Air Conditioner Servicing: Here’s Why You Should Service Your AC at Least Once a Year

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated October 11, 2022
Technician is checking air conditioner and measuring equipment for filling air conditioners
Photo: A Stockphoto / Adobe Stock

Regular maintenance helps prevent problems—and long repair wait lists—during heat waves

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If you’ve been asking yourself, “How often should I service my air conditioner?” it’s probably time! Before summer hits and you're melting in the scorching heat, make sure you get your AC serviced by a local HVAC professional. Don't risk voiding your warranty or ending up with a big repair bill by trying to do it yourself. Instead, stay frosty all summer long by having your AC serviced at least annually.

Do You Really Need to Get Your AC Serviced Every Year?

The short answer: Yes, you do. There are plenty of reasons to get your air conditioning serviced regularly, not the least of which is that it inevitably saves you money. If you don't get the unit serviced, you may not know there's an issue until it's much bigger and more expensive to fix.

By having your AC system serviced often, the fixes are usually smaller and less expensive. The average AC tune-up cost ranges between $75 and $200. But prices will vary depending on the unit, the issue, and your location. Servicing a window unit ranges between $30 and $500, while maintenance for larger AC units costs between $350 and $750. This annual inspection will not cost you much time. It takes roughly one to two hours to complete, so clearing out an entire day won’t be necessary (unless the problem is severe).

On the flip side, an unserviced AC loses 5% efficiency per year and uses more energy, which will cost you more in energy bills. This lack of routine maintenance also puts more strain on the system, reducing its lifespan by as much as 50%. And a new air conditioner costs up to $7,500.

When Should You Service Your AC?

At a minimum, you should aim to have your AC serviced every year in early to mid-spring. But for optimal performance, it would be in your best interest to also have your unit serviced in the fall. An HVAC contractor will focus on your furnace to prepare your system to deal with heating demands once the temperatures cool.

Why Avoid Summer and Winter Tune-Ups?

Summer is a busy time for AC repair. If you wait until hot weather arrives, you could find yourself sweltering while you wait for the HVAC technician to fix any issues they find. And if they have to send off for new parts, you could be without your AC for days. Hire a local air conditioner pro before summer rolls around. 

Scheduling service during the winter months is also not recommended because running the unit in cold weather can damage it. The oil inside your unit thickens when exposed to cooler external temperatures, and the resulting lack of oil circulation can cause the system to malfunction.

If you have a warm stretch during the winter and are looking for relief, a better option would be to open the windows and allow fresh air to cool you down. Or you can plug in a fan near an open window to enhance the breeze’s effect.

What an Annual AC Service Covers

However often you get your air conditioning unit serviced, the technician will perform the same set of tasks to make sure your system is in good repair. 

These AC service tasks include:

  • Replace the air filters

  • Clean and inspect the indoor and outdoor coils

  • Inspect the condensate pump

  • Check the thermostat works properly

  • Clean the condensate pump of dirt and debris

  • Visually inspect the whole HVAC system

  • Clean away any dust, dirt, and debris from the system

Should You Get an HVAC Service Plan?

One way to potentially save money and keep your HVAC in peak condition is to get an annual HVAC service plan. If you're outside of your warranty period, a service plan is a cost-effective option. 

Just make sure you read the fine print and know whether you're getting yearly or twice-yearly HVAC services, or whether the contract includes repairs and emergency call-outs. If repair is part of your plan, check whether parts or just labor is covered. 

Here are some tasks that commonly make up an HVAC service plan:

  • Regular seasonal inspections and tune-ups

  • Filter replacement

  • Thermostat repairs

  • Airway cleaning

  • Insulation inspection and advice

  • Lubricant and refrigerant checks

  • Air health and quality inspections

4 Ways to Service Your AC Yourself

Even if you book an annual air conditioner service often, there are still things you can do throughout the year to optimize your AC's efficiency and keep it working at its best.

Here are some DIY service and maintenance ideas for your AC system:

1. Clean Evaporator and Condenser Coils 

Over time, your air conditioner’s evaporator coil will collect dirt and debris. This build-up reduces airflow and slows down the machine. Follow these tips and this guide to cleaning AC coils for best results.

  • Use compressed air to clean coils in the outdoor unit.

  • Sweep a soft brush along the coils to remove light layers of dirt.

  • Consider using foam cleaners or self-rinsing oil spray on coils with heavy build-up. 

2. Clean or Replace the Air Filter

dark gray ac unit on mulch ground next to brick wall
Photo: Konstantin L / Adobe Stock

While many people let their HVAC tech worry about the air conditioning filter, you should actually be changing it at least every 90 days. Suppose you have pets, children, or family members with allergies or asthma. In that case, you should select a filter rated MERV 13, which removes tiny allergen particles, including pet dander, pollen, bacteria, viruses, mold spores, and more. Be sure to change it at least every 60 days. 

Air filters can get clogged quickly, which significantly reduces your air conditioner's efficiency and makes it harder to cool your home.

3. Clean the Vents

Cleaning the vents is an important but often overlooked task and should be done as often as every 90 days. The cleaning process is pretty simple. Just unscrew and remove the vents and wipe them with a soft cloth to remove any buildup that could reduce efficiency.  

Then, vacuum inside the ducts as far as you can reach, removing as much dust as you can. Not only does this help maintain AC efficiency, but also reduces the amount of dust and allergen particles circulating through your home.

4. Winterize Your Air Conditioner

Reduce the risk of rust, weather damage, and wildlife nesting in or eating the mechanical parts of your air conditioner by performing some basic AC winterization.

These tasks should be part of your routine air conditioner maintenance: 

  • Clear the area around the condenser of all accumulated debris, leaves, twigs, and weeds. Continue to do this periodically through the winter months. 

  • Rinse the outdoor unit with a garden hose to remove insects, droppings, and dirt, then allow the unit to dry thoroughly. 

  • Cut the power supply to stop the unit from turning on during an unseasonably warm day, which could result in water buildup inside that could freeze and cause damage. 

  • Insulate pipes with foam tubing to prevent freezing and protect the exterior air conditioning unit with a close-fitting cover. 

  • As winter progresses, make sure you remove any ice and snow from the top of the unit to prevent damage from the sheer weight of the wintery buildup.

Service Your AC to Extend Its Lifespan

Now that you know how often to service your air conditioner, hire an HVAC pro for maintenance to help extend its life. Don’t forget about the DIY components, like changing air filters, to keep it running at max efficiency for you and your family.

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