Keep Your Cool

Maintaining your air-conditioning system extends its life, saves money and improves interior air quality.



During Central Florida's dog days of summer, your air conditioner works hard. “The average run time for an A/C system in Florida is 2,800 hours per year—much higher than many other parts of the country,” says Jon Powell, Orlando-area regional sales manager for Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. Powell notes that the average lifespan of an air-conditioning system in Florida is approximately 10 to 12 years, but he’s seen well-maintained systems still going strong at 15 years. “It’s just like changing the oil in your car; regular maintenance will go a long way to delaying replacement,” he says.  

An annual service checkup can alert you to potential problems before a repair is needed, and many manufacturers’ warranties require them. And for good reason, says Powell: “It is important to catch small things before they become big problems. It’s the domino effect; if you allow one component to fail, it has the potential to cause larger components to fail.” 

So, what can you expect to pay for regular maintenance? “The cost of a quality air conditioner tune-up ranges from $79.99 to approximately $149.99,” says Brandi Andrews, owner of National Air Warehouse. “Make sure the tune-up includes at least 21 points of inspection and a thorough cleaning of the system.” In between professional checkups, there are plenty of things homeowners can do to keep their A/C systems working efficiently.

Inside 

Change air filters frequently. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends changing them once a month. Look for the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Rating Value) number, which ranges from 1 to 16 and evaluates how well the filter captures particles of a specified size range. But don’t rush out to buy the highest-rated filter—the higher the rating, the higher the air resistance, which can damage your unit. Check your owner’s manual and buy filters with the recommended MERV rating.

Clean the evaporator coils. “Dirty air-conditioning coils can build up mold that eventually spreads through the air ducts and into the air you breathe,” says Andrews. Turn off the unit, gently brush off lint and dirt with a soft brush, and then spray with a no-rinse coil cleaner.

Have dirty air ducts cleaned. While an EPA study indicates that regular duct cleaning doesn’t improve interior air quality, it does recommend cleaning when mold, dust or debris are present. 

Outside 

Remove debris from around and inside the unit, advises Jody Lamb, spokesperson for RepairClinic.com. “Use a garden hose to clear twigs, leaves and other debris that may have settled inside,” says Lamb. 

Clear the space around the unit
to ensure adequate airflow, adds Lamb. There should be at least two feet of space between the unit and any shrubbery, trees or flowers, and at least eight feet of clearance above.

“Without regular maintenance, an HVAC system’s operational cost increases approximately 5 percent
per year,” says Andrews. 

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