Spring Air Conditioning Tune-Ups and Preventative Maintenance (Podcast)

In this podcast, the General Manager of NETR, Inc, explains the importance of a spring tune-up. Regular AC maintenance helps your equipment last longer and run more efficiently. It also helps you minimize the risk of unexpected repairs.

John Maher: Hi, I am John. I’m here today with Brett Rogenski, General Manager of N.E.T.R., Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. And today, we’re talking about spring air conditioning tune-ups and preventative maintenance. Welcome, Brett,

Brett Rogenski: Hey, John. Thanks for having me.

Common Springtime AC Issues

John: Yeah, sure, Brett. So what are some common problems, Brett, that you see come springtime with cooling systems that have maybe just gone through the winter and maybe they haven’t been run for several months now?

Brett: Sure. So that’s a great question. Some of the most common things that we find in the spring after they’ve been, shall we say, tucked away for a New England winter, one of the most common ones is dirty. So those evaporator coils that are on the outside, air is drawn through the unit to take and exhaust the heat out. So as that air goes through the unit, the dust and pollen and dirt in the air and all those other things, they accumulate on those little fins that you see on the outside.

So usually one of the biggest problems that we have is they’re dirty. They worked all summer. The season ended, they stopped using them for cooling, and then they’ve been sitting with snow on them now for several months. So the first and most important thing that we see is that they’re dirty. And when they’re dirty, they don’t work efficiently.

The second thing is, a lot of times if people maybe have had from their installation some sort of either developed or there was one already, a small leak in the refrigerant system, that’s now been sitting for months and slowly leaking away. So they go to turn it on and it’s either not cooling at all or it’s not cooling properly. All of a sudden it’s taking a lot longer to cool that space. Or perhaps it’s not cooling it at all. That’s probably a sign that maybe you have a refrigerant leak somewhere. And there can be a million different reasons for a small refrigerant leak. But all of a sudden people turn it on and they’re like, “This doesn’t seem to be working quite right.” And a lot of times, that’s because there may be a refrigerant leak that’s developed for whatever reason. There can be many. So those are two of the most common.

And I guess the other thing that we do see occasionally, well, I should say regularly, is winter damage. Some folks wrap up their air conditioning units to protect them from the snow and stuff. Other folks do nothing. In some cases, we can see damage, and what we call winter damage is usually one of two things. If it’s a central air conditioning system that has a big fan in the middle and stuff that’s blowing up, sometimes, depending on what we’ve had for a winter, you end up with snow accumulating in there. It can bend those blades and that sort of thing.

The other thing that we get is, and sometimes this is really more with the folks who did a great job of wrapping it up, they created a nice little rodent enclosure. They end up having mice, maybe even something as big as a chipmunk, depending on the situation, that decided to move in. And once they get in there, first of all, they pack it full of all the nesting material they like. And number two, they for some reason just absolutely love nibbling on wires and that sort of thing. So folks uncover their unit and suddenly it’s not working at all. We get into it and find that they have a small mouse habitat going in there, and then we’re happy to help clean that out. But a lot of times we have to repair some damage and it’s often, most frequently, electrical damage. So those are three of the big things that happen.

Signs You Need Springtime AC Maintenance

John: So how can homeowners kind of know if their system needs a tune up or preventative maintenance? Are there any signs that they should be watching? For

Brett: Sure. So I’ll kind of tackle this two ways, is everyone should really, whether it’s a central air system or a ductless system that they use for cooling, everyone should have an annual preventive maintenance every single year. The spring is the best time to do it because that way you get it running at peak efficiency just before you start into the cooling season.

So first of all, we recommend that everyone have that preventive maintenance every single year. We’re going to come in, we’re going to see if anything’s wrong, we’re going to clean it and get it working at peak efficiency. Other things, again, what can homeowners look for? Is it making noises? A lot of times when we talked, for instance, earlier about bent blades and that sort of thing, you can hear noises. Also, a lot of times, capacitors, which are the things that help start that motor out there, they will start humming. They have a certain lifespan and if they’re overloaded and are starting to fail, they’ll hum or they’ll make the unit hum or start really hard.

You never used to hear your AC start and all of a sudden now you’re hearing a big mmmm when it tries to start, that’s probably a sign that either something’s wrong with the unit or that your capacitor is failing and it’s having a hard time starting that. And it’s not going to get better. It needs to be replaced so that that noise will go away, and more importantly, it’ll work reliably.

And then really the other thing is, again, is it not cooling as quickly or like normal? And that’s typically a sign of a refrigerant leak. It can be other things. But if you’re like, “Geez, I used to turn it to 70 and in 10 minutes I felt much cooler,” and all of a sudden you’re turning it to 70 and 30 minutes later you’re still not as comfortable as you’d like to be, that’s probably a sign that there’s something, either potentially a refrigerant leak or perhaps a need of cleaning or et cetera, et cetera. So those are three pretty obvious signs.

Importance of Routine AC Maintenance

John: So talk a little bit more about why tuneups and maintenance are important for the longevity and efficiency of a heating and cooling system.

Brett: Sure. Well, I would tell you the first thing is that when you have a regularly scheduled tuneup, first thing it’s going to do is that it’s going to keep your warranty intact with your manufacturer. Great news about heating and cooling equipment these days is that many of them come with really robust warranties that last anywhere from five to 12 years. But there’s a caveat to that is that you have to perform preventive maintenance every year, basic cleaning and inspection. So to keep your warranty intact, you want to have that.

The other thing that happens when you do preventive maintenance every year is we come in and we clean the unit. So the outside unit where the heat is actually exchanged, it’s extracted from your house and then released, if you will, into the outside, by cleaning those fins, those coils out there, that’s going to work more efficiently. It’s going to actually save you money on your electrical bill because it’s going to be able to take that heat from inside your home and throw it outside with a lot better efficiency.

And then the other thing is, it’s really about catching small things before they become big things. So the analogy I use is maybe your car. All of a sudden your car starts making a knocking sound, you’re probably going to bring that to your mechanic to see what’s going on before all the lights on the dashboard start lighting up. That’s kind of the same thing.

By doing an annual preventive maintenance, we’re going to come in, we’re going to test everything, make sure that the refrigerant load is proper, make sure the system is working at its most efficient. And if there’s little things that need to happen, like maybe there’s a small refrigerant leak that we detect that, hey, the system started fine, but by July you wouldn’t be happy, we’re going to address that right away when it’s a small issue before that has had a negative impact on the health of your unit.

When to Schedule Routine AC Maintenance

John: So you said that a homeowner should do preventive maintenance once a year. Is that how often you think that people should do it and should they always do it right in the spring before they turn their system on?

Brett: Yeah, we recommend for cooling that that be done once a year at a minimum. I mean, there can be occasions where you need more. So I guess I’d call it at least once a year. And the optimum time to do it is in the spring before you start using that. And a key part to that is the cleaning process. So we want you to start the cooling season with your system fully clean, fully operational, working at peak efficiency because it’s going to start really working hard for you here through those summer months.

Occasionally we have some folks who actually do it in the fall before they put the system to bed for the winter. And there’s really nothing wrong with that either if it’s not being used in between. But most folks don’t do that. And what we prefer to have them do is don’t call us in July when this thing’s all clogged up and hasn’t been cleaned for a year. Give us a call in April, give us a call in May, give us a call in June even, and let us get out there and get that thing running in tip top shape for you before you really need it.

DIY Maintenance for ACs

John: Are there any sort of DIY maintenance tasks that homeowners can do themselves to keep the system working well in between visits?

Brett: Sure. Great question. Yeah, some of the stuff that we find that is very helpful is actually it’s kind of basic housekeeping. So keeping the unit clean. You’re out there watering the plants, clean it off, hit it with the hose, clean out that thing. I’m not saying shove it in the unit, but spray it down, help keep it clean. Keep grass and other stuff from encroaching on it. So for instance, when you’re mowing your lawn, don’t blow those grass clippings up onto your unit because those are going to clog it eventually. Or if you have a service that does it, make sure they don’t. So keep the grass and other stuff mowed around it.

If you have shrubs near there, don’t let them encroach on it because that’s going to restrict airflow. You want to keep an area of a couple of feet all the way around that unit that is clear, free of shrubs and grass and that sort of thing.

And also when you service that vegetation, don’t blow it up onto the unit. That’s one of the most common things we see as we go out and we service someone’s unit in the spring, it’s in great shape. And gosh, they’re calling us in July and this thing’s just not keeping up with cooling their home. And we go out and it has just been packed full of grass clippings that the long guy shot onto there. And we’re happy to help, but we’d rather that folks not have to call us to begin with to solve that for them.

Routine AC Maintenance Saves You Money

John: Sure. So how can regular tuneups and preventive maintenance help homeowners actually save money on their energy bills over time, and are there any other benefits to maintenance that homeowners might not be aware of?

Brett: Well, again, kind of two big things come to my mind. One is keeping that warranty intact. So again, having that annual maintenance by a certified professional keeps that warranty intact with the manufacturer. So that’s important because God forbid there is a mechanical failure later, you want to make sure that the folks who produced that are going to be honoring that warranty because you’ve done your part. So that’s one reason that people forget.

And then the other part is really about efficiency. Units, again, with those little heat exchanging fins out there, they become very inefficient pretty quickly as soon as they start getting layered in dust and dirt and pollen. I happen to live in an area where there’s a lot of pine trees and in the spring, you go outside, it might as well be just raining yellow pollen. And that stuff will, as your unit runs, it’s sucked in and it’ll just pack itself right on those fins. And it acts like insulation. It acts almost like cellulose insulation on those, and it makes it harder for them to release that heat out, which means your system works harder and longer, you’re less comfortable, and you’re using more electricity to cool your home. So good hygiene, I guess, of your AC unit.

Contact NETR to Schedule Routine Maintenance for Your AC

John: All right. Well, that’s great advice, Brett. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Brett: Thanks a lot. We appreciate your time.

John: And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R. website at netrinc.com or call 781-933-NETR. That’s 781-933-6387.