forward-thinking athlete I am, I didn’t stretch or warm up first, I just went right out and tried to cover the other team’s deep threats. Well, surprise: I pulled something and was relegated to the sidelines 15 minutes later. I should have known. Not just because stretching before a game is common sense, but because this time of year my HVAC business is a constant reminder that suddenly going from inactivity to heavy use is a quick way to cause some damage.
There’s a valuable lesson about spring air conditioner maintenance to be learned from my flag football debacle. When you start it up after months of inactivity, problems often occur, just like they did in my hamstrings. But I have advice for how you can get your AC up and running again… unlike my hamstrings, which I don’t expect to use at a high level anytime soon.
To keep your AC healthy this spring, I’d like to share tips for solving common early season air conditioner problems, so you can make sure it spends all summer in the game, instead of watching from the sidelines.
Common Problems That Pop up In Spring
Now, let me be clear. You can’t make your AC stretch. When your air conditioner sits unused for the long winter, it doesn’t damage itself by doing too much too fast without a warm up, like our bodies do. What happens to your AC unit is that existing problems get worse. A small issue last September may devolve into a crippling problem come April. Here’s a list of three of the most common early season issues:
- Low refrigerant: A long winter break is the perfect opportunity for a minor refrigerant leak to allow all of the chemical to entirely drain from your unit. Refrigerant never just disappears; it generally leaks from one of two places. One spot is from the copper refrigerant lines that run outside of the compressor. The other one is from inside your compressor, which is more difficult to fix because it involves going into the complex interior of the unit. Leaks are especially common in units at least 4 years old. Here are three signs:
- A hissing noise
- Ice on the coils
- A general lack of cool air coming through the system
- A clogged filter: All HVAC systems have filters to catch hair, dust, and other particles, keeping them from circulating in your air. These filters need to be changed regularly, regardless of the time of year. In general, furnaces and air conditioners share the same filter so if you’ve gone all year without changing yours, you’re incredibly vulnerable to a clog. A clog is something to avoid because in time it grows, impeding the flow of air through your home, forcing your AC to work harder to pump enough cool air for your house. You might have this problem if your unit runs a long time just to lower your temperature by a few degrees, or if there doesn’t seem to be much air coming from your vents.
- A dirty condenser coil: The AC unit outside your house contains a set of coils known as the condenser, which, as the name hints at, is for condensing hot air sent from the compressor. This is done through a chemical reaction that turns gas into liquid with high pressure, cooling it in the process. The cooled liquid is then sent to a different part of the air conditioner called the evaporator, which, just as it sounds, evaporates the liquid, turning it back into gas. Over winter, the outdoor components of the condenser may collect excessive dust or dirt making it difficult to initiate the reaction that lowers air temperature. This problem is usually evident because the air coming out of your vents is chilly, but not entirely cool.
Champion Fixes to Spring Dilemmas
Now we get to the part where I start wishing my body was as easy to fix as an air conditioner. See, the trio of problems mentioned above can almost always be handled with steady maintenance. Although, now that I write that, I suppose this would have saved my hamstring as well. Anyway, let’s look at what it takes to fix these common early season AC issues.
- Fix the leak: You can’t just replenish low refrigerant and expect it to work. Refrigerant never leaves your system. So, if a leak has caused your AC to run low, you need an experienced HVAC technician to find the leak and patch it up before refilling it. Too many times I’ve seen homeowners try to recharge or refill refrigerant, just to have it leak out again.
- Regular filter changes: Filter’s need to be changed monthly. It’s that simple. Also, for filters to function at their best, homeowners need to select the proper type of filter for their HVAC systems, as I’ve discussed in the past. To simplify this process and to ensure you never miss a month, most professional HVAC techs provide a monthly filter change service.
- Condenser coil cleaning: This problem could be as simple as having a trained professional clean the condenser coil. Still, you don’t want to try this yourself because of the complexity of the equipment. The fins of the coil are very sensitive, and too much force or friction can result in major damage. This sensitivity, combined with the risk of handling toxic chemicals found inside the condenser, makes this a job for a professional.
Regardless of what happened with your air conditioner at the end of last summer, or throughout the winter off season, spring is a chance to start fresh. Relax. Any problems that have been brewing can, as I’ve explained above, be fixed. However, if you don’t change the behavior that caused them, you’re likely to be in this situation all over again come next year. A trained HVAC professional can patch any leaks, get you on a regular filter change schedule, and stop by each year to make sure that dirt and dust haven’t overtaken your condenser coil again. It’s kind of like how stretching thoroughly for a day would have saved me from hurting my hamstring, but getting into a habit of properly warming up each time I exercise might save me for life.
Don’t let neglect knock out your AC this spring. Contact the professionals at Bell Brothers today to get the service you need to stay cool this summer.