Cut Power Consumption By Keeping Your Condenser Coil Clean

You can easily tell when your air conditioning unit is working by putting your hand to the vent. That cool breeze blowing past your fingertips lets you know your unit will rapidly cool your home and keep it comfortable.

But is your air conditioning unit working efficiently?

A lot can go wrong with an air conditioning unit; oftentimes the only way to tell if you have a problem is through your electric bill. If your unit struggles to keep your home cool, and you've noticed an increase in your utilities, it's time to take a look at your air conditioner's condenser coil.

What Is a Condenser Coil?

A condenser coil is the outside section of your air conditioner unit. Typical condenser coils consist of aluminum fins and copper tubes.

What Does a Condenser Coil Do?

To keep your home cool, your air conditioning unit collects concentrated heat from your home and pushes it outside. To achieve this, your unit uses refrigerant, which changes from liquid to gas as it collects heat. The compressor pumps the refrigerant through the system, eventually making its way to the condenser.

At the condenser, a fan blows air over finned condensing coils. This air cools the refrigerant, changing the hot vapor to a hot liquid at high pressure. The refrigerant then moves on to an expansion valve, where it emerges as a cool, low-pressure mist. As the refrigerant continues through the air conditioning system, it cools, liquefies, and repeats the process.

Essentially, a condenser coil is a heat transfer site. To work efficiently, the coils need to quickly disperse the hot air collected from the home.

What Happens When the Coil Becomes Dirty?

Condenser coils need to push a lot of hot air into the outdoors. If the coils are dirty, or if plants or other debris block the unit, then the fan can't move the air.

Unfortunately, because the units are outdoors, they are susceptible to collecting pollen, dust, and other materials which decrease your unit's efficiency. If enough debris builds up, your air conditioner's cooling efficiency can drop over 30% and the life of your air conditioning unit decreases.

How to Clean Your Condenser Coil

While your air conditioning unit has a lot of delicate parts that need professional attention, the condenser coils are easy to clean for the average homeowner.

To clean your condenser coils, you'll need:

  • A shop vacuum with a brush attachment
  • Screwdriver
  • Garden hose
  • Broom
  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • Fin comb
  • Cleaning rag
  • Coil cleaner or mild detergent with water

To clean your condenser coil, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the power to your air conditioning unit. You can shut it off at the main circuit breaker panel or at the outdoor disconnect box.
  2. Clear away any debris, such as dead grass, plants, or other foliage that might inhibit the air flow.
  3. Remove the top of the unit. You can unusually do this by removing the hex screws around the top. Be careful! You don't want to damage the fan motor at the top of the unit.
  4. Clean the fan assembly. Use a rag or whisk broom to clean the fan blades, and then use the shop vacuum to clean dirt off the fan motor.
  5. Brush away surface dirt from air conditioner coils, or use the shop vacuum.
  6. Cover any electric wires or motors with plastic.
  7. Spray the outside of the fins with a good coil cleaner and let it sit for several minutes.
  8. Use the garden hose to spray away the cleaner and the dirt from the inside. Do not spray from the outside of the unit, as this can lodge dirt and particles deeper into the fin. Also, do not spray the compressor. This may bend the fins that surround the coil. Continue rinsing until the runoff is clear.
  9. Inspect coil fins for any damage. If coil fins appear bent, you can use a fin comb to comb them straight.
  10. Reassemble your air conditioner and then restore power.

After you've turned on your unit, it doesn't hurt to double-check for damage. Go back outside and then listen for any odd noises to make sure you've reassembled your unit correctly. If you hear anything out of the ordinary, call a professional to check out the system for you.

How Often Should You Clean Your Condenser Coil?

Even if the coils are new, it's best to start cleaning your unit regularly to prevent deterioration. Some areas only need an annual cleaning (preferably in the spring) while other areas may need monthly cleanings. If you're not sure how often to clean your condenser coil, ask your local HVAC technician.

Call a Professional

Cleaning your condenser coils can save you a great deal of money on utilities and maintenance. However, you may accidentally damage your system if you are not careful.

To keep your air conditioning unit running smoothly, don't be afraid to ask your HVAC technician to clean the coils for you.

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