Air conditioner season is coming, and the last thing you want is to discover your cooling system is on the fritz on the first hot day of summer. Even if your A/C worked perfectly last year, three seasons without use can do damage to your unit through debris buildup.

Whether you enjoy central A/C or use one or more window units, a bit of maintenance goes a long way — and can help extend the life of your home cooling system.

Prepping Your Cooling System for Summer

First, get familiar with what needs to be done -here’s what to do:

1. Change air filters. Dust and pollen can clog an filter, causing; causing the machine to work inefficiently, blowing warm air and raising your electricity bill. Plus, who wants contaminated air blowing in their face while they try to cool off? Clean or change your filters once every three months or once a month if you run your A/C constantly.

2. Clean the A/C condenser coils. Remove the protective grilles from your condenser to reach the coils. A refrigerator coil brush or soft brush on a vacuum will allow you to gently clean the outside coils. For stuck-on debris, spray on a coil cleaner, which can be found at stores like Home Depot or Walmart, a local hardware store, or online for less than $10. Spray the cleaner from the inside, avoiding spraying the fan or electrical components.

During the off season, you can protect your unit from debris with a condenser cover or tarp, which can be found online or at home improvement stores for $20-100. Not all homeowners recommend covering the entire unit, and instead will cover only the top of the condenser; using a piece of plywood and a few bricks can hold it in place.

3. Check A/C units for debris. Remove any leaves or weeds around the base of the condenser.

4. Clear the drain line. The drain or condensate line is located near the indoor cooling coil. You can clear the drain by flushing one cup of bleach, followed by a gallon of water through the drain. Or, you can use a shop vacuum to suction out any clogs.

5. Lubricate moving parts. Put a few drops of lightweight oil or spray WD-40 on any moving parts, such as the fan blades, to prevent friction.

6. Check the coolant lines. Ensure that the refrigerant tubes or pipes that run from the evaporator to the condenser are covered well with insulation foam. Replace any foam insulation on areas that are missing or worn.

7. Turn off water to furnace humidifier. If you have a central humidifier, shut off the humidifier before using your air conditioner. Forgetting to switch off the humidifier will prevent your unit from properly cooling your home.

8. Power on your A/C. After your unit has dried and you’ve put it back together after the maintenance check, it is time to ensure your cooler runs properly. Begin by turning off your home thermostat. Then switch on the power at both the disconnect box and at the main panel. Finally, set the thermostat setting on the unit to cool.

Keeping Your A/C Window Unit Running Smoothly

An A/C window unit does not need as much yearly maintenance as an HVAC system, but 20 minutes of cleaning at the beginning of the summer season will help keep your cooler running efficiently. First, unplug your unit and then follow these quick steps to prepare your window unit:

1. Clean the filter. The filter is located right behind the front grill that blows air into your room. Depending on your unit, the grill will slide out or will need a quick unscrewing to release it. If it’s a paper filter, you need to replace it. You can find filter replacements at stores like Target or Walmart or local hardware stores. Be sure to bring your old filter with you so that you purchase the right size. If your window unit has a mesh filter, clean the filter with warm, soapy water and let it dry thoroughly. If you notice any mold on the filter or grill, wash it in a solution of bleach and water.

2. Vacuum the coils. The evaporator coil and condenser coil need to be gently cleaned with a soft vacuum brush. The evaporator coil is behind the filter and the condenser coil is behind the compressor. These coils can bend easily, so use a delicate hand when vacuuming them. If you notice that any of the coils are bent, use a fin comb (which can be purchased online or at your local hardware store) to carefully straighten the coils.

3. Check the window seal. Finally, wipe down the outside of the unit and check the window seal for cracks or wear. If there is a gap, add adhesive-backed foam weather stripping inside the gap to ensure a proper seal.

4. Test your unit. Once everything is cleaned, dried, and reassembled, connect the unit back to the power source and test it out. Depending on how often you use your window A/C during the summer, you should clean the unit once or twice more before autumn.

Insurance Endorsement for Year Round Protection

Fixing or replacing your air conditioner can be costly. Depending on the problem, an A/C repair can cost between $163 and $520. Installing a new central air unit can cost over $5,000. You shouldn’t have to suffer financially to beat the heat.

For example, The Hartford’s equipment breakdown coverage helps cover your home security system, dishwasher, water heaters, well pumps, heating and electrical systems, lawn mower, stovetop, swimming pool equipment, television, washer and dryer, and more.

Adding this endorsement to your homeowner’s policy for approximately $30 a year covers up to $50,000 to repair or replace equipment due to electrical or mechanical breakdown. In most cases, your payout equals the replacement cost of the piece of equipment, less a $5oo deductible. The plan can also cover the costs of expediting the repair or replacement, so you don’t have to worry about your family’s health and well-being on top of a broken appliance.

Knowing When It’s Time for a New Unit

Even with proper care, A/C units do have an expiration date. According to Energy.gov, a 10-year-old central air unit can cost you 20-40% more in energy costs, when compared to a newer, more efficient model.

Preparing your home for the warmer weather sometimes isn’t enough. Hiring a professional might be necessary to fix any cooling issues before a problem gets worse. Adding equipment coverage attached to your homeowners, condo, or renters insurance policy can give you peace of mind that you won’t have to suffer long with a broken air conditioner, washing machine, or other important appliance you use often.

Are you looking for other ways to beat the heat this summer?  Here are Nine Money-Saving Tactics and Tools to Stay Cool.

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