Follow these basic maintenance tips to keep your A/C system running smoothly.
1. Change your filter
Regular filter changes every one to three months helps A/C units run more efficiently. How often varies based on climate, how many people live in your home and whether you have pets.
Start by checking the filter monthly, says Austin Knight, home comfort designer at Aire Serv of The Woodlands, in Conroe, Texas. If it’s dirty, change it. If not, wait two weeks and check again. Once you figure out a changing schedule, set a calendar reminder in your phone, along with the filter size so you know what to purchase.
2. Schedule annual maintenance
Don’t wait until it’s 95 degrees to turn on your air conditioner to find out that it’s only blowing hot air. A/C tune-ups ideally happen when it’s warm enough to test the system, but not scorching.
Most HVAC companies offer annual maintenance plans, plus give a discount on parts and priority service for plan participants.
3. Change your thermostat from analog to digital
This regulates climate more efficiently and eliminates manual adjustments that open and close the relay every time someone touches the temperature, causing more wear and tear on parts. Upgrading your thermostat should cost about $200.
4. Keep outdoor A/C units clear
Use a standard garden hose to regularly spray off your outdoor condenser, says Tim Adams, service manager at Standard Heating & Air Conditioning in Minneapolis. This gets rid of dirt, cottonwood and pet hair, and allows the machine to run more efficiently.
5. Don't plant too close
Leave space for your outdoor A/C components to breathe. Don’t plant flowers too close or enclose with a fence right up against the unit. Also, using a fitted cloth or vinyl cover to shield the A/C unit impedes air circulation.
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6. Keep vents and returns open
That couch or bookcase might look great in your living room, but if it’s blocking a vent or return, it’s slowing down your system, Adams says.
7. Call when you spot a problem
Is your house too warm, or is the A/C running constantly? Maybe you’re hearing noises that go bump in the night or seeing leaks or ice. Make a service call ASAP to ward off bigger problems, technicians say.
8. Consult your HVAC technician
Use your licensed, certified HVAC service provider as a sounding board to maintain your unit between tune-ups. “You can get a heck of an education from a technician,” Adams says.
9. Repair or replace
If you need expensive repairs, consider replacing the unit. Experts agree that temporary fixes can get almost any unit running again, but investing money into a new system might save long term. HVAC systems should last 15 to 20 years. New ones should run more efficiently, too.
What do you do to keep your A/C in tip-top shape? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted May 22, 2014.