More Cool Air for Less

The two parts of a central air-conditioning system, the condenser and the evaporator, should be maintained annually to maximize their efficiency and minimize your electric bills. Some of these tasks can be easily accomplished by a homeowner; others require a skilled technician. Here are a few things you can do before the cooling season begins.

At the Condenser
Pop open the unit's side covers and:
1. Gently brush dirt off the cooling fins with a soft-bristled paintbrush or spray it off with a hose. (Never use a pressure washer, which can bend the fins.)
2. Realign crushed or bent fins with a fin comb, available from AC dealers and supply houses.
3. Rake up and remove loose leaves or debris. Pine needles are particularly adept at clogging the fins.
4. To ensure maximum air flow through the condenser coils, prune back vegetation and remove any obstacles within 2 feet of the condenser.
At the Evaporator
Shut off the power, remove the cover, and:
1. Scrub out the evaporator pan with soap, hot water, a little bleach, and a sponge.
2. Pour bleach through the pan's condensate tube to kill mold and algae, which can clog the tube and cause the pan to overflow. Check the tube's outside end to make sure it's draining freely.
3. Wipe down the coils.
4. Vacuum dust off the blower fins.
5. Change the air handler's filter. Make sure the replacement matches the blower's capacity in cubic feet per minute (cfm).
Call In An Expert
You'll need a technician to check the refrigerant pressure, test for leaks, clean and tighten electrical connections, measure air flow through the evaporator, and make sure everything is functioning properly. It's critical that whoever does this work follows the manufacturer's specs for the amount of refrigerant in your system. "Overcharging," adding too much refrigerant, is as harmful as not having enough.

Place a chlorine tablet, the kind used for swimming pools, in the evaporator pan. It will prevent the growth of algae or mildew.

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