HVAC System Maintenance

Getting Your Air Conditioner Ready for a Summer Vacation

Hot weather and bright sunny days signal the time to plan a family vacation. As you prepare for a relaxing time away from home and get the house organized, have you made sure your air conditioning is ready to be left alone and work?

Jumping into Pool

You don’t want equipment failure or water leaks to be on your mind while you’re trying to relax. A few simple steps can give you peace of mind that the a/c unit will perform at its best while you’re away.

First and foremost, at the start of summer you should have the air conditioning unit serviced by a licensed professional. A service company will tune up your air conditioner and get it ready for the upcoming heat and humidity. They will change the filter, check the refrigerant level, make sure you’re getting the proper airflow in each room, clear the drain line, and advise if there are any problems with the unit or system performance. It’s the best thing money can buy especially if the a/c will be running for several weeks with no one is there to check.

Clean debris from around the condenser. The condenser is the outside section of the a/c system. The condenser needs free space around it to pull air through the condenser coils. Before you leave town, trim back any plants that might block the airflow and remove any sticks or leaves stuck in the unit. While you’re out there, look up. If there is anything that might fall on the unit during a storm like dead tree branches, patio furniture, or pots – clear them out of the way before departing. You can give the condenser a good spray down to remove any dust or mud on the coils if there is a hose nearby.

Decide if the unit will stay off or on. Depending on how long you’ll be gone, you need to decide if you want to turn the a/c off or leave it running at a slightly warmer temperature. If pets will stay behind then you’ll want the a/c on at a comfortable temperature. But if the house will be totally empty, there’s no need to pay to cool it all the way down. To keep the humidity level under control but not over cool the house, set the thermostat to 85F before you leave. Eight-five degrees may seem high, but remember no one is home. This is a good set point to keep the humidity level in check, but not let the house get too hot inside and damage the interior. Think carefully before you decide to turn the air completely off if you’ll be gone for an extended period. After a few days, the heat and humidity can build up inside the home and damage wood floors or cause condensation on indoor surfaces at night when temperatures drop. The cost to make repairs to your home will far outweigh any utility savings.

If you know your exact return date, make the most of your programmable thermostat and set the system to cool the house down right before you arrive back home. You’ll save money on utility bills while you’re away, but come home to air conditioned comfort. If your thermostat doesn’t give you the option of setting schedules, have a local a/c company give you some choices on a new thermostat. Today’s thermostat technology is very advanced and some models let you control the heat and a/c from an app on your smartphone.

Open the vents. Many people close off vents in unoccupied rooms to save money. But closing off too many vents actually hurts the performance of the entire cooling system. Open up all the vents to make sure each room gets some cooling and dehumidification so the system can perform correctly when no one is there to check on things.

Closing blinds and curtains. Any way to prevent heat from getting into the house will lessen the workload on the air conditioning unit. Curtains and blinds block sunlight and solar heat from building up inside making your house a bit cooler. Without that heat to overcome, the a/c will work less, saving you money and reducing the chances of a system malfunction. A way to increase your home’s “cool” factor is to install a home automation system that lets you control the heating and air conditioning, automatic blinds, hot water heater, and even the exhaust fans from an app on your phone.

You probably have a surge protector on your computer and expensive audiovisual equipment, but do you have a surge protector on your a/c system? The a/c unit is likely the most expensive appliance in your house, but few people think to add surge protection to this equipment. For homeowners with good electrical skills, a surge protector is inexpensive to buy and not difficult to install. If you’re not so confident in your electrical skills, a licensed electrician or heating and air contractor can help with the purchase and installation. In the event of a power surge or lightning strike, the surge protector will prevent damage to the a/c equipment potentially saving you thousands of dollars on equipment replacement.

Of course, no a/c or electrical system is perfect and sometimes bad luck happens while you’re away. Give your key to a trusted friend or neighbor and have them check on the house. Ask them to look for water damage or leaks, and to make sure the a/c is running as you intended. Lightning storms can trip breakers and shut off the a/c so having someone take a look and report back will put your mind at ease that everything will be ok when you get home.

When you’re relaxing on vacation this summer, you don’t want to worry about what repair problems might be waiting when you get back home. Taking some proactive steps to prep your air conditioning system for your absence can keep it running smoothly and protect the inside of your home from over-heating, excessive humidity, or water damage.