By Kristen Castillo
Air conditioning is a relief on a hot, humid day. So you want to ensure your AC unit is working well.
The Air Conditioning Contractors of America says the HVAC system — heating, ventilation and air conditioning — is “most likely the single biggest use of energy in your home.”
Since energy use is expensive, efficient energy use from your AC means lower bills.
“Just like going to the doctor for a regular physical checkup can help you catch issues before they’re too large to easily fix, regular AC checkups are fundamentally important in maintaining your system’s performance,” says Konrad Witek, the director of engineering for eComfort.com.
Regular checkups and maintenance can help you avoid potential problems with your AC unit. For example, dirty AC coils trap dirt, debris and mold, which can end up in the air you breathe; clogged drains back up and leak into your home; old or bad wiring could result in a house fire.
Overall, maintaining your air conditioner can give you quality indoor air and help you save energy and money. It also gives you peace of mind that your system is safe.
Plus, regular checkups help protect your manufacturer’s warranty.
“HVAC tune-ups should be done at least twice a year,” says Brandi Andrews, owner of NationalAirWarehouse.com. “This is especially important because most manufacturers will void your warranty if you don’t have written proof of at least two maintenance tune-ups per year.”
While you can have an AC checkup at any time, it’s most common to get one at the start of the cooling season (pre-summer) and again at the end of fall.
The checkups typically last one to two hours and “will ensure the refrigerant circuit is free of leaks or blockages; make sure all fans and blowers are free of obstructions and operating correctly; ensure filters are clean,” says Witek, who explains that the technician also will check for proper air flow, look for clean condenser and evaporator coils and make sure controls are working properly.
After the checkup, the technician will let you know about any recommended repairs, which can be made at additional expense.
A professional should do most AC maintenance, but there’s an easy fix that you can do frequently.
“The best ‘tune-up’ a consumer can get is one they do themselves, which is regular air filter changes to keep adequate air flowing across the indoor coil,” says Kevin Konnis of Quantum Climate Control Services, who recommends using a low-cost pleated filter that can be changed monthly during heavy summer use.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can improve your AC’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent just by replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one.
Don’t wait for a problem with your air conditioning unit to get the system serviced. Regular checkups and maintenance can “add several years to the life of an HVAC system,” says Andrews.
Those checkups are likely worth the cost. For example, according to ACCA, many manufacturers estimate that a 10 percent refrigerant loss could mean your system will be 20 percent less efficient. That’s wasted money, especially if you could have prevented the issue with regular checkups.
“On average, an air conditioner tune-up will cost in the range of $79.99 to $129.99,” Andrews says. “You can always look online for specials and promotions from local companies to get lower rates.”
Be wary of pricing specials and deals, though. A cheap tune-up, like a $20 checkup, often results in a sales pitch to upsell you on a new air conditioning system.