Just like a car, an air conditioner is a machine that requires regular servicing and attention. Even if an AC system appears to be working OK, routine maintenance and care is essential to keep it working as designed.
There are 10 primary reasons for servicing an air conditioner. These include enhancing performance, improving indoor air quality, reducing the spread of airborne viruses and bacteria, extending the lifespan of an aircon, and increasing energy efficiency to save you money.
There are certain things you can do yourself to check and clean an air conditioner. We’ll go through a number of these DIY aircon servicing tips here.
We’ll also run through a number of simple tasks you can do to save time, money and headache over the course of an air conditioning system lifespan. These tasks will help you maintain air conditioning and heating units in the best possible way.
Please note that there is still a point when it’s time to call in the experts. But until then, there is plenty you can do yourself for your work or home air conditioner.
Tip 1. Check Power
It is essential that before you start most of the following tips, or attempt pretty much anything other than turn aircon on/off or run AC units for that matter, that you make sure there is NO electricity running through your air conditioner. Safety first!
Note what position the isolation switch is in. This switch is often called an isolator as it is designed to isolate power to an air conditioning system. If you are trying to test run your aircon, check the isolator is in the ON position. However, for the majority of other checks, the isolator should be in the OFF position.
Turn off all gateways of electricity running to your air con system, including but not limited to the isolator, circuit breaker and/or power point an older unit may be plugged in to. The more electrical points turned off, the better.
Please note that just because it’s switched off, this doesn’t guarantee no power to the air conditioner. Invisibly faulty components, such as a broken isolator switch, can allow power to still reach the AC units even when in the OFF position.
If you attempt aircon servicing on units with power running through them, you risk harming the system, the building power circuit, yourself, and those around you. Surely it is not worth the risk.
If you are not 100% sure how to guarantee no power, it is best to contact an air conditioning contractor for assistance. Fully qualified Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Contractors, aka HVAC Technicians, hold an additional Electrical Licence specifically designed for working on air con systems and their electrical components.
Tip 2. Read Manufacturer’s Instructions
When you buy new air conditioner units, they came with manufacturer instructions typically in the form of an Operations, Owner or User Manual. This manual outlines key features, operational instructions, and ways to care for your specific AC model. For example, it explains how to access the air filters and other key components of your specific system that you can maintain at home.
The manual also outlines how to use the system correctly, including any economy settings, timers, or safety features. These instructions help extend the life of your business or home air conditioner, as well as save you time and money. It is recommended to refresh your knowledge of the aircon system operations as often as required.
If you didn’t receive a User Manual, or can’t find the original document, try downloading a copy from the manufacturer’s website. Many popular brands, such as Daikin, have manuals readily available online. Alternatively, your air conditioning installation team should be able to help you with this.
Tip 3. Check and Clean Filters
Cleaning filters is one of the most, if not THE most, effective ways to maintain your air conditioning system. It is also vital to ensuring a healthy environment in your home or business.
This is especially true for a Ducted System. Here’s why…
Ducted air starts at the indoor fan coil unit, circulates through a building and is blown out through outlets in every room. The air is then sucked back into the air con system through the return air grille and returns to the indoor unit. The cycle then repeats.
In a ducted system, the filter is usually found covering the return air grille in the ceiling. Given the cycle of air flow, the cleanliness of the filter therefore impacts the cleanliness of the air being recycled indoors.
A filter literally filters the air and prevents airborne particles, dust, grime, and other pollutants from recirculating in your home. If these particles are not captured by an adequately clean air conditioner filter and make it through to the indoor fan coil unit, this can cause dirt to build up and mould to grow within the indoor unit. Mouldy air can then flow out into every room of the home or commercial workspace.
Further to obvious health issues associated with mouldy air condition, a blocked filter will reduce airflow and cause an aircon to work harder. This reduces the expected lifespan of an air conditioner as components are worn out faster and can be damaged unnecessarily. It will also cause power bills to skyrocket as the AC units draw more power to try and function normally.
How can you tell if a filter needs cleaning? A general rule of thumb is to hold a filter up to a light and see if you can see light through it. If the light is not bright, or worst case not seen at all, it’s time to clean the washable filter. If it’s a disposable one, then it’s time to replace it.
How to clean a ducted filter
- Make sure the AC system is off.
- Undo the return air grille hinged frame fixing (usually a thumb screw or sliding clip).
- Guide the frame to swing open and hang vertically.
- Gently slide the filter out.
- Vacuum off any lint, dust, cobwebs, grime and any other matter on the filter. This is best done outside if possible.
- Wash the whole filter in warm water with a mild detergent. Soaking it in a bath or large body of water is good. Move the filter around to dislodge anything that is stuck. Rinsing it off in the shower using low-moderate pressure is another convenient option. Otherwise, hosing the filter media off outside is also a suitable method and often the most practical due to filter size and if this is being done by an air conditioning contractor.
- If soaked, drain the water and give the filter a rinse. If using a shower or hose, give the filter a final rinse. Vinegar, diluted as a 50/50 mix with water, can be used to further sanitize your filter at this point.
- Gently tap the filter to remove excess water and allow it to completely dry in a warm dry area, ideally out of direct sunlight. Best to keep it away from windy areas or dogs who like to chew while the filter is drying.
- Check the overall condition. If the filter material is wearing thin, has any tears, is coming away from the frame, or is failing to clean up sufficiently, it is time for a new filter. Any good air conditioning service and repairs company can arrange a made-to-measure replacement filter on request, with options of supply and fit or supply only.
- Once dry, an antibacterial spray can be applied to the filter to help slow bacteria and mould growth.
- Slide the filter back into the hinged grille inside, swing the grille back up into the ceiling recess and secure (i.e. screw the fixing screw or slide the clip back). It’s worth noting that the filter is directional, meaning it matters which way it goes in. Look for arrow or markers showing the correct way.
- Once these steps are completed, turn the ducted air conditioner back on and test run the system. If you hear any whistling, adjust the filter slightly to resolve. If you hear any other abnormal noises, it is recommended to turn the system off and contact an aircon expert.
For wall split systems, cassettes and box air conditioners, servicing filters is also important to ensure a healthy indoor environment and optimum system performance. Split aircon filters are usually found under the front cover of the indoor unit.
How to clean wall split system filters
- Ensure power to the air conditioner is turned off.
- Open the front cover of the indoor unit (i.e. external casing or facia).
- Carefully slide the filters out. Check the manufacturing specifications or user manual for model-specific instructions.
- Vacuum off the dust, dirt, lint, grime, mould and any other matter on the filters. Best done outside if possible.
- Wash the filters in warm water with a mild detergent. Soaking in water is good and move filters around to dislodge anything stuck in them. Rinsing them off in the shower or with a hose outside, with low-medium pressure, are other suitable options.
- Give the filters a final rinse. Vinegar, diluted as a 50/50 mix with water, can be used to further sanitize your filters at this point.
- Gently tap the filters to remove excess water and allow them to completely dry away from direct sun, wind and pets.
- Check the overall filter condition. If the filters are wearing thin, have any tears, or are failing to clean up fully, it is time for new filters. Any good air conditioning repair and service company can arrange genuine replacement filters, if they are still available, with options of supply only or supply and fit.
- Once dry, an antibacterial spray can be applied to the filters to help prevent bacteria and mould.
- Slide the filters back into position within the indoor aircon unit.
- Once finished, turn the power back on, turn the air conditioner back on, and test run the system. If you hear any whistling, adjust the filters slightly to resolve. If you notice any abnormal noises, it’s recommended to turn the system off and contact an expert.
Tip 4. Check and Clear Condensate Drain
A blocked AC drain is a common sign that an air conditioner requires servicing. The condensate drain is connected to a drain pan or tray at the indoor unit and then usually runs into a collection point outside. It allows condensation produced during the normal refrigeration cycle to be carried away.
Blockages can occur when matter accumulates in the aircon drain line, such as algae, slime or mould. Insects such as cockroaches can also die, pass through, and then swell up in a drain line as they absorb water over time, causing a blockage. Components from the indoor unit such as insulation can also break off and clog up the drain.
A blockage can lead to an obvious flow of water where is shouldn’t be, such as out the front of the indoor unit, from the ceiling, through an air vent, out a light fitting, or even through the ceiling. In extreme cases, a whole ceiling can collapse because of a ducted drain blockage.
However, sometimes the water leak isn’t obvious and may be hidden within the indoor unit. To check for an air con drain blockage, you can have a look at the condensate tray. If water is collecting in the tray and not draining away, this typically indicates a blockage somewhere in the drain line.
The drain tray is located under the indoor evaporator coil in wall splits units. You can often see whether water is pooling while removing the air filters.
For ducted AC, the drain tray and often a back up safety tray can be found under the complete indoor unit. You may be able to see whether water is building up in tray/s from your ceiling manhole. If not, it cannot be recommended to go crawling through the ceiling to investigate unless you are a trained professional due to the risk of falling through.
A condensate drain can run into a down pipe, drain or gutter. Sometimes it simply runs off into the garden. If you have easy access to the end of the drain, you can use a wet/dry vac to suck out the drain. Using duct tape around the end of the drain line and vacuum head can increase the suction pressure where required.
This method can suck out and clear many blockages, allowing the AC drain to function normally again. However, if water leaking persists or you see any ice build up then there may be a more serious underlying issue that requires professional investigation.
Tip 5. Clean Exterior of Indoor Unit
Like every surface in your home or business, the indoor air conditioner unit can develop a film of dust, dirt, grime, cobwebs and even mould. Routine wiping down of the external unit is recommended with a feather duster, cloth or very lightly dampened washer.
You can use an antibacterial solution to make the air conditioner cleaner and sanitized. The safety way to do this is to spray a cloth first, then use that cloth on the casing of the aircon, rather than spraying any liquid directly onto the unit.
Sometimes mould, dirt and grime can build up within the indoor unit, especially on the fan barrel and coil. This can result in a mouldy/musky smell, spitting of particles from the indoor head and/or poor performance of the overall system due to lowered air flow.
The indoor unit can be disassembled and chemically cleaned with specially designed equipment to remove internal matter build up. However, this is a task suitable only for an experienced and fully qualified air conditioner technician due to technical and serious safety considerations. Ice Blast Air Conditioning Brisbane Team is happy to help if required.
Tip 6. Clean Air Outlets
Wall Split Unit
A wall split system has louvres (aka vanes or flaps) on the exterior of the indoor unit that direct air flow. These angled oscillating flaps tend to collect dust and other matter on the surface when the aircon isn’t used frequently.
As a result, when the air conditioner is then turned on, the dust will typically blow out into the air and be breathed in by anyone in the room. It’s certainly not the sort of air you want to breath in. It can also cause nasal irritation and a sneezing fit.
These louvers can be cleaned with a dry cloth. You can wipe over the surface and spaces between them. Great care is required while cleaning, especially with older units, as these components become brittle and crack easily over time.
After air con cleaning, you can also spray the flaps with an antibacterial aerosol to help slow the growth of bacteria. Great care is required with any water-based product as you don’t want water in any form entering the indoor head unit.
A standard ducted system has outlets (a.k.a. diffusers, registers, or vents) in the ceiling of each room or any area where air blows out. Some ducted aircons have side-blow or even floor vents. All of these registers can develop a build-up of cobwebs, dirt, dust, grime and even mould on the surface.
When ducted air then blows over the surface, it spreads this matter into the air, polluting the indoor environment. Furthermore, there is often a layer of matter sitting on the ceiling-side of outlets that you don’t even notice until the central air starts pumping out.
These outlets can be cleaned with a dry duster and/or a warm, damp cloth. You can wipe over the front surface and very carefully do the area behind them. Be sure to cover and protect your face and hair in the process.
If you are unable to reach any air vents by standing, it is safest to use an extender pole or similar device while standing firmly on the ground. If you choose to use a ladder, please ensure it’s a safe access platform compliant with any health and safety bodies in your region for the safety of yourself and those around you.
If a duster or damp cloth isn’t cutting it, or for greater sanitation, you can also spray the outlets with an antibacterial solution such as Spray n’ Wipe. As mentioned previously, a cloth can be sprayed with the solution first, rather than it being applied directly onto the surface.
Apart from health benefits, cleaning ducted aircon outlets can instantly brighten up the interior a home or business. This can be a valuable part of commercial HVAC maintenance, especially if customers are entering the business premises.
However, AC registers don’t always clean up good-as-new as they can fade and become discoloured over time. Good air conditioning companies should be able to arrange replacement air outlets for you.
Tip 7. Check Temperatures
During an air conditioner service, it is worth checking the temperature difference between the supply and return air while the system is in cooling. The difference should be as close to 10 degrees as possible. If not, complete other routine checks and retest. If still not at least 10 degrees difference, an HVAC contractor can investigate further.
To check temperatures, it is recommended to use a calibrated thermometer for most accurate readings. If temperatures are not correct, it could be due to the thermometer rather than an aircon issue.
To take the temperature, the end of the thermometer usually needs to be as close to the flow of air as possible, regardless of which way the air is flowing. Hold the thermometer in the airflow stream for a suitable period; 30-60 seconds for a digital thermometer or 7-10 minutes for a glass thermometer.
For a ducted system, the supply air temperature can be taken from the air outlets in the ceiling, grilles in the wall or vents in the floor. Please ensure a safe working platform and great caution when accessing ceiling or wall registers.
A ducted return air temperature reading should be taken at the return air grille and filter. Get as close at possible to the return air. Again, take care when accessing. If taken from standing height, away from the return air point, you’ll essentially just be measuring the ambient air condition.
For a wall split system, the supply air temperature can be taken in the air stream coming out of the front louvers. Please do not stick the thermometer inside the ac unit for any reason as it could cause damage to the unit or yourself.
Return air location for a wall split unit is not so obvious. You will usually find the air returning to the aircon through the top of the indoor unit. Please ensure a safe work platform if the top of the unit can’t be reached while standing.
Tip 8. Listen to Indoor Unit
It is worth paying attention to the usual operational noises that your indoor air conditioner unit makes. That way, you can identify any abnormal noises if/when they arise.
Banging or clanking is commonly heard when there is a broken or loose part such as indoor fan motor/blade or something out of balance such as the fan barrel. Depending on the location and severity of the part, it may need attention before continuing to use the unit. Alternatively, it could just be a matter of monitoring and letting the aircon run until complete failure if the system is close to end of life anyway.
Squealing can indicate faulty components such as indoor fan motor housing or bearings. In a ducted system, these sounds can travel through ductwork and find their way out of outlets and vents. However, for some units, a degree of squealing could be normal on start up.
Rattling or chattering may indicate a range of issues, such as failing contactor or fan. It can also be caused by loose screws or bolts. Any of these faulty items could cause damage to other components if the system is left to run, so it’s recommended to turn the aircon off until issue resolved.
Clicking or humming, aside from the normal start-up/shutdown noises, could be the sound of a failing or defective electrical components such as the thermostat or wiring. It could also be coming from a loose part.
Buzzing is a common noise that could be caused by many different issues. Loose parts, piping rubbing between units, debris inside the unit, blower or fan blades loose or out of balance, air filter dirty, refrigerant leak, and/or unit icing up can all cause a buzzing noise.
Screaming or high-pitched whistling is a relatively serious noise, like your air conditioner is literally screaming out for help. If you hear this noise, it is recommended to stop running your aircon immediately. This sound can indicate a refrigerant leak and running it could cause further damage to the AC and global environment, as well as being dangerous to your health.
Your indoor AC unit can make a range of noises that indicate something isn’t quite right. Knowing the normal sounds of your system allows you to identify these abnormal sounds. You then have the knowledge to call an expert for ac unit repair when the issue can’t be resolved through DIY aircon servicing.
Tip 9. Inspect and Test Controller Functions
It is recommended to visually check over your air conditioning controls at least once a month. However, this could really be done every time you use the aircon. In fact, you may already be doing this without even noticing.
It is recommended to check that all buttons, covers and flaps are working as designed and ensure none are coming lose. Lose buttons can be a choking hazard for small children. Lose covers or flaps can expose hazardous components or give children unwanted access to batteries.
You can also check that writing on the buttons and pixels on the screen display are all visible and comprehendible. These can both fade overtime. Distorted pixels can indicate that the controller is slowing failing, affecting system operations.
AC remote control batteries are recommended to be changed over, or at least checked, once or twice a year. This is because batteries gradually self-discharge over time and leak, causing corrosion. Checking and changing the batteries before corrosion sets in prevents damage to the air con controller.
If you have an air conditioner with heat, it is recommended to flick this reverse cycle AC system to the opposite temperature function every 3 months and test run for 30 minutes. So if you are using the heating function in winter, flick the air conditioner to cooling at least once during that season.
This reversing of operations moves certain valves in a dual air conditioning and heating system, which helps prevent them from sticking or seizing. It also allows other key components of the refrigeration cycle to work in the opposite direction, ensuring the whole aircon system continues to work as designed.
Tip 10. Test Run Before Required
If you aren’t using an air conditioner for a particular season, it is recommended to test run your AC system at least once during that season. You don’t want to wait until the first hot day of spring or summer only to find out the system isn’t working.
Most people don’t check their aircon until they need to use it. With everyone turning their system on at once, the number of faulty air conditioners discovered on one day is higher than normal. This means demand for AC Repair Technicians is high. This results in longer wait times and/or having to resort to more expensive companies if you are not willing or able to wait.
If you are using an air conditioner, as mentioned in Tip 7 (link to tip 7), it is recommended to flick your reverse cycle AC system to the opposite temperature function at least once per season and test run for 30 minutes.
Apart from the operation benefits, testing the air conditioner in the opposite setting gives you a chance to find out if the system is not working correctly before you actually need it to function that way. This gives you a chance to troubleshoot and call in an air conditioning contactor if needed to resolve the issue well before you need it fixed.
In this situation, you can wait for your preferred AC technician as you are not in a rush. This will save you the stress of being without a fully functioning aircon when you need it most.
It could also save you money as you can benefit from off-peak call out rates and pricing. Furthermore, the availability of parts also starts to decline as the number of air conditioner repairs increases and common parts are snapped up. Test running your aircon before needed really does have great deal of benefits.
Tip 11. Do Some Gardening
Gardening? I thought we were talking about air conditioning, I hear you say. Yes, gardening can be an essential part of routine air conditioner maintenance.
Living matter can grow into an aircon unit, causing all sorts of physical and electrical issues. Clearing the area around an AC unit prevents these issues.
Nature’s beauty also provides the perfect home for all sorts of animals. If an AC unit is in close proximity their natural habitat, the risk of animal damage to the air conditioner increases. The most common animals impacting AC units include geckos, ants, cockroaches, lizards, snakes, frogs, rodents and possums.
It’s worth assessing and tending to garden beds, trees, bushes, foliage, weeds, grass, pot plants, wooden structures, vertical gardens, bird baths, ponds, and any other organic item or water source around your dwelling or premises. These items can still have their place outdoors, but you may want to keep them as far away from the AC unit/s as possible and keep them suitably maintained.
Indoor plants, living structures and water features also need to be considered as living creatures can use these as their home or water source. Insects or vermin in particular live in, or are drawn in to, these living features in the home. If these attractions are anywhere near an indoor aircon unit, there is an increased risk of them entering the unit and causing damage to the electrics or printed circuit (PC) boards.
Tip 12. Clear Around Outdoor Unit
Organic matter and structures around an outdoor AC unit don’t only threaten to invade or increase the risk of animal damage; They can also impact airflow around the outdoor unit. However, there is far more to consider on this point.
The outdoor unit is known as the condenser or sometimes referred to as the compressor (i.e. a component within the unit). It plays a major role in the function of an air conditioning system. Any items placed around an outdoor aircon unit can restrict the airflow and reduce system efficiency. Such items include custom-made boxes, screens, fences, bikes, bins, pool equipment/chemicals, gardening tools/equipment, etc. The list is endless.
The area around an outdoor air conditioning unit is not the place for storage. Even temporary storage while the system is not in use is not recommended, as items can easily be forgotten when the system is turned back on inside.
As a general rule of thumb, you want at least 300mm clear around an outdoor unit at all times. The more space, the better. The area behind the unit is an exception to this rule, but even this distance has a manufacturer-specified minimum (usually 200-250mm, but depends on the model). At the front, you want at least 1 meter of clear space. Again, the more the better.
Overall, it is best to keep the area around the outdoor unit as clear as possible. Routine aircon servicing is a perfect time the check and remove items that have crept into this space.
Tip 13. Clean Exterior of Outdoor Unit
You might feel like you’re becoming a professional air conditioner cleaner by the end of this aircon maintenance checklist!
If any dust, dirt, flora or fauna matter has built up on your outdoor ac unit, you can give the exterior casing a wipe down with a damp cloth. You can use some Spray n’ Wipe or similar if an extra cleaning boost is required. However, it’s best to spray this product onto a cloth first, rather than directly onto the unit.
Stubborn matter such as tree sap or bat faeces may require some extra elbow grease or a scrubbing tool. Some extra force and bristles can be used on the external casing, but is not recommended on the coil unless performed by an experienced HVAC Technician.
While you might be tempted to clean air conditioner condenser coils yourself with a brush or water, this really is a job best left to a professional. Why? If you DIY clean condenser coils, you can easily damage the coil fins, causing decreased heat exchange and performance or even loss of refrigerant.
Incorrect cleaning and water can also damage internal electrical components. Shorted out electric printed circuit (PC) boards is a common outcome from water damage to the electrics. Furthermore, you may inadvertently void the aircon manufacturing warranty by carrying out the process. Even worse, you will be risking the safety of yourself and those around you. Surely it is not worth the risk.
Tip 14. Listen to Outdoor Unit
It is worth getting to know the usual operational sounds of your outdoor air conditioner unit. That way, you can identify any abnormal noises if/when they occur.
Banging or clanking is a typical noise coming from a broken or loose part such as outdoor fan blade or something being out of balance such as a motor. It can also indicate an issue with the compressor within the outdoor aircon unit, which is a major issue.
Squealing can also indicate faulty components such outdoor fan motor/s. For some units, a small amount of squealing is normal on start up which is why it pays to know the sounds of your own AC.
Rattling or chattering can suggest that an air conditioner is starting to deteriorate. It can also indicate a range of issues including failing electrical contactor, fan or loose screws/bolts. These faulty parts can lead to further unit damage if the system continues to run, especially with a faulty contactor which can seriously affect the compressor.
Apart from the normal start-up/shutdown noises, humming or clicking can indicate faulty electrical components, loose parts or wiring, refrigerant piping vibration, failing compressor or motor issues. It is best to get onto any of these issues ASAP before more serious air conditioning repairs are required.
Buzzing is a common noise with a wide range of causes. Dirty condenser coil, outdoor fan motor or blades loose or out of balance, refrigerant pipes rubbing, gas leak, and/or unit icing up can all cause an aircon buzzing noise.
High-pitched whistling or screaming is understandably a serious noise. The sound can indicate a refrigerant leak or range of other issues. Further use of the system can damage the compressor which can result in high cost aircon repairs, as well as impacting the environment and being dangerous to your health.
There are a range of noises that indicate something isn’t quite right with your outdoor unit. Knowing the regular sounds of your aircon unit allows you to identify these abnormal noises and call for professional help when an issue can’t be resolved through standard DIY AC maintenance.
Tip 15. Check Electrics
You can check a number of things in regards to the electrics of an air conditioner. Air conditioners are electrical machines, with newer models being particularly electronically based.
Firstly, visually inspect the isolation switch. See Tip 1 for more on isolating power to your air conditioner. Check for any bare, cracked, brittle, discoloured, burnt, snapped, or worn parts.
Secondly, check over the exterior of the entire system; outdoor unit, indoor unit and connection between the two units. Keep your nose sniffing for any burning smells. Keep your ears open for any arching noises.
Keep your eyes peeled for any covers that are coming loose or have come off completely, any signs of damage, wear or fault, and anything that looks unusual in any way. It’s recommended to call an air conditioner contractor in to repair aircon issues found as coming into contact with exposed electrics can cause serious injury to adults, kids, pets and wildlife.
It is not recommended to touch any electrical components as they can hold their electrical charge for an extended period, even when all power to the system has been stopped. For example, capacitor prongs can hold charge for over half an hour after an aircon is turned off.
Also look out for any signs of animals making themselves as home in/near the aircon. Mice nesting in units or geckos running onto printed circuit (PC) boards often leads to electrical failure within an AC unit. These inspections are all part of checking the electrics of an air conditioner.
Tip 16. Check Insulation
Insulation around air conditioner copper piping should be checked on a routine basis. The piping carries refrigerant between the evaporator (indoor) and condenser (outdoor) units. The insulation helps to maintain thermal efficiency within the system.
Air conditioning works by way of the refrigeration cycle, which is based on heat exchange at coils and refrigerant changing state in the process. If you would like to know more, you may be interested to read about what air conditioning is and how reverse cycle air conditioning works.
Air conditioning insulation is the black or white squishy stuff wrapped around the pipework. It is typically made from polyurethane or foam rubber these days. However, pipe insulation can be and has been manufactured from a range of materials including glass fibres, cork or mineral wool.
Visually check the completeness and condition of the insulation around the Suction and Evaporator Lines. The Suction Line is the larger of the 2 pipes while the Evaporator Line is the smaller of the 2 pipes running from the indoor to outdoor unit. Look for signs of damage from UV rays, harsh weather, rodents, birds, insects, or pets.
AC insulation helps stop excessive sweating and maintains heat exchange efficiency. It also helps prevent refrigerant turning back into a vapour too fast or worst case becoming a liquid which can damage the AC compressor in the outdoor unit.
Please note that the Liquid Line and Discharge Line do not require insulation. These are located in the air conditioning condenser. Being exposed actually allows intended heat loss from these lines.
It is recommended to contact an HVAC contractor if you find any of the relevant aircon pipework exposed, or completely naked in the case of poor air conditioning installation, or any other issues. An technician is best to reinsulate the pipework due to licencing requirements, specific training and safety considerations. A fully qualified air conditioner contractor can also assess all components of the line, including length, size, and condition, as well as the AC system as a whole.
Tip 17. Check and Resolve Outdoor Unit Level
The concrete pad or polyslab an outdoor air conditioner unit can sit on may tilt or sink into the ground over time or as a result of not being installed correctly. Apart from visually checking, you can test your own condenser position with a level on top of the unit.
If the unit is slightly unlevel, you may be able to make minor adjustments yourself. In many cases, you can get a shovel or similar tool under the tilted side and lever it up to make it level. While holding it up, fill the space underneath it with dirt, rocks or any other suitable material.
During the process, take great care not to crack or damage any pipework or other connections. A second set of hands can certainly make this process easier.
If the unit is significantly unlevel, it would be recommended to enlist the help of an air conditioner contractor as the aircon unit may have to be pumped down, disconnected, and removed while the ground is leveled out. The unit would then require re-installation once ground is level.
Tip 18. Check for Signs of Refrigerant Leak
Poor performance can be the first indicator that an air conditioner is short of refrigerant. Refrigerant plays a key part in the heat transfer process, resulting in air conditioning or heating for reverse cycle AC systems. If levels are lower than designed for the system, an aircon will take longer to cool or heat an indoor space or the room may not ever reach the desired temperature.
If you have noticed poor performance, re-test you air conditioner on completion of aircon cleaning and maintenance and see if it is still struggling to perform. You can also check the temperature difference between supply and return air points for a more specific measurement. See Tip 16 (link?) for more details on temperatures.
If an AC system is short of refrigerant, it must have leaked out somewhere. A gas leak can be caused by cracks, holes or other damage to the refrigeration system. Poor installation or manufacturing fault can also cause gas to leak out of an AC unit.
Air con regas is not normally required for a home air conditioner or commercial HVAC system. The gas doesn’t get used up or run out in a correctly functioning or complete system. If an aircon is short of gas, air conditioner repairs or replacement are then required.
To check for a refrigerant leak, look over all exposed components of the air conditioning system and listen for any sounds. Small leaks may make a hissing noise, while larger leaks may produce a gurgling sound. However, very small leaks may not make any audible noise at all.
A leak may be found somewhere at the indoor unit, outdoor unit, or pipework between them. Connection points are a common location of refrigerant leakage.
Ice build up and/or water leaking also can be a sign of refrigerant shortage. When the gas level is inadequate, heat transfer at the evaporator coil is insufficient. Condensation on the coils can then freeze, resulting in ice build-up. When it melts, it can then drip out of the unit.
Ice can also build up on the outdoor unit. While it might seem minor, it can lead to major issues including compressor failure which will significantly increase the cost of aircon repairs.
Another way to suss-out potential refrigerant leakage is to check your electricity usage. If the bill has spiked compared to a similar period, without any significant change in usage or other explanation, it may be worth further investigation.
Overall, there are many signs of a refrigerant leak that can be detected during aircon servicing. This gives you the power to call in a professional for repairs before the air conditioner suffers more serious damage or more costly ac repairs are required.
Tip 19. Check and Complete Warranty Requirements
While this tip isn’t necessarily hands-on, it is still a highly recommended and valuable part of routine air conditioning maintenance.
As mentioned previously in Tip 2 (link?), an AC user manual outlines specific manufacturer instructions for unit care that ensures warranty is not void. Also failing to perform basic maintenance on an air conditioner can actually void warranty.
If you haven’t already, it is worth ensuring that you have a copy of the air conditioner purchase receipt and installation receipt. These two documents might be all-in-one if you purchased a package deal from an air conditioning company. If you can’t find the paperwork, your air conditioning installer should be able to reissue you a copy.
The reason why this paperwork is so important is for warranty purposes. Most air conditioners come with a standard 5-year manufacturer’s warranty. If anything happens to the units in the first 5 years that is deemed to be a manufacturing fault, then repairs can be carried out by an authorised warranty agent at no cost to yourself.
However, most manufacturers require a copy of the installation paperwork (and unit paperwork, if bought separately) to prove that the units were installed by a fully licensed air conditioner installer. Failure to have an AC system installed by a professional, or lack of paperwork when required, effectively voids warranty. You would then be required to pay all costs involved in repairing a broken aircon system.
Some air conditioning products also offer extended warranties. For example iZone ducted zoning equipment offers a full 10 year warranty on all parts as long the system is registered.
Aside from the manufacturer warranty, most professional air conditioning companies offer a standard 1 year installation warranty on a new aircon system. However, some companies such as Ice Blast, offer to extend this installation warranty up to 5 years if the system is serviced by the AC company at a reasonably recommended frequency.
All in all, it certainly pays to sort out a little bit of paperwork and have it on hand when required to help maintain operation of your air conditioner in the most cost-effective way.
Tip 20. Review and Renew Insurance Coverage
While it may seem unrelated, this tip could potentially be the most valuable and save you thousands of dollars. An air conditioner is an expensive asset, especially ducted systems, so it pays to keep it suitable insured.
Property and home insurance policies vary significantly in terms of the items and causes of damage they cover. When reviewing the insurance policy for your premises, it is important to look out for all potential causes of air conditioning damage. Common causes include storm damage (lightning strike, surge, hail or water damage), motor burn out or fusion, electrical power surge (non-storm based), fire, flood, vermin and/or animal damage, and accidental damage.
You want to seek or maintain financially viable coverage for as many causes of damage as possible. Some causes are standard exclusions, such as age-related faults, general wear and tear or lack of maintenance. However, some causes are standard inclusions, such as fusion, fire or storm damage.
Coverage for some causes of aircon damage are rare, such as animal or vermin damage. However, finding and maintain this coverage can be particularly useful in warmer climates where geckos frequently wreak havoc with AC units.
Coverage for some causes of air con damage costs extra, such as accidental damage or flood. Take the time to consider the location of the air conditioning units and your property in general. Is the outdoor unit in a driveway where a car may accidently run into it? Is your home near a river or creek susceptible to flooding?
It’s worth ensuring you have adequate protection for your given circumstances and know the conditions in the unfortunate event that you need to claim.
Bonus Tip. Book Professional for Major Service
There is a lot you can do yourself to maintain correct operation and performance of your AC system, and ensure swift, cost effective aircon repairs if/when required. If you have taken the time the read the above tips, then you clearly care about your air conditioner and its longevity.
Part of caring for your air conditioning system is knowing the value of a comprehensive service. An air conditioner is a costly appliance in the home and if you are going to do DIY maintenance, then it also pays to invest in a professional aircon service from time to time. It can save you money in the long run as minor issues can be detected and resolved before they become larger and most costly.
In terms of frequency, Australian Guidelines recommend major AC service checks, tests and actions be carried out every 6 – 12 months for a home air conditioner and monthly for a commercial air conditioner.
Example of air conditioning maintenance checklist for an HVAC Technician:
- Full inspection of the air conditioning system.
- Check filters; Remove, clean and re-install where required.
- Check condensate drain.
- Check drain tray.
- Check safety drain where required.
- Flush drains where required.
- Place condensate tablet in tray of main drain.
- Check for signs of oil or refrigerant leaks.
- Check refrigerant charge where required.
- Check for signs of vermin or other animals.
- Check condition of evaporator coil.
- Check condition of condenser coil.
- Check belts; Tighten/realign where required.
- Check bearings.
- Check motors and mechanical components.
- Check pipework for damage to insulation.
- Check operation of reversing valve where required.
- Check electrical terminals; Tighten/adjust where required.
- Check air flow.
- Check air temperatures.
- Check for fault codes.
- Check thermostat/sensors; Adjust/calibrate where required.
- Check voltage reading where required.
- Check full load amps reading where required.
- Check general operation of unit.
- Make minor adjustments where required.
- Report on and/or rectify any issues found.
Booking a specialise air conditioning contractor to carry out a major aircon service is not only recommended by leading industry bodies, but also by the unit manufacturers themselves. Unit warranty can even be void if the system has not been maintained correctly within the manufacturers’ warranty period (usually 5 years).
Some companies even offer to extend their air conditioning installation warranty from the standard 1 year to up to 5 years. All they ask is that they are allowed to service the system annually from date of install. Overall, it certainly pays to bring in an expert every now and then to ensure the best possible maintenance of your air conditioner.
An AC Tech brings with him or her a comprehensive range of specialised tools, equipment, knowledge, and skills. Hopefully this article has provided some guidance as to when you can carry out aircon cleaning and servicing versus when it’s time to call in the experts.
While there is plenty that you can do yourself to maintain an air conditioner and extend its lifespan in a cost-effective way, please don’t hesitate to contact us here to see how we can help in any way.