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Shutting Down Your AC for the Year? Clean Up the Outdoor Unit First

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When the weather begins to cool down outdoors, you'll most likely shut down your air-conditioning system for the rest of the year. But before you do so, it's important that you clean any parts of your cooling system that could potentially cause you problems in the summer, including the outdoor unit. Here's what happens if you don't clean up the outdoor unit before you shut down your system and the tips you can use to do this job quickly.

What Happens If You Don't Clean Up the Outdoor Unit?

The outdoor condenser unit is one of the most critical structures of your cooling system. The unit cools down hot refrigerant by releasing heat out of the system. The cool refrigerant travels back to the indoor air handler for distribution into your home. If the unit's condenser coil fills up with old debris, such as particles of dirt and bugs, it can cause many problems with your cooling system next summer, including failure.

Dirt can mix with water and form mud on the surfaces of the coil and prevent heat from escaping. If it rains or snows in your area during the winter, mud can seep pass the coil and coat the compressor near it. The compressor operates by electricity and transforms hot gas refrigerant into a liquid. In order for the compressor to carry out its functions, it must have a way to eliminate its heat load. If the compressor builds up with more heat than it can hold, it might develop problems like hard starting and shutting down prematurely. In some cases, an extremely hot compressor can burn out, fail, or both.

In addition, the decaying bodies of insects can clog up the tiny fin blades of the coil over time. Mowing or weed-eating grass too close to the unit can also cause problems with the fins if the equipment bumps, strikes, or nicks the coil's surface. Sometimes, rocks, pebbles, and even small pieces of grass can fling against the coil and warp or bend the fins during your gardening.

Washing down the coil's surface and straightening out the fins can help protect the outdoor unit from problems later.

How Do You Remove Debris from Inside and Around the Outdoor Unit?

Before you do anything to your condenser unit's coil and fins, disconnect electrical power to the entire system. You can do so by pulling out or switching off the fuses inside the disconnect box located near the unit. If you still feel unsafe, turn off the power at the thermostat and fuse box inside your home. 

Next, remove all debris from around the base of the condenser unit by hand. If you have weeds around the unit, remove them with clippers or by hand. Chemical sprays may get inside the coil and compressor and damage their electrical parts. Also, examine the concrete block beneath the condenser unit for grass and weeds. Some types of weeds can still grow or survive during winter and become very active once the weather warms up.

Finally, cover the ground around the base of your condenser unit with a plastic tarp and then remove the metal housing from around the coil. The tarp will help prevent muddy water from splashing on the coil when you clean it. Now, turn a water hose to low, then gently wash down the coil's finned surface. Pay very close attention to the fins to see whether you need to straighten them. If the fins do appear warped or bent, use a small fin brush to repair them. If you don't have a fin brush on hand, you can use a soft-bristled toothbrush. 

After you complete the cleaning, allow the unit to dry and then replace the metal covering. If possible, cover the condenser unit with a light, waterproof tarp to keep debris off of it during the cold season. 

For more information or cleaning tips for your condenser unit, contact an air-conditioning service such as Smedley & Associates today.