Timberline Blog

Cleaning Your AC Condenser Unit — Helpful Advice on How to DIY

August 23, 2017 by Timberline

You’re in luck! Not all maintenance requires the assistance of a professional HVACR company like Timberline Mechanical. There are plenty of preventative steps you can take on your own to ensure that your equipment operates efficiently, even on seemingly complicated commercial units. Cleaning the condenser unit (including condenser coils and the fins of the fan) annually is one of those tasks. When done regularly, your system with thank you…and so will your pocketbook. The result is an efficient operating piece of equipment that will last and provide reliable service for years to come.

Air condensers are usually positioned on the roof or adjacent to an outside wall of your home or building and make up the exterior component of the air conditioning equipment. Because they are located where cottong from cotton wood trees, leaves, debris, dirt, and other natural pollutants are common—as opposed to inside of a cleaner, temperature controlled building—they often collect a mixture of cotton, dirt and leaves on the coils or fins causing the efficiency of the entire AC system to decline.

Removing Debris That Can Block Airflow

You’ve undoubtedly seen one or more of these over time: a thick coat of cottonwood seeds that block airflow; tree leaves and stray branches that cover the grate to the point of choking the air movement; and dirt, dust, and grime from any number of sources that impede the functionality of the unit. In just a short amount of time, material can accumulate and should be removed. Moreover, if the effectiveness of the cooling system decreases, you spend more money because the system is running more often and for longer periods of time, and damage to the compressor may occur if the condenser is not cleaned on a regular basis. And your building or home just isn’t comfortable.

In summary, dirty condenser coils can contribute to a number of potentially expensive, yet preventable, problems:

  • Reduced heat transfer
  • Larger energy usage
  • Decreased cooling capability
  • Increased wear on the system leading to lasting damage
  • Increased operating temperatures and pressures
  • System malfunctions and reduced life expectancy

Generally, you can expect an air conditioning system that has dirty coils to use up to 40% more energy than a similar unit with clean coils.

Clean Your Condensing Coils Every Year

Condensing coils and fan fins may require more or less frequent cleaning depending on your unit’s location and environmental elements. That’s why Timberline recommends not going more than one year without a thorough cleaning. Cleaning your AC condenser is nothing like performing surgery or flying on the trapeze, but there are a few different ways to unintentionally cause damage to the unit or yourself. Granted, you can’t do everything—only a HVAC professional can check the coolant level and repair electrical concerns—but you can complete the majority of the routine cleaning by following these simple, step-by-step directions:

1. Refer to the instruction manual. Most manufacturers maintain a downloadable version of manuals online if you are unable to locate the printed copy that came with your unit. Each different manual is commonly listed by the model number, which is located on the nameplate of your condenser. Always check the recommendations of the manufacturer first before starting any kind of maintenance, even if it seems routine.

2. Turn off the power. This is a step that must not be neglected since you’ll be working with an electrical unit and water. Stray spray can easily endanger the unit and bystanders so take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself and property.

3. Remove coil guards. If your unit has coil guards, carefully remove them and remember to retain the screws or clips. You’ll need them to reattach the guards when the cleaning process is complete.

4. Consider the fan. From the top of the unit, see if you can maneuver around the blades without removing the fan. If possible, you may wish to carefully unscrew the fan and gently adjust the position of it far enough to gain access to the inside of the unit. Make sure not to damage the fan blades by bending or dinging them; fans blades that are unbalanced may not spin properly which will further inhibit productivity.

5. Carefully spray from inside out first, then outside. With a garden hose and spray nozzle, spray water from the inside of the condenser coil to the outside to remove the majority of the debris, then continue to the outside of the unit to eliminate the remainder of it. Two additional considerations: 1) There are specific cleansers available, but not all of them are safe because they are too abrasive or toxic. Check the user manual for manufacturer guidance or inquire with a professional on which cleansers are acceptable. The City of Boulder doesn’t allow use of coil cleaner that can freely drain to the storm sewer, so in Boulder you just use water. 2) Do not use a power washer because the force of the stream may damage the fins. With potentially thousands of PSI, this damage can occur instantly and is nearly impossible to repair; too much water intensity might crush coils and fins even to the point of being flattened and entirely inoperable. Your garden hose is gentler on coils and usually achieves enough pressure to effectively clean the grooves, fins and coils.

6. Reinstall guards and fan motor. Use the same screws in the same holes so that the unit is returned to manufacturer specifications. Take caution to tighten sufficiently because of the vibration and spinning of the unit.

7. Wait thirty minutes. Make sure unit is dry and excess water has evaporated. This will eliminate the chance of electrocution or a short as you finish the process.

8. Turn on the electrical disconnect and check operation. Closely monitor and observe the operation, listening for pings or ticks that may not have been present before. Also, for several days after the cleaning, check the proper function of the unit at different times throughout the day and always remember to replace the filter.

While condenser coils are easily accessible and easy to clean because they are in the outdoor assembly, other elements of the system may require a HVAC professional to clean and maintain due to proximity and difficulty. Interior evaporator coils contained within the air-handling part of the system capture heat from the inside air, condenser coils on the outside discharge heat into the surrounding areas around the outside unit.

Always remember to winterize your AC as the end of the summer approaches and the typical weather changes are due to arrive. Then, clean your condenser as the weather begins to warm in the early months of the year.

Contact us to take care of all of your HVACR needs for both your home and business.

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