It might be a while before you start using your central air conditioner again, but you can't afford to neglect its upkeep. Even when it's not in use, your central A/C system still benefits from regularly scheduled care. Without it, you may find yourself spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on emergency repairs whenever you need your air conditioning again.
Keep It Clean Inside and Out
Dirt and debris accumulation throughout the winter can make it harder for your central A/C system to work properly the next time you need it. To keep this from happening, you'll need to keep both the indoor and outdoor portions of your central A/C system as clean as possible:
- Check for and remove yard debris, including fallen leaves, branches and dirt, from around the outdoor cabinet. Don't forget to check the interior of the cabinet for the same.
- Remove dust and debris from the outside of the indoor cabinet. Make sure there aren't any items, especially flammable aerosols and old rags, being stored near the unit.
- Inspect the evaporator coil inside the indoor cabinet for dust, mold, mildew or algae growth and carefully clean it as necessary. Use a self-rinsing coil cleaner for the best results.
- Carefully vacuum the indoor cabinet's intake air inlet to remove dust and debris. Use a soft brush attachment to minimize damage. Do the same for the supply vents throughout your home.
- Consider having your ducts professionally cleaned, especially if there's a heavy amount of dust and debris within the ducts.
Don't forget to check the condensate drip tray located below the evaporator coil, as it's often a prime spot for mold and mildew growth. Make sure the tray drains properly and thoroughly clean and disinfect the tray and its drain.
Cover It Up, But Not Too Much
After you've cleaned your outdoor cabinet, you may want to top it with a large piece of plywood or shroud it in an appropriate mesh cover. Your central A/C system is designed to weather the elements, but large accumulations of snow and debris can still harm it in many ways. Covering the top of the unit with plywood or a mesh cover prevents falling debris and excess snowfall from getting inside the cabinet.
So why not just throw an ordinary tarp over your A/C unit and call it a day? Because a tarp not only locks in moisture that could expose your unit to premature rust and corrosion, but it also provides small creatures with a warm place to nest. Mesh covers and plywood keep the bottom of the unit exposed so that air flows through the unit uninterrupted.
Keep an Eye on Refrigerant Levels
It's easy to miss your A/C refrigerant, especially during the lengthy winter months. Pinhole leaks in the refrigerant lines, failed seals and even damaged coils can allow refrigerant to escape unnoticed. As you restart your central A/C system, you may notice it offers very poor cooling or no cooling at all.
Chances are you won't have the tools or experience needed to check your central A/C system's refrigerant levels, so this is one job you can afford to leave up to the professionals. Have a trusted HVAC technician check your unit's refrigerant levels and inspect for potential leaks. If your central A/C system still uses R-22 refrigerant, consider making the switch to a compatible alternative or invest in a new system that uses the latest R-410a refrigerant.
Check Your Electricals
You'll also want to make sure that your thermostat is able to call for cooling correctly. It's not unusual for terminal connectors to loosen up, become tarnished or even rust up during the winter, plus dust and debris can find a way inside the thermostat itself.
Check for and remove any dirt and debris you happen to find inside the thermostat. Make sure all of the connectors are tightened and coated with non-conducting lubricant for protection. Don't forget to make sure the thermostat is properly wired in the first place, especially if it was installed recently.