Gary Longstreet
Home Inspections
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What about the Air Conditioner?

Updated Sunday, July 28, 2013  ::  Views (1525)

Q: I can see leaves, dog hair and other debris in my outside cooling unit. Is this a problem?
Yes it is, both in regards to the efficiency and operation of the unit for you and in regards to the outcome of a home inspection.  Part of what a professional inspector will observe is whether or not the outside unit, called the condenser, is clean, level and up off the ground.  The area around the condenser should also be free from debris. Insulation surrounding any copper pipe entering the home from the condenser or heat pump should be free of cracks or damage.
NPI Inspectors have found these units can be damaged by dogs or clogged with plant debris. Because these units depend on a free flow of air to function properly, it is essential to keep the condenser unit maintained annually. In places where tree seeds fall, such as near cottonwoods or maple trees, it may be necessary to clean these off more than once a year. For more information on HVAC equipment inspections, or if you have questions, contact a GPI Inspector today.
In most cases, heating and air conditioner repair should be done by a licensed professional. However, cleaning the outside unit at least annually, more often if build-up occurs is something many homeowners can tackle on their own. 
Here are a few tips:
  • Remove grass, weeds or other plants that have grown around the condenser unit. These can obstruct air flow.
  • Turn off the electrical power to the unit before starting any work.
  • Clean the condenser on the intake side with a commercial coil cleaner available at refrigerator supply stores. Instructions will be included with your purchase.
  • Use a soft brush to clean the fins to remove accumulated dirt. In order to reach the fins, it may be necessary to remove the protective grille. If some fins are bent, a fin comb is available from appliance stores. These fins are easily bent, clean with care.
  • Protect the condenser when it is not being used with a cover or heavy plastic sheeting secured tightly with a cord.

Be advised
Natural ventilation, opening and closing windows to cool a home, takes advantage of some important principals of wind movement and the properties of heat. Cooling a structure via the windows works best on a cool night with a light breeze.
Wind will enter the structure on the side facing into the wind. It will be drawn out again via a vacuum process on the opposite site. The chimney effect, or convection, can also result in cooling. This happens when cool air enters a home on a lower level, absorbs heat, rises and the exits through upstairs windows. This works best is a structure with cathedral ceilings, an open-air design and windows or skylights on the top floors.
Because of these forces of wind and heat on a structure, both landscaping and the orientation of the structure can impact the effectiveness of the convection process for cooling. Windbreaks can force air either into or away from certain windows.
Wi-Fi ready programmable thermostats are available. These thermostats allow an owner to control several items related to heating or cooling remotely via a smart device or the internet. The new Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat from Honeywell also allows the owner to customize the screen to match the décor, and sends email or text alerts if something goes wrong, if a filter needs to be changed or if the power goes off.
Smart Technology helps these devices develop a pattern for adjusting temperature based on the homeowner’s preferences and goals. Over time, they “learn” the preferred settings and can adjust so that the space is cooled to a certain setting just as the owner walks in the door.
Did You Know?
Air conditioning units should only be turned on and tested to determine adequate temperature drop and if it is at least 65 degrees outside and has been so for at least 12 hours. Testing outside these parameters can lead to inaccurate results and may damage equipment. 

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