Ask Angi: Should I get an AC inspection?

Don’t overlook your outdoor AC unit when preparing for warmer weather. The unit needs clear space around it to vent properly. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Don’t overlook your outdoor AC unit when preparing for warmer weather. The unit needs clear space around it to vent properly. (Dreamstime/TNS)

It might seem early to start thinking about your air conditioning unit, but late winter and early spring are the ideal times to be contacting your HVAC pro for an inspection and tuneup.

A twice-yearly HVAC inspection -- once in fall before heating starts, once in spring before you need the cooling -- can catch surprises before they become expensive ones. And regular attention from HVAC techs will add years to the lifespan of your unit. You'll get ahead on waiting lists if you start making calls now.

Your average AC inspection costs about $100, and if you have a regular service contract with an HVAC provider, it's often included with your contract. (Incidentally, getting a service contract with an HVAC provider is usually a good idea; it covers things like routine maintenance, and often gives you priority scheduling in an emergency.)

During the inspection and tuneup, which should take about an afternoon, your tech will test all operating temperatures and pressure; inspect the coils, blower, drain line, and motor; verify that the proper refrigerant levels are set; and lubricate where needed. (In most cases, they'll take a look at the heating side as well, to see if any winter wear-and-tear has led to a need for a repair.)

This inspection does more than just check for future problems. It also improves efficiency, makes the temperature more comfortable and lowers energy costs.

Sometimes the simplest things can result in an air conditioning problem. Consider these things when hot days arrive:

Check your circuit breaker if something goes wrong

Your AC unit draws a lot of power and usually has a dedicated circuit breaker. If the cooling goes out, check to see if you've tripped the breaker.

Keep the outdoor unit clean

Air conditioning outdoor units need venting to function. Don't let plants overgrow them, and make sure no dirt or debris is getting in.

Don't overload your thermostat

Even the best air conditioners have an upper limit to how much temperature differential they can account for. Don't expect your system to chill your home to 60 degrees Fahrenheit if it's 100 outside. Many systems, especially older ones, are designed for a maximum 20-degree differential.

Replace your filters regularly

This can never be repeated often enough! Running your AC on old filters is like driving your car hard without an oil change. It makes everything work harder, blocks up airflow, and makes the system less efficient. And sooner or later, if your filters are dirty enough, they can lead to a breakdown.

Tweet your home care questions with #AskingAngi and we'll try to answer them in a future column.