How to Clean Your Outdoor HVAC Unit in Ten Steps

heating contractorsOf the roughly two-thirds of homes in the U.S. equipped with air conditioners, few people take the time to perform regular maintenance on their equipment. Whether it’s an issue of not having time, or not knowing how, this is an issue that ends up costing time and money in AC repair.

So for anyone who doesn’t have the time or is unsure of how to keep up with AC maintenance without their cooling and heating contractors around, here are 10 easy steps to help you clean up and keep your air conditioning system running smoothly.

Safety First
It’s absolutely essential to completely turn off power to the unit before you start any cleaning. On the exterior condenser/compressor, look for an exterior shut-off box near the unit. Also, turn the power off indoors at the breaker box.

Remove Debris
Approximately 25% of your home’s heat is lost through small cracks, but even more could be lost if your air conditioning unit is clogged up with debris. Using a screwdriver or wrench, remove the fasteners and lift the cage or fan grill away from the top of the unit. By hand, or with a vacuum, clean leaves and other debris from the interior.

Clean the Fins
With a strong stream from a garden hose — not a pressure washer — spray through the fins from the inside out to blast any built up dirt or debris from between them. If the fins are particularly dirty, you should call your cooling and heating contractors before trying another method.

Straighten the Fins
Since any reduction in air flow through the fins in your HVAC system can reduce efficiency, carefully straighten bent fins using a butter knife or a fin-straightening tool. Most importantly, don’t forget to be gentle.

Clean Around the Unit
Anything that has a possibility of catching fire should be at least three feet from your equipment. Rake back leaves and debris outside the condenser and cut back branches and vegetation at least three feet in all directions to ensure proper airflow around the unit.

Level the Unit
Over time, the pad upon which the condenser unit sits can begin to tip as the soil settles beneath it. Check the condenser using a level and use rot-resistant shims to bring it back to level.

Clean the Evaporator Coil
Moving inside, find the evaporator coil door and use a soft brush to dust off the coil, then spray the coil with commercially available no-rinse coil cleaner.

Clean any Plugged Drains
Over time, algae and mold can build up and potentially plug the drain, so if the drain is either not flowing or flowing very slowly, it will need to be unplugged. Once located, use a vacuum to clear the drain, and remove the paper filter from the vacuum so as not to ruin it.

Change the Filter
Any cooling and heating contractors will tell you that the filter needs to be changed at least twice every year. If you live in a particularly dusty area, you may want to change it more often.

Turn it On
Last, but not least, turn the power back on. Once everything is cleaned, you should notice some improvement in air flow and efficiency.

If you have any questions or are unsure of how to complete one of these tasks, don’t hesitate to call your HVAC service for assistance.

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