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11 Steps to Follow Before You Turn on the Air Conditioner

by Stewart Unsdorfer

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Some years in the Cleveland area, it seems we have two seasons: winter and summer. We sometimes go from frigid temperatures and very active use of our furnace or boiler system right into blazing heat and regular use of our air conditioners.

While it seems this year that we may actually enjoy some spring weather, we all know that a break in the weather means summer is coming — and coming fast!

Very soon, you and many other homeowners will seek relief from the heat that only comes from your central air conditioning system. You want your system to work its cooling magic not only the first time you need it, but every time you turn it on this summer.

11 Steps to Follow Before You Turn on the Air Conditioner This Summer

It's a great idea to check your system now for any problems or needed maintenance. By checking your system now, you can do simple repairs or call for service from a professional before the weather gets warmer.

Waiting and crossing your fingers when you go to turn on the system on our first hot day could cause days of discomfort while you wait for repairs.

There are some simple steps you can take to visually and physically inspect the different parts of your system to be sure your air conditioning will work when you need it.

Let's get started...

We will take a look at both your indoor and outdoor equipment. Before we do that, here are a few basic air conditioning terms you should know...

Top 5 Air Conditioning Terms to Get You Through the Season

  1. AIR CONDITIONING - Absolute control of temperature and humidity; removal of moisture by condensation.
  2. COMPRESSOR - Component used to change Iow pressure refrigerant to high pressure refrigerant.
  3. CONDENSER - Radiator-type component where refrigerator gives off heat by being changed from a gas to a liquid.
  4. EVAPORATOR - Component where liquid refrigerant is changed to a gas as it absorbs heat from inside air.
  5. FILTER - A device used with the drier or as a separate unit to remove foreign substances from the refrigerant; installed in series in liquid line on high side of system.

For a full definition of terms - Air Conditioning

Hometips, one of the internet's top home-improvement sites; which features content surrounding home improvement, remodeling, repair, redecorating, and do-it- yourself projects, displays the two main components a central A/C unit is comprised of: 

1. condenser unit (located outdoors)

2. evaporator unit (mounted on the air handler or furnace)

Together they "extract heat from room air through refrigeration technology."

Here's how they show it:

turn on the air conditioner.png

photo credit: HomeTips.com

(air handler commonly known as furnace)

Now on to the 10 things to do before you turn on the A/C for the summer.

First let's look at the indoor equipment...

Indoor Equipment Vital to Your Overall Well Being

Begin with your thermostat in the "off" position with the temperature turned to a high setting (around 80 degrees), then check the following:

1. Look at thermostat. Is it outdated? You could save money and energy by installing a newer, programmable thermostat.

2. Check any exposed ductwork for wear, which could be a source of cooling loss or inefficiency in the home. 

3. Look at air vents around the home. Remove any items that could block airflow, such as drapes, furniture or toys.

4. Check the drain line. There is a drain by the indoor cooling coil, typically mounted above the furnace in the basement.

If you flush one cup of chlorine bleach down your air conditioning drain and rinse it with a gallon of water, you can keep your drain clear through the summer. Air conditioner drain lines become clogged when there is a build up of dirt collected by the indoor coil.

You do not want this to happen:

ac drain line clogged.pngphoto image:georgebrazilhvac.com

"Clogged AC line damage shown above, is a real-life example of what can happen if the a/c drain line is clogged. This picture was taken at a customer's home. When the drain line is clogged, the water has to go somewhere, what you will see is a back-up of water in the drain pan which may result in serious water damage to your home. Drain lines should be cleaned by a professional at least once a year."

5. Change your air filter. The filter should be changed every three months (or as recommended by the manufacturer) and definitely before the start of a new cooling or heating season.

6. Check circuits to be sure electrical connections are on.

7. Be sure the power is turned "on" at the furnace/air conditioning unit. 

Next, you can check the outdoor equipment for overgrowth and wear. 

Outdoor Equipment Your System Won't Run Without

8. Inspect the outdoor condenser unit. Make sure there is no blockage in or near the equipment and clean the area around the unit. Leaves, vines or debris can block the interior components and affect performance.

Also you want to check for any missing panels. The panels are designed to enclose the electrical connections. 

9. Visually check the refrigerant lines. The lines should be insulated. Proper insulation will improve the efficiency of the system. Repairs to the insulation or refrigerant lines should be done by a professional.

10. Check to make sure there is no wear on the outdoor electrical wiring. If you see damage or wear, call a professional for service before using your system. 

11. Know when it's time your air conditioner may have reached retirement ageAir conditioners have a life span. Even if your unit has been properly maintained, it will eventually wear out. 

But the grass is greener on the other side...

According to Energy.gov, even if an air conditioner is only 10 years old, you can “save 20% to 40% of your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a newer, more efficient model.”

Time to Turn on Your A/C  

After you have checked your indoor and outdoor equipment as described above, you can turn on the system to test it.

Step 1: Lower the temperature on your thermostat to the desired level and turn the system "on" at the thermostat.

Step 2: Go outside and listen to make sure that the fan in the condenser is running and that it doesn't sound irregular. The air coming out of the top of the unit should feel warm, as warm air is being removed from your home by the system.

Step 3: Let the system run for 10 - 15 minutes or more, until you can feel the indoor temperature cooling off in all parts of the home. 

Troubleshooting and Energy Tips 

In general, you should hire a good service technician at least once per year for regular maintenance to keep your system running efficiently in each season. If you ran into any problems or concerns during your air conditioning inspection, you should call a professional for service in advance of the summer season when you'll want your system to be ready to cool your home. 

To help keep your energy bills under control during the summer, you can lower costs by simply increasing the temperature on your thermostat by a few degrees. Here's a related blog post that can help you with additional tips on saving money and energy by using recommended temperature settings.

Conclusion

The last thing you want on a hot, sticky, humid summer day is to flip that switch to "on" and nothing happens. When your air conditioner sits idle for at least half the year, maintenance or a tune up is a necessity.

Now is the time to get your A/C system up and running efficiently. 

Download our free PDF version of the Ultimate Guide to Air Conditioning Maintenacne

Topics: Central Air Conditioning

blog author

Stewart Unsdorfer

Stewart has been in the HVAC business for more than 25 years. He is a state licensed heating and A/C contractor, as well as being certified in design, fabrication, layout and installation of forced air heating / cooling systems.

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