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AC Coil Cleaning: How to Tell When You Need It

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If your home or business has an air conditioner and you’re in charge of making sure it keeps working, you probably know that it’s important to have your air conditioner regularly maintained. And you may have heard talk about AC coil cleaning as part of that maintenance.

But if you’re not an air conditioning expert, it probably sounds like greek to you. What exactly is an air conditioner coil? And why is it so important to clean it? And most important: how do you know when you need to have it done when you’ve never even seen the thing?

AC coil cleaning: what all the fuss is about

Your air conditioner’s coils are some of the most important parts of the system. There are two types of coils in an air conditioning system: evaporator coils that absorb the heat and humidity from the air in your space, and condenser coils that expel that heat outside of your building.

Why is it important to clean an AC coil? Because coils can’t transfer heat effectively when covered with dirt and debris. That can lead to all kinds of problems, from higher energy consumption to the system overheating and the compressor failing.

In order for the coils to transfer heat effectively, the surfaces need to be clean. When the outside of the condenser coil is caked with dirt and grime, the heat gets trapped inside and can’t be effectively released. Since the condenser coil is part of the outdoor unit, it gets exposed to all the smog and pollution in the New York City air, so it can get fouled in a hurry. Even if your “outdoor” unit is located in an inside mechanical room (as is common in New York City spaces without access to outside space) that mechanical room has been constructed with louvers to provide outdoor air, so your condenser coil is still exposed to the elements.

When the evaporator coil gets dirty, it can’t remove as much heat and humidity from the air in your space. The evaporator coil is located indoors, but it’s still exposed to all the dust in your building. Especially if you forget to change the air filters regularly, it’s easy for airborne particles to clog up the evaporator coil so it doesn’t cool as effectively.

What happens when you skip AC coil cleaning

You probably aren’t in the habit of actually looking at your air conditioning unit. But if it’s in an accessible spot, take a look at the coil, which looks like a long tube shaped into a coil with metal fins on the outside. If you haven’t had the unit cleaned in a while, it’s probably a nasty sight. Especially when you consider that this unit affects the air you breathe all day long.

Besides the fact that your air conditioner can’t cool your space as effectively when it’s dirty, there are other consequences of dirty coils:

  • Higher energy bills. When the coils are dirty, your system has to work harder and run longer trying to keep your space cool. that means it uses significantly more electricity. You’ll see a drop in your bill when you have regular AC coil cleaning. Related article: Clean HVAC System Condenser Coils = Lower Energy Bills
  • More breakdowns. Running longer and working harder puts more strain on the system, causing parts to wear out faster and take down your system.
  • Shorter system life. Over time, the increased wear on the system shortens its expected life span. You’ll find yourself replacing it sooner than you thought.

How to tell how often you need AC coil cleaning

The question is, how much dirt is too much? As a general rule, you need AC coil cleaning twice per year as part of your regular preventative maintenance. But there are other factors, especially in New York City, that may mean you need AC coil cleaning more frequently:

  • The age and condition of your equipment. Older equipment is prone to accumulating dirt faster.
  • Your usage. How many hours per day is it running and what is the occupancy of the space? The higher the load, the more dirt the system will accumulate and the more often you need AC coil cleaning.
  • Location. Is it close to street level where pollution levels are higher? Is there construction or demolition going on nearby that’s spewing debris into the air? Is the unit exposed to exhaust from nearby kitchens or factories? If so, you’ll need to have the coils cleaned more often.

Don’t just send in the janitor with a hose to do AC coil cleaning

Coil fins are very sensitive, and can be easily damaged if you use too much force or abrasion or if you use the wrong type of cleaning products for AC coil cleaning. There’s also a risk of handling potentially dangerous chemicals, not to mention the risk of electric shock and fire for someone who’s not properly trained. This job is best left to the professionals.

AC coil cleaning pays for itself

Considering all the things that are likely to go wrong with your air conditioner if you neglect AC coil cleaning, it’s a relatively inexpensive insurance policy. The fact is that AC coil cleaning and regular AC preventative maintenance more than pay for themselves with the resulting energy savings, lower repair bills and increased system lifespan.

Related Article: 8 Ways AC Preventative Maintenance Keeps the Repairman Away

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the increase in productivity that comes from having comfortable air temperatures, or the potential for lost business than can result when your system is down.

Want to learn more about the benefits of AC coil cleaning? Grab a copy of our free guide: A Guide to Air Conditioning Coil Cleaning: Why, How and How Often.  

Coil Cleaning Could Save You Big $$$. Download the Free Guide