Maintaining your cooling equipment is largely a matter of keeping the inside and outside units clean. This means a regular filter replacement or cleaning program, an occasional duct cleaning (every five years) and keeping the outside unit clear of weeds, dirt, debris, coil pings, and dents from lawnmowers, baseballs, etc. Inspect coil fins for damage and make repairs if needed. HVAC contractors have special tools for straightening bent coil fins. Manufacturers
recommend at least two feet clearance around and five feet above the unit. Remember that dirt and dust are insulators and they, therefore, make it more difficult to transfer heat from the inside air to the transport medium (refrigerant) and ultimately from the outside coils (Condenser) to the outside air. Listen for unusual fan or motor noise that might signal impending failure. Watch for fire ants that may invade the unit and cause serious problems. Use of an insecticide around the condensing unit to control fire ants is a wise preventive measure.
Electric Compressors and Heat Pumps are now rated (for cooling purposes) by their “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio” or “SEER”. The SEER is the ratio between the total cooling output during the normal season divided by the total electric power input for the season. For example, a 10 SEER means that the BUT/h is ten times the input. The higher the SEER, the lower the operating cost and the higher the efficiency. However, past a certain SEER level more is not necessarily better because the system can cool the house off too fast to remove significant humidity from the air. A properly cooling system should drop the temperature 15 – 23 degrees across the inside coils (evaporative coils). Remember, however, that on an extremely hot day you may not get the same performance. Air Conditioning, by definition is the equipment’s ability to drop the inside temperature 15 degrees below outside temperatures. Therefore, if the outside temperature is 95-105 degrees, and the inside temperature is 80 degrees, then we have properly operating air conditioning. Try to keep your thermostat set at 80 degrees if you are relaxing and 75 degrees if active.
Most air conditioning systems feature a double drainage system. The primary drain is connected into your main plumbing system. An auxiliary or back-up drain from your air conditioner is tied into a pipe leading outside your home. While this drain acts as a back-up system, it also can be considered a “red flag” warning that your primary drain is not functioning properly. If you notice water coming from the auxiliary drain, you should inspect the primary drainage system for an obstruction or blockage in the pipes. To kill fungus and keep your air conditioner running smoothly, pour one cup of a 50/50 solution of chlorine bleach and water into the opening at the condensate drain line where it exits the evaporator coil. Doing this in Spring and Fall will also prevent condensate from backing up into house and flooding the area. Check the flow of water through the condensate drain by observing flow at its termination or the flow of water in the pipe. If the drain does not flow freely, simply blowing it out may solve the problem. This drain line should terminate at least five feet from your home’s foundation to prevent a wet area at the foundation edge. If the system is installed in midwinter, it cannot be checked for operation of the cooling. At the first sign of warmer weather, temperatures averaging above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you should turn on the air conditioning system to check it… even if cooling is not yet needed.
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Home Inspector Kyle D. Scott
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