With summer fast approaching, average temperatures throughout the USA are rising. As such, the air conditioning units in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are starting to see heavier use—and thus, higher rates of failure. Renters take for granted that their air conditioning units are going to work without issue. So, when these units fail and need A/C repair, renters are often distressed.
To keep your renters happy and ensure they don’t lose their cool, it is important to stay on top of A/C maintenance throughout the summer. One key aspect of HVAC maintenance is performing an inspection of the air conditioning unit—and the start of summer is the perfect time to do this.
To help you ensure that the air conditioning units in your rental properties are in top shape, here’s an A/C maintenance checklist of some important things to address:
A/C Maintenance Checklist Item #1: AC Unit Filters
One of the most basic items on any general HVAC maintenance checklist is the inspection and replacement of the filters in the HVAC system. Clogged or dirty filters can lead to numerous HVAC issues because the system will have to work harder to pull air into the system. In fact, according to Reliable Energy, this is an A/C maintenance task that should be done “at least every 3 months, and even monthly, if you are running the a/c unit often.”
A telltale sign that the A/C unit’s filters need replacing is if the covers over the intakes in the house are coated with dust. If the cover is caked in dust, odds are the filter underneath is absolutely clogged. By replacing these filters regularly, you can reduce the strain on the air conditioning unit, reducing the likelihood that it will break down.
Because this is a recurring monthly maintenance item, you may want to have tenants be responsible for replacing the filters throughout their residence and leave the primary filter on the air handling unit for a professional to replace (since this may be more difficult to replace, especially if the air handling unit is mounted off the ground).
A/C Maintenance Checklist Item #2: Cleaning the Exterior Condenser/Compressor
The vast majority of residential air conditioning units have an exterior condenser/compressor that is (typically) mounted in the building’s backyard area. These units serve to cool the refrigerant used in the air handling unit and to take in air to feed into the HVAC system.
When debris gets into the compressor or its housing, the efficiency of the A/C system plummets and it becomes more prone to sudden failure. So, one basic A/C repair task is to turn off the exterior condenser/compressor and to clean it. This is a multi-step process that involves:
- Turning Off the Compressor. Having an active fan blade spinning while trying to clean the compressor is dangerous. So, if you’re cleaning the compressor yourself, be sure to turn the unit off at its shut-off box. Then, find the circuit breaker switch that goes to the air compressor and shut it off too—just to make sure that the unit doesn’t get turned on while you’re cleaning it.
- Removing Debris from the Unit. The next step in this A/C repair process is to open the compressor’s top by using a screwdriver or wrench to remove the fasteners. Then, you can either remove the debris in the unit by hand or with a vacuum cleaner (DIY Network recommends a wet/dry vacuum cleaner). Either way, be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from insect bites, sharp objects, and poisonous plants that may be lodged in the system.
- Cleaning and Straightening the Fins. The thin metal fins on the sides of the air conditioning unit are prone to becoming clogged with dirt. When cleaning them, you can use a hose to spray the fins from the inside of the A/C unit, forcing the dirt and dust out of them. Then, you can check the fins for bends and warps and use a flathead screwdriver or butter knife to straighten them out. This will help to improve air flow and reduce strain on the unit.
- Cleaning the Area Around the A/C Unit. Check the A/C unit’s surroundings and make sure that any nearby grass is trimmed low and other potential obstacles are removed. It may help to give the unit at least two feet of clear space free of branches, rocks, grass, or lawn furniture.
- Reassembling the A/C Unit. Once done with the cleaning, replace the air compressor’s cover and fasten it in place. Then, turn the circuit breaker and the compressor’s switch back on.
A/C Maintenance Checklist Item #3: Check Air Ducts, if Possible
The air ducts used to carry air throughout the HVAC system are one of the most-overlooked A/C repair issues that property managers encounter. HVAC system ducts with holes or blockages prevent the system from working as intended, and may place extra strain on the air handling unit, which leads to premature failure.
Damage to A/C unit ducts can happen for a number of reasons, such as:
- Pest infestations (rats can chew through thin aluminum ducts with ease);
- Water damage from condensation;
- Accidental mishandling of ducts; and
- Corrosion of ducts.
To prevent HVAC issues that require expensive repairs, it is necessary to check the air ducts for signs of damage. This is often easier in single-family residences, where the A/C system ducts are usually run through the attic’s crawlspace. In apartment buildings and other multifamily residences, this may be more difficult as the ducts may be in between floors that have no such crawlspace.
A/C Maintenance Checklist Item #4: Inspect the Refrigerant Tubing
In an air conditioning unit, there will be small metal tubes that run from the exterior condenser/compressor to the air handling unit. These tubes carry the system’s refrigerant between the air handler and the condenser/compressor to help regulate temperatures in the residence.
If these refrigerant tubes leak, then the system will need professional HVAC repair as soon as possible. This is because, without refrigerant, the system will not be able to cool the residence at all. These A/C repairs often require a professional’s touch to safely handle the coolant and to ensure that future leaks are prevented.
A/C Maintenance Checklist Item #5: Check the Evaporator Coil
While you’re checking the air conditioning unit’s interior air handler, you may want to turn off the system and inspect its evaporator coil. This may require you to remove some duct tape from the coil housing’s cover and/or loosen some screws.
Once open, take a look at the evaporator coil and check its condition. Some discoloration is typical. Here, you’ll want to make sure there is no dirt or debris on the coil. If the coil is dirty, clean it with a soft brush and spray it down with a specially-formulated coil cleaner (often available at hardware specialty stores). The runoff from this cleaning will collect in the drain pan, so it will need to be cleaned out as well.
When cleaning out the drain pan, it may help to pour a bleach/water mixture down the drain to kill any bacteria and algae that may be growing. DIY Network (cited above) recommends a 50/50 mixture of water and bleach for this task. As always, when handling bleach or other hazardous chemicals, be sure to wear goggles, gloves, and other protective gear to prevent skin irritation from contact with chemicals.
This HVAC maintenance checklist covers many of the basic A/C maintenance issues that can be easily addressed by non-experts. For major HVAC repairs, it is often better to seek an HVAC systems expert to conduct repairs because they’ll have the tools and experience to do the job safely and efficiently.
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