How to Get Your AC Summer-Ready

About 54 percent of your utility bill is from heating and cooling your home, says the U.S. Department of Energy.

Right now you might be enjoying low utility bills, especially if you live in a climate with perfect spring weather. But the “I can’t believe it’s this hot!” summer days are coming, and soon you’ll be blaring the air conditioning around the clock trying to stay comfortable.

That could cost you a lot if your AC isn’t ready.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has a list of ways to get your air conditioner in shape for the warmer months. Check it out, then read on for an AC to-do list.

Now, let’s break down all the steps you can take yourself to get your AC ready.

1. Change the filters

Replace the filters. It’s probably the easiest AC maintenance you can do, and many people aren’t doing it often enough. The filters should be replaced once a month to keep your AC running smoothly.

For central air systems, the filter is usually located behind a metal panel on the face of the blower unit. Unscrew the metal panel, remove the old filter, and install the new one.

For window units, the filter is located on the face of the unit behind a metal or plastic panel. Many window units come with a permanent filter. If you have one, take the filter out and gently clean it with a combination of white vinegar and water. Allow the filter to air dry before you put it back in.

2. Clean the condensation lines

The pipe that carries condensation away from your air conditioner can get clogged. If the pipe becomes clogged it could back up into the air conditioner (or into your house) and you’ll have a messy problem and a big repair bill. To combat this, locate where the pipe drains out and check to make sure it’s draining properly. If not, use an algaecide to clean the pipe. Algaecide is primarily used to remove algae. You can find it at pool supply stores.

3. Install a programmable thermostat

If you don’t already have one, the California Energy Commission says you can save up to $100 a year by installing a setback thermostat. Fortunately, they’re pretty easy to install yourself and require only a couple of tools. You can get written installation instructions at Lowe’s or see an installation video from Home Depot.

4. Clean the coils on the outside unit

During winter your AC’s outside unit has been collecting dust, mud and other debris, especially if you don’t use a cover. All of that gunk clogs up the unit, causing your AC to run sluggishly. For lightly soiled units, disconnect the power and spray down the outside of the unit with a garden hose. For heavily soiled units, buy a commercial air-conditioner cleaner (available at hardware stores).

5. Clean the fins

Cleaning the fins on the outside unit will help your AC run better. To clean the fins, use a soft brush such as a toothbrush or small car cleaning brush. Gently run the brush across each fin, being careful not to bend the thin metal.

6. Check concrete slab

After your outside unit is clean, use a level to make sure the concrete slab is level. If it’s not, the unit will have to work harder to keep your house cool. If the slab isn’t level, pry it up with a board and add gravel underneath in small amounts until it is. Remove the board when you’re done.

7. Remove debris from outside unit

Plants, leaves, high grass and debris located close to your outside unit can reduce your AC’s performance. Before you start running your AC, cut the grass, clean out any debris, and consider removing plants that block the unit.

During the summer, check the unit for debris at least once a month.

8. Check ductwork for leaks

According to the University of Florida, you can save 10 percent to 20 percent on your heating and cooling bills by sealing leaky ducts. To check for leaking ducts, look for disconnected joints, separated pieces and small holes. If you find leaks, seal them with tape carrying an Underwriters Laboratories logo. Fabric and rubber-backed tapes break down quicker.

9. Clean the evaporator

Some AC units have an accessible evaporator located above the furnace. To tell the difference, look above the furnace for either a plenum wrapped in foil or one covered by a metal box. If you see a metal box, your evaporator isn’t accessible. If you see foil, your evaporator is accessible and you can clean it.

To do so, gently remove the foil-covered insulation. Underneath you’ll see several small screws holding a plate in place. Remove the screws and the plate. What’s left is your evaporator. Clean the front and back of the evaporator with a wire brush. Screw the plate back into place and reinstall the plenum.

Once you’ve got your AC summer-ready, check out these other tips to keep your utility bills down this summer:

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