Easy DIY keeps home air conditioner running properly

Kenneth Nixon of Palm Bay demonstrates how to clear a clogged A/C drain with a shop vac.

With the recent 90-degree-plus temperatures, many air conditioners work overtime to keep homes cool and less humid. There are simple ways a homeowner can keep a unit running smoothly.

One common issue is a clogged drain line. Instead of spending more than $100 on a visit from a qualified technician, sometimes a homeowner can clear the outside line themselves with a wet-dry vacuum or prevent a blockage with monthly shots of bleach or white vinegar in the indoor drainage line.

Signs of a clogged line include a moldy smell or evidence of water damage or standing water in the pan or beside the inside unit. Cooling slows and the system might shut down. What’s happened? Moisture from condensation builds in the evaporator coil, into the drainage pan and away from the indoor air handler unit through a drain pipe.

"Everybody’s drain pipe clogs occasionally, but it’s fairly easy to clean with a wet/dry vac (vacuum cleaner)," said Walt Lorraine of Walt’s Air Conditioning in Melbourne.

If the system shuts down, Lorraine said, he charges a service fee of $79.95 plus about $25 to clear the line. To unclog the line yourself, find where the water drains at the outside unit and use a wet-dry vacuum to suck out the line. 

Twice annual tune-ups help. "First and foremost, regular preventative maintenance by a professional should include cleaning the drains and pan, cleaning the inside unit, putting an algae tablet in, and changing the filter," said Bob Aiello of BRG Air Systems. Both also recommend putting a few capfuls of bleach or white vinegar into the inside drain line monthly or at least bi-monthly "to keep gunk from building up." 

"Filters should be changed monthly in our sandy environment, especially in homes with pets," Aiello said. Reusable filters can be cleaned outside with a garden hose. Aiello said indoor vents, floor grilles and the return grate should be open and free of rugs, furniture or other barriers.