Watt's Happening

5 Fall A/C Maintenance Tips to Save You Money & Keep Your System Healthy

It’s true what they say — it really feels like there are only two seasons in Florida: summer and not summer. And while we were busy tanning by the pool and blasting the A/C the moment we got into our cars, “not summer” — or what the rest of the country calls fall — slowly crept up on us.

While many around the country are switching on the heat as temperatures drop, Floridians are still looking for ways to stay cool ... and saving money doing it.

Here’s the fact: Your A/C — whether heating or cooling — is the top driver of a high electric bill. Along with breaking a sweat after five minutes outside and the funny tan lines, opening your wallet to pay for that lifesaving A/C can definitely be one of the least fun parts of a Florida summer.

If you know what we’re talking about, the Watt’s Team is here to share some good news — a little A/C maintenance during the fall can keep you cool and save you money on your energy bill, which means more money in your wallet to feed that tasty Pumpkin Spice Latte addiction while planning ahead for next fall.

Not sure where to start? Check out these five handy A/C maintenance tips you’ll need to save money on energy and extend your system’s lifespan, so you can spare yourself a costly early replacement. Now is the perfect time to get your A/C unit cleaned, serviced and ready for the holiday season.

1. Clean and replace A/C filters.

The most important maintenance task that will ensure your air conditioner is in tip-top shape is routinely replacing or cleaning its filters. Clogged, dirty filters block normal airflow and reduce the system's efficiency significantly, affecting other parts as well. If normal airflow gets obstructed, the air that bypasses the filter may carry dirt directly into the evaporator coil and impair the coil's heat-absorbing capacity.

Replacing a dirty filter can lower your air conditioner's energy consumption from 5% up to 15%. Check your filter regularly for excess buildup of dirt, dust and pet hair. How often you change the filter depends on a few factors, including:

  • Type of filter you have.
  • How often you run your A/C.
  • Number of pets in your home.

We recommend you clean or replace your air conditioning system's filter or filters every 30-90 days, so about every month or two. You may need to check and clean or replace your filter(s) more frequently if your air conditioner is in constant use, subjected to dusty conditions or if you have furry family members in the house.

Not sure where to find these guys? Common filter locations for central air include walls, ceilings or in the air conditioner itself. Air conditioners in rooms have a filter mounted in the grill that faces into the area.

2. Dust registers and vents.

Air vents and registers are important components of your air conditioning system which cover and regulate the air duct opening. Air registers have the ability to adjust the airflow by opening and closing a damper or flaps, usually found at the bottom. If you look into your air vents or registers and see dust and debris, you may want to pull out the vacuum.

Heating and cooling registers should be cleaned about once a year, but most people don’t think about them until they have to be removed for something like a painting project. Don’t wait until then!

Begin by dunking them in soapy water. Gentle scrubbing with a soft brush is all it takes to remove the dust and mildew that build up on the louvers. Then rinse them with clean water and be sure they’re completely dry, including the gasket on the back, before you reinstall them.

Keeping your air vents clean is essential to ensuring your home’s comfort, maintaining the functioning quality of your A/C system and keeping the air in your home fresh and free of pollutants.

3. Cleanse A/C evaporator and condenser coils.

Naturally, your air conditioner's evaporator coil and condenser coil collect dirt over time. The evaporator coil is the part of an air-conditioning system that removes heat and moisture from indoor air to cool it. The condenser coil takes that heat and releases it outside.

A clean filter prevents the evaporator coil from soiling quickly. In time, however, the evaporator coil will still collect dirt as they sit outdoors. This dirt reduces airflow and insulates the coil, reducing its ability to absorb heat. To avoid this problem, check your evaporator coil every year and clean it as necessary.

Outdoor condenser coils can also become very dirty if the outdoor environment is dusty or if there is foliage nearby. You can easily see the condenser coil and notice if dirt is collecting on its fins. Cleaning the area around the coil, removing any debris and trimming foliage back at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) allows for adequate airflow around the condenser.

Finally, your condenser coils sit directly behind the condenser “fins,” located on your A/C unit. Visually inspect the aluminum fins for signs of bending. These fragile A/C components can easily bend, blocking airflow through the coil. Air conditioning wholesalers sell a tool called a fin comb or tool that will comb these fins back into nearly original condition.

4. Unclog condensate drain.

Your air conditioner has a condensate drain line that runs from the indoor unit to the outside of your home, giving condensation a way out of your home. Taking the time to clean your air conditioner's drain line (also known as the condensate line) at least once per year can have a great positive effect on how efficiently your system runs. Over time algae, mold and mildew can build up inside the condensation drain line and form a clog, causing water to back up and overflow inside the A/C unit.

Newer A/C units have sensors that will alert you if your A/C drain line is clogged so you can fix the problem before there is any water damage. If your unit isn’t equipped with this technology, you’ll know the A/C drain line is clogged because the drain pan is full of water.

To prevent this from happening, make it a habit to check your drain pan whenever you change the filter, so you can catch any issue right away. Pour a cup of bleach in the access opening in the drain line near the A/C unit to kill any algae, mold or mildew that has formed in the pipe. If the condensation line is clogged, you will need to use a shop vac or special pump to remove the clog from the line.

5. Hire a professional.

An A/C unit in need of repair is a Floridian’s worst nightmare ... especially if you don’t have the time or energy to maintain it yourself.

This is where a professional comes in. In Florida, the sound of the A/C running is as commonplace as the chance of a thunderstorm on a sunny day that keeps you trapped in a store waiting to go to your car — it’s always there. That’s why it’s important to have your unit serviced twice a year by a well-trained service technician. A good technician will find and fix problems you can’t, ensuring you’re not left sweating in the Florida heat.

A technician will:

  • Check for the correct amount of refrigerant.
  • Test for refrigerant leaks using a leak detector.
  • Capture any refrigerant that must be evacuated from the system, instead of illegally releasing it to the atmosphere.
  • Check for and seal duct leakage in central systems.
  • Measure airflow through the evaporator coil.
  • Verify the correct electric control sequence and make sure that the heating system and cooling system cannot operate simultaneously.
  • Inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections and apply a nonconductive coating if necessary.
  • Oil motors and check belts for tightness and wear.
  • Check the accuracy of the thermostat.

PRO TIP: Call for service at the beginning of spring and the tail end of hurricane season when demand for A/C maintenance professionals is a bit lower.

Not sure where to look? Check out FPL Home Services, a fully licensed, bonded and insured team of professionals that services several major territories across Florida. They can take your call seven days a week, 365 days a year and can install, repair and service air conditioners and other parts of your home.

FPL also has a list of Participating Independent Contractors qualified to help you with all your A/C maintenance needs.

If your A/C is more than 10 years old, needs frequent repairs and doesn’t keep your home cool, you may benefit from a new high-efficiency unit. Discover if you qualify for FPL’s A/C rebate program.

A/C saving tips to fall back on

Maintaining your HVAC system isn’t the only way you can save big on your monthly electric bill. No matter the season, you should always be applying these tips to your daily routine so your A/C doesn't have to work as hard to keep you cool.

  • Set your A/C to 78 degrees with the fan on “auto” to help you save. When you leave your home, consider raising the temperature to 82 degrees to save even more.
  • Use a fan to keep cool so you can raise your thermostat even higher, but remember to turn the fan off when you leave the room.
  • Close the shades, blinds and drapes to keep sunlight out.
  • Consider installing a smart thermostat to save up to $50 on your yearly energy bill.