4 Tips to Keep Your AC From Overheating in the Stockton Summer

blog-icon-hvacLast summer we replaced an air conditioner in July that had given up the ghost. It was only five years old, but the owner had never had it serviced and only infrequently replaced the air filters himself. Then, during the hottest week of the summer so far, the system overheated like a car engine and died, never to run again. These horror stories remind us of the importance of routine maintenance — the homeowner said something to us about “not wanting to waste money of those tune-ups.” But if he’d spent $100 a year on tune-ups, he’d have invested $500  into his AC and it would have been running for another 5 years, at least. Instead, he had to spend almost 10 times that much on a new system.

Today, we’re talking about what we do on a routine tune-up to stop your system from doing what his did. Hopefully you’ll read this and realize that we’re not trying to fleece anybody—we’re trying to save people money on needless replacements. Most of this stuff is not something you’ll be able to do yourself—except for the last one—but it’s useful to know what our guys will do to prevent your AC from overheating when they do a routine tune-up or other maintenance. And it gives you some important things to make sure any HVAC pro is going to do when they get your air conditioner ready for summer’s sweltering heat.

#1: Clean the Condenser

The condenser — also known as the outdoor unit, or (according to one client) “that big fan-box thing in my backyard” — is an important part of your AC system’s daily function, and it’s also the focus of attention for part of each tune-up. Condensers get dirty from their regular function, and they also get dirty from just being outside all the time. Our guys will clean the fins and coils of the condenser, and straighten any bent fins that we can to ensure it’s all working optimally.

A lot of times a nasty sludge will develop in the bottom of the condenser; this sludge can turn acidic and when that happens it will eat away at the internal components and require replacement sooner rather than later. We always try to get this sludge out as soon as we see it. We also recommend covering your condenser with a permanent, “install-it-and-forget-it” cover that stays in place year round and is easy to remove if necessary. Condensers that have been covered appropriately (a piece of ½ inch plywood thrown on top of the unit is not an appropriate cover) have longer lives and function better than their uncovered counterparts.

#2: “Recharge” the Refrigerant

Definitely not something you want to do yourself, (although there is one story we still pass around trade conferences about exactly that) recharging the refrigerant isn’t actually a part of a regular tune-up and anybody that’s trying to sell you on it isn’t someone you want working on your system. Refrigerant shouldn’t leak or leave your system, and it also doesn’t get dirty in the same way other fluids do. The risks of overcharging are great, and you shouldn’t be “topping off” refrigerant like coolant in your car.

Here’s what could happen in a tune-up, though: Your HVAC tech notices the refrigerant level is low. This is bad — it means toxic refrigerant is leaking somewhere, and also that your system is at risk of overheating. So they find where the leak is, they fix the system, and they replace the refrigerant afterward. So yes, refrigerant is part of a tune-up, but not in the way many would like you to believe.

#3: Replace Filters Regularly

“Here they go again,” you say, “when will they stop talking about air filters?!” The answer, of course, is never. We talk about filters at least once a month because you need to replace yours at least once every 3-6 months, and dirty filters cause more HVAC woe than anything else out there. Filters are cheap, easy to replace, and should be part of every tune-up and regular maintenance. Remember, during times of peak HVAC usage you need to replace your filters more often. If you’re already using your air conditioner every day, replace your filters now, once in July, and again in early September. An easy way to remember it: Replace your filters on Memorial day; the Fourth of July, and Labor day.

#4: Adjust Usage to Limit Risk

You wouldn’t want to run all day long in the summer, and your AC doesn’t either. One great way to limit the chance of your AC overheating is to not use it 24/7 or find other ways to affect the home environment so it doesn’t have to go all the time.

A great tip is to leave it off when you’re not home; it will take a bit to cool down at night, but it’s worth it. You’ll save strain on your system and on your energy bill! You can also upgrade to a programmable thermostat, which can be adjusted using your smartphone or scheduled to only turn on the AC half an hour before you get home.

Insulating your home and upgrading in general will also put less of a strain on your AC system, and that’s important if you have a house that could do with some duct sealing or other easy upgrades. All of these upgrades, from thermostats to insulation, can be rebateable in many cases. Your friendly local HVAC contractor is the go-to resource for all of this stuff. From a tune-up to refrigerant leak repair; from buying a condenser cover to helping you secure financing and rebates, they’ll be in your corner with all your HVAC needs.