The best way to prevent problems and damage to you're a/c system is to maintain it properly. General air conditioner maintenance includes keeping a general eye out on the machine and having a yearly maintenance check by a professional a/c service provider. If you have a new HVAC system, you may be able to get away with every other year. However, keep in mind that it's a proven fact that a/c maintenance is truly the best way to avoid costly repairs.
What You Can Do
Clean the Coils
The outdoor condenser should be cleaned in the spring and fall. Remove dust and leaves by hand with some damp rags. It is not necessary to cover it during the winter, however some homeowners like the added feeling of security that no snow of heavy rain will seep into the condenser. Additionally, check the outdoor unit to see if it is in a level position.
Clean the Indoor Evaporator Units
Gently clean around the evaporator unit, removing any dirt and debris. Doing so will help your system run more efficiently.
Check the amount of refrigerant. If you are uncomfortable doing so, then definitely have a professional come out and do so for you. Improper amounts of refrigerant makes the system work harder and decreases its longevity.
Drains should be inspected at least twice a year. Be sure that nothing obstructs the drains and that they are free of debris.
Compressor and refrigerant tubes should be checked. If loose, reattach securely.
As necessary, lubricate the fan motors, compressor or other parts as needed. This step is more common for older machines.
Inspect Wiring and Connections.
Check all electrical components to make sure they are connected securely and do not have any questionable wear and tear.
Replace filters as necessary; check every 6-8 weeks. Clean or replace air filters if necessary.
Check your ductwork for leaks for leaks.
Cut Back Shrubs
Shrubs or any other vegetation should be a minimum of 2 feet (on all sides) from the outdoor unit. This ensures adequate airflow to the condenser coil.
Set the thermostat and double check that it works. Set it low to make sure it cools quickly.
Follow safety precautions and use common sense. If you aren't sure about what you are doing- skip it and call the professionals.
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