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Preparing your air conditioning system prior to turning it on for the first time this summer requires going through a checklist of items and steps you need to follow. Taking the time to do these things now could help you avoid costly air conditioning repair service calls later.  

Step 1: Turn off the power to the system.

Before doing any type of work on or around your air conditioning, you will want to shut off the power. There can be breakers inside the main breaker box in your home, as well as a secondary breaker box next to the unit. Make sure these are flipped to the “OFF” position.

Step 2: Replace the batteries in your thermostat.

If you have a newer thermostat, it is a good idea to replace the batteries in it once a year. The batteries are used to store information like different program settings, dates, times, and reminders for changing the air filter if there is ever a power outage.

If you have an older thermostat—like the ones that you slide the bar up and down to set the temperature—now is a good time to have your heating and cooling technician install a modern, energy-efficient one. Getting a new thermostat can help improve the efficiency of your air conditioning system and could result in lower cooling costs.

Air Conditioning Control Unit

Step 3: Make sure all air vents are not blocked.

Unless you specifically have the vent closed to stop cold air from going into a room, you want to make sure all of the air vents are open and adjusted correctly. If you have a two-story home, you may want to partially close the vents downstairs and fully open the ones upstairs. Doing this can help keep the home more evenly cooled since cool air “falls.”

If you remember back to your science classes, cold air moves downward while hot air moves upward. If you have the vents fully opened downstairs, this will force more hot air upstairs. Partially closing the vents downstairs and opening the ones upstairs allows more cold air upstairs. Part of the cold air will “trickle” down to the lower floor.

Step 4: Clean all the air vents.

Make sure all of the air vents are clean. Dirty air vents will blow dust, dirt, and pet hair around in the rooms of your home. The easiest way to clean them is with a vacuum sweeper or shop VAC. If you notice the air ducts are also dusty, you may want to have your air conditioning repair technician clean them.

A great way to tell if your ducts are dirty is by how fast dust accumulates in the home. For example, you dust the entire home. By the end of the week, the rooms are just as dusty again. With dust accumulating so quickly, it often points to dusty air ducts.

Step 5: Change the air filter.

If you recently changed the air filter, at least check it to make sure it is still clean. Some furnace and air conditioning systems will have two filters. There is the main one that is in the return air vent and another next to the blower motor. Remember to check and change both air filters.

Step 6: Take the cover off the outdoor unit if applicable.

If you cover your outdoor AC unit, remember to take the cover off before starting it up. Otherwise, the unit can overheat or, worse, catch on fire.

Step 7: Remove debris from around the outdoor unit.

Make sure there are no leaves, grass, weeds or other such debris that is next to the unit or growing around it. You want at least three inches of clear space all the way around the unit for proper air flow. If there are shrubs or trees that overhang the unit, trim back branches so none overhang the unit.

Air conditioning unit outdoors

Step 8: Verify the outdoor unit is level.

The outdoor unit should be fairly level to ensure it functions correctly. If it is not, you will want to have it re-leveled by your heating and cooling technician before using it. Otherwise, running it could place additional strain on the unit and cause the condenser to fail sooner.

Step 9: Check the drain line and clean it.

On the side of the outdoor unit should be a drain line. You want to make sure there are no obstructions or clogs in it. Sometimes you can pull the drain pipe off for easy access. If the drain pipe does not come off, another great way to clean it is using a shop VAC and sucking out any debris trapped inside the pipe.

Keep in mind, the drain line is not always next to the outdoor unit, depending on your heating and cooling system setup. In some homes, it may be in your basement next to the furnace if it has been plumbed to run down an indoor drain line.

Step 10: Check wiring around the outdoor unit.

Make sure any electrical wiring is not damaged. All wiring should be coated with an insulated covering. Wires should also not be loose and dangling where they could get sucked into the unit when you turn it on.

Step 11: Clean the outdoor unit.

For this step, it is highly recommended that you call your heating and air conditioning repair technician for help. To thoroughly clean the unit, it has to be taken apart and put back together. The delicate vent fins also need to be cleaned and straightened and the evaporator coil cleaned.

Step 12: Turn the power back on.

After you have completed all the previous steps, you are ready to do an air conditioning system check. Go to the thermostat and set it to AC. Adjust the temperature down so the system turns on. You only need to have it a few degrees lower than the current indoor air temperature.

While the system is running, put your hand in front of an air vent to verify the air coming out is cold. If it feels cool or warm, shut the system off and schedule air conditioning repair service.

In addition, go outside to make sure the outdoor unit is running correctly. The fan should be spinning quietly, and you should see water coming out the drain line if it is next to the outdoor unit. If you hear clunking, banging, or other unusual sounds, shut the system down and schedule repair service.

Once you have completed all of these steps, your system will be just about ready for the upcoming summer. There are a few other essential things you will want to do to make sure your air conditioning runs efficiently and optimally:

  • Schedule an annual maintenance service with your AC technician. Your technician will perform a detailed inspection of your air conditioning and all of its parts and components. If they discover something could be a problem, it is often less expensive to have it repaired now than waiting for the system to break down in the middle of summer.
  • Have your AC technician inspect your ductwork for air leaks. If there are any air leaks in your ductwork, it can place a strain on your air conditioning system since the indoor air is not being cooled as fast or effectively. Have any air leaks sealed up and fixed.
  • Set all indoor ceiling fans in “summer” mode. If you have indoor ceiling fans, you will want to reverse the direction the air circulates. You want to have the fan blades spinning in a counter-clockwise direction. The easiest way to check this is to turn on the fan, lay on the floor, and look up. There should be a switch on the side of the ceiling fan you slide to change from “winter” to “summer” mode.

If you need assistance preparing your air conditioning for summer or want to schedule annual maintenance for your AC system, our heating and air conditioning repair technicians are happy to help. Please feel free to call A+ Services at 360-464-2493 to schedule an appointment today!

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