All air conditioners need two sets of coils to function. These coils provide the surface area necessary for the refrigerant to exchange heat with the environment. At one end of the system, the condenser coils release heat so the refrigerant can cool down. At the other end, the evaporator coils absorb heat to remove it from your home's interior.
Both coil sets work on a relatively simple principle. The coils provide a substantial amount of surface area to improve heat exchange efficiency. However, many situations can reduce coil efficiency, leading to an air conditioning system that needs to work harder. In some cases, the problem can become severe enough to overwork the compressor or cause other component damage.
Why You Can't Ignore Dirty Coils
Coils need sufficient contact with the surrounding air to transfer heat efficiently. If your condenser or evaporator coils are too dirty, the dust and debris can act as insulators. As a result, the condenser coils may not be able to release heat, and the evaporator coils may struggle to pull heat from the warm air in your house.
Unfortunately, this situation can have consequences more severe than slightly warm air from your vents. Air conditioning systems rely on the refrigerant changing phases between a liquid and a gas due to changes in pressure and temperature. Disruptions to this cycle can allow refrigerant to remain in liquid form even as it reaches the compressor.
Liquid refrigerant that enters your compressor can cause potentially significant damage. In many cases, this refrigerant will displace the compressor's internal lubricating oil, drastically increasing the wear on moving parts such as bearings. Refrigerant contamination can reduce your compressor's lifespan and even cause failure if allowed to continue for long enough.
Keeping Your Coils Clean
Cleaning your coils should be a routine part of any HVAC service plan. You can clean your condenser coils using a regular garden house, but you should never use a pressure washer or high-pressure spray since these can damage the fragile fans. If your condenser coils are especially dirty, you can buy special-purpose foaming soap to help remove stuck-in debris and dirt.
The evaporator coil may be more challenging to reach. You'll typically need to open up your air handler unit to access these coils. Fortunately, evaporator coils don't tend to get dirty as quickly since they're indoors and protected by the air handler cabinet. However, you may still want to inspect them from time to time to check for problems or dust build-up.
Of course, the best way to avoid problems with your coils is to schedule an annual HVAC service appointment. Coil inspection and cleaning is a routine part of most service visits, and having an expert look over your equipment will help you avoid any problems that may arise from dirty coils.
For more information on air conditioning services, contact a professional near you.