Be Sure Your Air Conditioner's Outside Unit Is Properly Placed And Well-Ventilated

Posted on: 22 July 2015

Drive through almost any suburban neighborhood in America, especially in the southern and western regions, and you will see rows of homes with central air conditioning units at their sides. Unfortunately, many of these outside units are not provided with appropriate care by the homeowners, and this can lead to premature system failure and expensive repairs. That's why you should take some time to inspect your air conditioner's outside unit to be sure it is properly placed and well-ventilated. Below is what you need to look for when conducting your inspection:

Level placement and proper orientation to home

One of the first items to check when inspecting your outside unit is the degree to which it sits level and in a correct orientation to your home. Most outside units are installed on a poured slab or a hard plastic pad, and they are leveled by the technician at that time. However, as the ground settles and moves, these relatively small bases are subject to stresses placed upon them; their lack of size and bulk means the slabs and pads will shift, rise and fall.

While some slight movement is harmless, it doesn't take excessive shifting of the outside unit to cause problems. As an example of what can go wrong, refrigerant lines are soldered together when the unit is installed. These connections can break or lines can kink if the outside unit shifts too much. Another possible problem with shifting is excessive wear on the compressor and fan bearings; these components are designed to operate in their installed position, and even a small amount of incline can cause them to experience strain during operation.

Checking that the unit is level is a simple procedure; simply place a box level across the top of the outside unit for verification. To check for orientation, use a tape measure to measure the distance between the unit's side closest to the home and the nearest wall. This distance should be consistent to reflect that the side of the unit is parallel to the wall.

If you discover any deviations from being level or in proper orientation, then consult an air conditioning professional to help you re-level your unit or shift it back into position. Don't try this yourself, or you may accidentally break a refrigerant line or damage the compressor or condenser coils.

Adequate ventilation

Another concern when evaluating your outdoor unit is ventilation. The condenser coils inside the unit are tasked with releasing heat from the refrigerant into the atmosphere, and they will be unable to do so if they are blocked by surrounding objects. Excessive heat retention in the refrigerant causes your compressor to work harder, thus possibly leading to a breakdown. Several potential obstructions can keep your condenser coils from working properly:

  • Weeds and tall grasses
  • Landscape shrubs
  • Pollen accumulations
  • Dead leaves
  • Animal and insect activity, such as ant mounds, bee hives, or rodent nests
  • Dried mud
  • Objects, such as lumber or firewood, stored too close to unit

If you discover any of these obstructions, you should remove them from the presence of the unit. It is safe to clean your condenser coils, which are visible through the unit's grille, by rinsing them with a low-pressure flow from a garden hose. Never use a pressure washer or spray nozzle, as the delicate fins on the coils can be easily bent, and be sure to disconnect the power at the unit by removing the system's electrical disconnect handle.

If you notice bent fins while cleaning the unit, purchase an inexpensive fin comb from a hardware store and use it to straighten them. This, too, will help increase ventilation and permit the heat to more easily escape the refrigerant. For more information, contact a local air conditioning and heating repair specialist. 

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