By Meera Pal

Mar 16, 2023

(Photo illustration by; Photos: Getty Images (3))

You might be waiting for warm summer nights before you fire up your AC. But believe it or not, when you’re still bundling up for winter is the perfect time to start tuning up your AC unit or HVAC system.

“Sometimes, ACs and HVAC systems don’t receive needed maintenance until they stop working,” says Lane Dixon, vice president of operations at Aire Serv, which provides HVAC services throughout the U.S. “So service is a necessary step going into any change of season. Proper maintenance helps catch minor issues before they become more significant expenses.”

And ensuring your HVAC system is tuned correctly means it will run more efficiently, which means you’ll be spending less money on cooling your home this summer.

So to help you save money and make sure you keep your cool all summer long, here are seven tips on getting your AC and HVAC unit ready for summer.

1. Clean or change the air filter

The first step in preparing your cooling system for the season is checking the filters. A dirty filter will make your system work harder than it has to, leading to poor cooling and even higher utility bills.

“Not only is this the easiest maintenance function to perform, but it can also lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by up to 15%,” says Jack Tollefson, HVAC department head and program chair at Remington College in Lafayette, LA.

Tollefson recommends that homeowners wash their reusable filters or replace their disposable filters at least once a month throughout the summer.

2. Clear the drain

The condensate drain line on your AC removes the moisture that collects near the unit’s evaporator coil.

A clogged drain can lead to costly repairs from leaks and cause your AC unit to work even harder to send out less cool air. And depending on the age of your AC, the line can suffer from algae and muck buildup over time, which can lead to a line clog.

So draining your line and ensuring it is clog-free before summer will guarantee the system runs smoothly as the weather heats up.

3. Check the overflow pan

When inspecting your unit, always check the overflow pan under the AC. The pan catches and stores any excess water removed from your AC as it works.

Look to make sure it’s not only dry but also free of any rust. If it’s damp or rusty, it’s a sign that something is wrong and your drain line is backed up.

In this case, it’s good to call a professional to check out the unit.

4. Clean the outdoor unit

Before you even turn on the HVAC system, visually inspect the outdoor portion of the unit and ensure there are no overgrown bushes or weeds either growing on the unit or blocking the air intake.

“All vegetation must be at least 2 feet away to ensure your unit can take in air,” says Tollefson.

Homeowners should also check the fins on the unit and use low-pressure water to rinse away any dirt to allow for complete airflow, says Steven Stewart, owner of Southern Comfort Mechanical A/C & Heating Specialist in Lewisville, TX.

5. Inspect the thermostat

Before using your AC unit, it’s always a good idea to inspect the thermostat controls to ensure the system turns on and off when it should.

Tollefson adds that spring is an excellent time to consider switching out your old thermostat for a smart thermostat, which he calls “game changers” when it comes to saving money.

“With smart thermostats, you can set your house temperature to be warmer when you’re away and more comfortable when you’re home,” he says.

6. Clear the vents

Taking the time to clean out the vents will guarantee you’re not just recirculating dust through the system. And a thorough spring-cleaning will clear the system of all allergens, including pet hair.

“Remember, pets shed their winter coat, so cleaning hardwood floors and carpets more frequently will reduce the amount of hair and small debris from getting caught in the filter,” says Dixon.

7. Schedule a professional tuneup

While DIY maintenance can go a long way to helping your HVAC system to run more smoothly, it doesn’t replace a thorough tuneup that a professionally trained HVAC technician can do.

“It’s easy for many homeowners to overlook an issue with one of the many working parts of an HVAC system,” says Dixon. “That’s why a thorough, professional checkup is essential.”

In addition, HVAC maintenance by a pro can help reduce energy costs, improve air quality, and help prevent damage to connected systems and your home.