Beat the Heat with Air Conditioning Maintenance

by | Jul 15, 2013

One thing we really appreciate in Southern California is our air conditioning. But it’s easy to take it for granted, until something goes wrong. In reality, there are only a few maintenance items associated with an air conditioning system that a homeowner should tackle. But they can pay dividends in reducing energy costs, increasing personal comfort, and extending the system’s service life

First, and foremost, filters should be checked monthly and changed or cleaned when dirty.  Airflow is critical for your air conditioner; a clogged filter reduces airflow across the evaporator coils (indoor unit) reducing its heat transfer capacity. When dirty, your system will run for a longer period of time in order to achieve your desired comfort level. Just think how hot you’ll be when you see your electric bill! Occasionally, I see filters so clogged that when the system is running the filter actually collapses into the return duct enabling air and dust to bypass the filter. When this occurs, it is likely that the evaporator coils will require cleaning (not inexpensive) in order to provide optimum performance.

Another maintenance item a homeowner can easily handle is keeping the outdoor unit (condenser) clean and clear of vegetation. Again, the primary concern is allowing good airflow around the unit to dissipate heat. I recommend hosing off the fins each spring to remove dust and debris. Also, keep shrubs trimmed back throughout the operating period. If you have a dog, they look at these units and think fire hydrant. Their urine is caustic and can result in rapid deterioration of the fins and coils. Recommend providing a barrier to protect the unit from your dog, but without restricting airflow.

One final item is a watch item. Air conditioners remove moisture from the air and most units have a primary and secondary condensate line to harmlessly drain the water. The primary line is usually plumbed into the drain plumbing in your home, so on a day-to-day basis you may not actually be aware that the system is working. But, if the primary line becomes clogged,water should then drain out the secondary line. In most homes in our area, this line usually terminates above an exterior window. If you ever see water dripping from this secondary condensate line, it’s time to call a qualified HVAC contractor for maintenance (check out If you ignore this condition, and the secondary line subsequently becomes clogged, there is nowhere for the water to go but to spill out into your attic. Now you may be faced with more extensive drywall damage and mold conditions. Make sure your inspector points out the specific condensate provisions for your home.

Giving your air conditioning system a little time each year can help keep it working properly and maximize its service life. On top of that though, once an air conditioning/heating system reaches five years of age, I recommend you have a professional HVAC contractor provide annual service for save operation and optimal performance. This is generally a small investment that is paid back with increased system performance and comfort.

I probably haven’t written this since school yearbook days, but …“Have a great summer and keep cool. Danny”


A quality home inspection is much more than a report. It is an experience based on superior service, professional communications, technical acumen, and personal passion.

Dan Cvelbar -- HouseMaster. Home Inspections. Done Right. (951) 698-7327


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