Yearly AC Maintenance—Is It Worth The Cost?

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Yearly AC Maintenance—Is It Worth The Cost?

Like most complex pieces of machinery, air conditioners are susceptible to maintenance issues. Some of these you can deal with yourself, others require the expertise of a professional. If this is not done, the excess dirt, dust and mould will accumulate and cause your unit to work harder. This puts stress on the components, can lead to breakages, increase your electricity bill and lead to health issues. So what are signs your system needs maintenance, what can you do yourself, and is yearly AC maintenance worth it?

Is annual air conditioner maintenance necessary?

If your household budget is tight, you may be asking yourself, is annual air conditioner maintenance necessary? The simple answer is yes. Why? A few important reasons for regularly having your unit serviced include:

  • Your unit will maintain its peak efficiency (if not serviced regularly, then its efficiency can drop by as much as five per cent per year!)
  • Your heating and cooling bills won’t increase.
  • Extending the life of your air conditioning.
  • Ensuring minor problems don’t become more extensive and expensive.
  • Neglecting regular maintenance can void your warranty.
  • Preparing your unit for summer to maintain comfort levels.

How often should air conditioner maintenance be done?

So, you’ve probably realised by now the value of regular air conditioner servicing, however, how often should air conditioner maintenance be done?

Most air conditioning systems should be serviced annually regardless of the type, age or model, however, it is recommended you check your system’s instruction manual for the recommended frequency. This is particularly the case with ducted units as their construction is complicated compared to a split system. The main reason is that much of their hardware is not easily visible. So if there are issues with one component, it can often cause a domino effect resulting in extensive damage and a big bill! Qualified air conditioning technicians will ensure your system is running at its optimal level.

There are also several scenarios where you may want to have it serviced more often, including if:

  • You have reason to suspect your air con is not working correctly.
  • Your unit is used extensively (particularly in an office scenario)
  • You have an evaporative system – these should be serviced twice a year. First, before the start of summer to ensure they are operating well and then again after summer to prepare for winter.

What maintenance tasks can I perform myself?

Regularly checking your system — once a month is ideal. This involves checking that all the components of your system are functioning efficiently, including:

  • All lights on your operation pad are working.
  • Vents in all rooms are expelling clean air.
  • Your outside unit isn’t making loud or strange noises or emitting odours.
  • The filters aren’t clogged with dirt, dust or mould (on split systems).

How do I clean my split system?

Split systems are somewhat less complex than ducted systems, so you can do a variety of maintenance tasks yourself. In terms of how to clean a split air conditioner:

  1. Turn off the electricity, including at the power points and the circuit board if possible.
  2. Check the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have a hard copy, you should be able to download it from the manufacturer’s website.
  3. Clean the filter panels. A typical split system has one or two inbuilt filter panels, and they work by filtering out dust and bacteria. Some models may also have an additional carbon or HEPA filter to purify the air. Pop open the plastic cover and remove the filter panels. Then take them outside and give them a good shake or brush and then dislodge any grime and dust by hitting the panel against a post or railing. For a thorough clean, use the dusting brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to remove any lingering dust or grime. If they need additional cleaning, wash them in warm water with mild detergent and rinse them clean. Make sure they are thoroughly dry before putting them back in the unit. An antibacterial spray may also help prevent mould and bacteria.
  4. Clean the louvres. These are the oscillating, angled slats on the exterior of your unit that directs the airflow. Give the louvres and the space behind them a clean with a vacuum cleaner or clean, dry cloth.
  5. Clean the exterior. Give the exterior casing of the unit a wipe down. Brush away any leaves, dust and cobwebs which will minimise any airflow obstructions.
  6. Don’t be tempted to clean your unit’s condenser coils. This should be done by a professional as doing it yourself can void the warranty or damage components. You may also risk releasing dangerous refrigerant.

How do I know if my system needs a professional service?

There are a range of maintenance tasks and common air con faults that only a licensed technician should deal with as part of a yearly AC maintenance schedule.

There are also a variety of signs that your system, including signs your ducted air conditioner needs a service.

Depending on whether you have a split or a ducted system, they include:

Refrigerant levels

Refrigerant converts hot air into cool air, and it constantly changes from liquid to gas as it moves through the system, allowing it to absorb and release heat. An air conditioning unit requires a precise amount of refrigerant to function efficiently, and this varies from system to system. If the system is low on refrigerant, it won’t perform as effectively and will increase your power bill.

Electrical controls

Over time, an air conditioner’s electrical components can wear out, especially if the system is turned on and off frequently. Wiring can also be damaged by vermin and damage your unit’s PC boards and trip the circuit breaker. If you can’t restore power by flipping the circuit breaker back into position, it could be due to a fault that is causing the system to dangerously overheat.

Condensation drain

This is located inside a ducted unit and is responsible for removing condensation produced by the system’s evaporator coil. When the line becomes clogged and dirty, it produces musty smells, can create water damage and increase humidity. It will then eventually overflow, leading to negative pressure, blocked filters and the dispersion of water through the main ducting and outlets. This can cause severe damage to walls, carpets and furniture.

Frozen evaporator coil

The evaporator coil contains refrigerant that converts warm air into cool air and should maintain a temperature of around four degrees for optimum performance. If you have dirty air filters, the system’s airflow will be reduced, which can cause the evaporator coil to become cooler and eventually freeze.

Dirty system coils

Condenser and evaporator coils are the outdoor elements of an air conditioning unit, and they are responsible for removing heat from the air conditioning system. Being outdoors, it’s easy for the condenser’s coil to become caked with leaves, dirt and twigs, which will make it work harder and it may eventually cease working. Hiring a professional to do this will ensure you don’t damage any delicate components.

Dislocated thermostat

Air conditioners use thermostats to regulate the temperature. When these lose their calibration, they can’t measure the temperature effectively and need to be corrected by a professional.

Damaged ducts

Ducted air conditioners transfer air through ducts in the ceiling, and they are constructed of different materials depending on the system. In domestic units, they are typically made from bendable plastic or rubber. Over time, joins can come loose, and punctures and tears develop. These issues can lead to air escaping and, therefore, a decrease in your system’s efficiency. Surprisingly, up to thirty per cent of your home’s cooling or heating costs can be wasted by leaking duct vents.

Damaged ductwork can also compromise the lifespan of your system as separations and cracks can create condensation on the ductwork, which can lead to corrosion. If they are located in a space in the roof which is not air-conditioned, damage can cause cooled or heated air to be forced out of unsealed joints. This then evaporates. Gaps over time can also suck in airborne pollutants like dander, pollen, dirt, mould and other allergens, which can exacerbate health issues.

Professionals can often patch damaged ducting, however, if left for too long, it will need to be replaced, which is an expensive exercise. Better to be safe than sorry, and organise regular servicing!

Blocked ducts

Ducts in ducted air conditioning units can become blocked by vermin, including mice, rats and possums. Rats love air conditioning ducting for their nests which can sabotage the system’s circulation. Possums often chew their way into ductwork in search of shelter. Mice and rats can also chew through electrical wires, refrigerant lines and other components.

If animals start living in the ducting itself (including snakes, geckos, possums and cockroaches), the air circulating in your home can become contaminated with a toxic mixture of urine, faeces and fur. This can worsen health issues like allergies, asthma and existing respiratory problems. If your home has carpets, damp conditions or pets, the level of allergens can be increased and compromise air quality even more.

Blocked ducts can also allow air to escape into the wall space and roof voids instead of being circulated inside the home, which leads to inefficiencies and an increased energy bill.

Inadequate supply ducts

Well-designed ducted systems distribute air efficiently throughout your home to keep all rooms at a comfortable temperature. The system should provide a balanced supply-and-return flow to maintain a neutral pressure within the house. If existing ducted systems have design deficiencies or are inadequate, they will be harder to heat and cool.

Fixing the problem will require an upgrade by a professional air conditioning specialist. This can involve the installation of new ducts, new return-air grilles or the undercutting of doors to allow for return airflow.

AC maintenance cost

Your AC maintenance cost will depend on a range of factors, including the age, condition and type of air conditioning system you have. However, as a guide, you can expect to pay around:

  • $160 for repair/breakdown, including first 1/2hr on site. Then $60 per ½hr after
  • $160 for service of split system, and $88 for additional split units
  • $220 for service of ducted systems, and $110inc GST for additional ducted
  • $286 for strip and chemical cleaning of high wall split systems

These prices all include GST.