It may be the middle of winter, but sooner or later, you're going to need your air conditioner. Now is a good time to shake the cobwebs off your A/C unit and get it ready for the coming spring and summer months. The following offers an in-depth look at how you can prepare your home's A/C system.

Make Sure the Outdoor Condenser Coil is Clean and Debris-Free

Throughout the fall and winter months, leaves, branches, and other debris can migrate into the outdoor cabinet where the condenser coil resides. Before putting your A/C system back into service, it's a good idea to remove this debris from the outdoor cabinet.

You should also rinse away any dirt, dust, or debris clinging to the inner and outer portions of the condenser coil with a garden hose. However, you'll want to wait until the weather is warm enough to prevent the condenser coil from freezing over as it dries.

Give Your Evaporator Coil a Good Cleaning

For your next step, you should inspect and clean the evaporator coil located within the indoor HVAC cabinet. Given enough time, the evaporator coil can get covered in dust, dirt, and a variety of other debris. Before you restart your A/C system, you should have the coil thoroughly cleaned and checked for any signs of damage.

The easiest way to clean the evaporator coil is to use a no-rinse formula spray-on foaming cleaner. All you'll need to do is spray the cleaner according to the instructions on the can and let it sit. The foaming action will break up and lift most dirt and grime buildup and drain away on its own as the foam breaks down.

You can also use the more traditional method of scrubbing the coil with a soft-bristle brush. Simply mix warm water and mild detergent into a spray bottle and spray the solution onto the coil. Use the brush to gently scrub away dirt and debris, then use another spray bottle filled with water to rinse the debris away.

Check the Condensate Tray and Drain Lines

In addition to cleaning the evaporator coil, you should also inspect the condensate drain for signs of wear or damage. Make sure there aren't any holes or cracks that could allow water to leak out. If the tray is made from metal, check for signs of rust or corrosion.

The condensate drain line should also be checked for any blockages that could allow water to back up and overflow the condensate tray when the A/C unit is placed back into operation. If you have a wet/dry shop vacuum, place the nozzle over the drain inlet and let the vacuum's suction draw out the clog. There are also special pumps available that'll let you blow the clog out of the condensate line.

Check the Blower Fan and Motor

As you go through your A/C system, you should also make sure your unit's blower fan and blower fan motor are in good condition:

  • Remove all dust and debris from the blower fan.
  • Make sure the blower fan motor is properly lubricated.
  • Check each individual fan blade for dents, pitting, and other signs of damage.
  • If the blower fan is belt-driven, check the condition of the belts and replace them as needed.

Have a Professional Check Refrigerant Levels

Before you restart your A/C system, it's a good idea to have an HVAC professional check the refrigerant charge and inspect the entire system for leaks. Even the smallest of slow leaks can cause refrigerant to escape during the winter, potentially crippling your A/C system the next time you start it.

Why have a professional take a look instead of doing this yourself? Not only will your HVAC technician have the proper tools to check and recharge your A/C system, but he or she will also have the necessary expertise. Working with high-pressure refrigerant without the proper training or safety gear can be dangerous. Also, DIYers are at risk of accidentally releasing refrigerant into the atmosphere, which is not only harmful for the environment, but also illegal.