Have your air conditioner serviced regularly to keep it in working condition. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)
Your A/C Unit should last for 15 or more years. But a neglected unit can konk out after seven years. HVAC experts list ways you may be killing your unit.
The last thing you want is for your air conditioning unit to conk out in the middle of a summer heat wave.
If properly cared for, A/C units should be reliable summer after summer. They should last for 15 or more years.
But when units are neglected — and break down well before their time — you may be the one to blame.
Robert Yoder, Owner of Romark A/C & Plumbing in Delray Beach, Florida says he has seen the lifespan of A/Cs cut short after just seven years, because of a lack of maintenance.
Here are five ways you may be killing your A/C unit:
1. Lack of service
Hiring a highly rated technician once a year to service the unit is the best way to prolong the A/C’s life, according to highly rated HVAC technicians with whom we spoke.
“The majority of service calls are for A/Cs that are not regularly maintained,” Yoder says. “This will save you in the long run. Annual service plans are well worth the money.”
A typical heating and cooling tune-up typically costs between $70 and $150 and often includes two service visits a year, once before winter and again before summer.
“Having it cleaned and checked annually will help avoid any potential issues,” says Robert Yoder, owner of highly rated Romark A/C & Plumbing in Delray Beach, Florida.
A technician should clean the outdoor condenser coils, which can become dirty and pick up debris over time. An inspection should also include checking the blower and motor, return and supply lines and refrigerant levels.
2. Not changing the filter
Experts recommend changing the unit’s filter at least four times a year.
“Clean filters are one of the most important factors,” Yoder says. “A dirty filter restricts the air flow. It also restricts the air flow across the evaporator coil, reducing the cooling capacity and making the compressor worker harder and run hotter, which shortens the life of the unit.”
According to Energy Star, changing a dirty filter can lower a unit’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent, and save you money on energy bills and early replacement.
3. Constantly running the unit/changing temperatures
When you work hard, you get tired. A/Cs are no different.
Robert says closing the blinds during the day is just one simple way to prevent the unit from working so hard.
He also says it’s not a good idea to change temperatures constantly.
“This creates highs and lows where the system has to work harder to drop the temperature during the lows,” he says. This leads to more wear and tear on the system, he adds. Berry recommends keeping a relatively small range of temperature settings and keeping it consistent.
4. Not conducting an energy audit
Robert also says an energy audit will ensure your home is sufficiently insulated and that your A/C is properly sized for your home.
During a home energy audit, a technician should also check for air leakage.
Both heating and cooling units generally work much harder than necessary because of heat loss or heat gain caused by air leakage. Have your home tested for air leakage by having a blower test done and then maximize the savings and comfort you will receive by having your home sealed to recommended levels.
Robert recommends contacting a Home Performance with Energy Star participating contractor for the audit. A contractor who participates in the Home Performance with Energy Star program has undergone specialized training to determine how efficient a home is.
“If an A/C unit is not sized properly, it may be working harder to heat more space then the unit is made for,” he says. “This leads to higher energy bills.”
5. Ice buildup on the A/C
A unit that is too small to cool a large space, or trying to cool a home to 64 degrees on a 90-plus-degree day, for example, can cause ice to build up on the unit. Having restricted airflow, running the unit when it’s cooler than 65 degrees outside and having insufficient refrigerant are other causes for ice buildup, experts say.
When this happens, certain parts of the unit, such as the motor, can blow, which can lead to either a very expensive repair or total replacement.
In these cases, technicians recommend turning off the unit immediately to allow it to thaw, and then calling a technician. A qualified HVAC pro can determine what’s causing the freezing to prevent further damage. It could be a dirty filter or low refrigerant level.
“Most of the time, a frozen unit is caused by a system working harder then it was made to work,” Yoder says. “For example, leaving a door open and a system constantly trying to cool a house is a good way to freeze up a unit.”