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As we’ve grown used to the climate changes in the past several years, we Midwestern dwellers have come to realize that the weather jumps from winter to summer quickly. And with the final snowfall of the season behind us, warmer weather is rapidly approaching. Soon furnaces and boilers will be shut off in favor of their brother-appliance, the air conditioner.

Of course, the air conditioner has not been used for 5-6 months or more. It has been sitting idle, collecting dust and debris during the colder months. If you winterized your unit correctly, it will be much easier to put it back into action. If not, you’ll have a little more maintenance to do.

What steps should I take to prepare my air conditioning unit for summer weather?

Turn the power off

Before doing any kind of maintenance to your A/C system, make sure the power is off at the main panel. There is often a disconnect box, as well, near the unit which contains a lever, the fuses, or a circuit breaker to shut off the system. This should be shut off, too.

And this is to be applied during any maintenance of the system, not just when you restart it after the winter.

Remove any debris build-up

Even during the winter, debris such as grass and leaves can build up around your unit. It might not seem like it would have much effect, but this small amount of buildup can lower your air conditioner’s performance.

Clear any built-up debris from both the base of the condenser and the drain (if it has one). You can use a vacuum and rag to clean the blades of the fan, then tighten up any loose bolts and oil the oil ports if your unit has them. And make sure you clean around it before you turn it on for the season, and check once a month.

 

Replace your filters

Replacing filters is one of the easiest steps you can take in maintenance and summertime preparation and should be done about once a month while in use.

If you have a central unit, you will most likely find the filter located behind the metal panel on the face of the blower. The panel will have to be unscrewed and removed to reach it. If you have a window unit, the filter is usually found on the front of the unit behind a panel. Many window air conditioners have a permanent filter that you just need to clean off and dry before re-inserting it.

 

Clean the condensation lines

When the temperature drops, anything left in the condensation line (algae, mold, and mildew) freezes and clogs the line. The pipe can then back up into the air conditioning unit which creates a mess.

If you see that your line isn’t draining correctly, you’ll want to clean it with a handheld or shop-vacuum. If you are unable to remove the buildup, contact a professional contractor.

 

Clean the outside coils

Hopefully, you covered your air conditioning unit during the winter to keep it clean from most debris, dust, and mud. If you did, you can simply disconnect the power supply and spray the outside of the unit with clean water. However, if you didn’t cover it, it’ll take a little more than a simple spray-down. You will need a special commercial air conditioner clean which you can find at most hardware stores. If any of the fins are damaged, use an air conditioner fin-repair tool to straighten them back out.

 

Look for leaks in the ductwork

Separately from your outside unit, you should also check on the equipment inside the house, including the ductwork.

According to one study, ducts leaking 20% of the conditioned air they’re transporting can force your system to work 50% harder. That means a jump in energy consumption and increased utility bills. It can also mean mold issues and health problems.

Start by looking for any separated joints or sleeves in the ductwork and any small holes. You can seal them yourself or have a professional take care of it for you.

 

Clean the evaporator when possible

Some units have an evaporator located above the furnace, but not all of them are accessible. If you see that you have one, and it does not have a metal box covering the plenum, you should take a moment to clean it. Remove the foil cover and plate to expose the evaporator, and clean the front and back with a wire brush.

 

Test the air conditioning unit

After the outside unit is thoroughly cleaned and dried, you can begin to restart it.

First, make sure your thermostat is in the “off” position, then turn the power on at both the main panel and the disconnect box. Once that is done, switch your thermostat to “cool.”

 

If the system doesn’t seem to be working properly, or if you’re not comfortable with maintaining the system yourself, request service from your local HVAC professional, like Stack.