Managing Your HVAC System

Cleaning Your Air Conditioner's Outdoor Condenser Unit Keeps Air Flowing Freely Throughout The System

Your air conditioner's condenser unit sits outside, which makes it vulnerable to becoming clogged with dust and debris. You should clean the unit at least once a year — the best time of year to do so is during the spring, which clears off any leaves that fall during the winter and ensures your air conditioner is ready for the warmer months. Cleaning your condenser unit will improve its airflow and reduce the risk that it will overheat, so it's an important maintenance task that helps to increase the longevity of your air conditioning system. Here's how to make sure your condenser unit is clean and free of damage and debris.

Turn Off Your Air Conditioner's Power

Before you begin cleaning your condenser unit, make sure its power is off. You should first shut off the power from your home's electrical panel and then turn the power off at the unit itself. You don't want to have the air conditioner turn on while you're in the middle of cleaning it. Verify that the air conditioner is off by setting the thermostat inside to a very low temperature and ensure that your air conditioner doesn't start running.

Check for Refrigerant and Oil Leaks

The first step is to check the immediate area for leaks. While you usually can't spot refrigerant leaks, you should ensure that both hoses running from your home to the condenser unit are undamaged — mice or other pests will sometimes try to collect the insulation on the hoses to use as a nesting material, and they may end up chewing through the hose and causing a refrigerant leak. You'll also need to check the ground around the condenser for any dark, viscous fluid — that's a sign that your compressor motor is leaking oil. If you think your condenser unit has a refrigerant leak or an oil leak, you'll need to call an air conditioning maintenance professional to repair it. Only a professional is authorized to handle air conditioner refrigerant, and adding oil to the compressor is a task best left to an expert in order to avoid damaging the motor.

Remove Debris From the Condenser Fins and Straighten Them

Next, you'll need to clean and straighten the fins on the outside of your condenser unit. These fins serve two purposes — they act as a filter that helps to keep small debris from ending up inside the unit, and the massive surface area of the tiny metal fins allows the unit to rapidly dissipate the heat it generates. Blocked or dirty fins will decrease the amount of airflow to your condenser unit, which can result in poor performance. Fins that are bent or damaged can cause your condenser unit to overheat, which reduces the lifespan of your compressor motor.

In order to clean the fins, it's easiest to use a handheld vacuum. Be very careful not to bend or damage the fins — keep the vacuum held slightly away from the fins in order to avoid bumping them. If you notice any bent fins, you can straighten them using a condenser fin comb that's designed solely for this purpose — you'll find them available for purchase at most hardware stores. Gently run the comb up the fins in your condenser unit in order to straighten them.

Remove the Fan and Use a Gentle Water Spray to Finish Cleaning the Fins

You'll need to use a screwdriver to remove the large fan in the condenser unit in order to finish cleaning it. Once the fan is removed, use the opportunity to inspect the unit for any signs of damage or leaks. After your inspection, spray water through the fins from the inside using a garden hose. You don't want to use much pressure when you're spraying the fins, since you can easily bend them — instead of using a sprayer attachment, slightly pinch the end of the garden hose in order to create a weak directional spray.

Once you've replaced the fan, your condenser unit is clean and ready for operation. If you don't feel comfortable cleaning your condenser unit on your own or if you notice any damage to the unit while cleaning it, call an air conditioner maintenance company. Not only will they perform all of these cleaning tasks for you, but they'll perform additional maintenance tasks such as checking the refrigerant levels. Keeping your outdoor condenser unit in good condition helps to prolong the service life of your compressor motor, keeping your air conditioner operational and preventing it from breaking down.

Contact a company like Baton Rouge Air Conditioning & Heating today for more information and assistance.