Air conditioners are complex appliances with many components, which is why you should have your air conditioning unit tuned up periodically by a trained HVAC technician. There is one part you can check yourself, though -- even if you have no formal training in air conditioners. Your air conditioner's fins are simple but important. Here's how to inspect them, and what to do if you find that they're damaged.
Your Air Conditioner's Fins
Fins are thin pieces of aluminum on the exterior of your air conditioner. They improve your unit's efficiency by increasing the surface area of your air conditioner, which speeds up the heat exchange. As air goes through your air conditioner, it passes between the fins. The cold fins cool the air much more quickly than a simple metal coil would.
In order to make the heat exchange as fast as possible, fins are extremely thin. This ensures an efficient heat transfer, but it also makes the fins susceptible to damage. They can easily be bent or rusted through.
Bent Air Conditioner Fins
It's easy to spot bent air conditioner fins: They won't all be parallel. Any number of impacts, from hail to a stray baseball, can bend your air conditioner's fins. If your unit has bent fins, then it won't run as well as it should. Because the air can't pass straight through the fins -- it must follow the bends in them -- it won't flow as quickly. The air will still be cooled, but you won't have cold air entering your home as quickly.
With the right tool, you can repair air conditioner fins yourself. You'll need an air conditioner fin comb that matches your unit's fins-per-inch. You can find out how many fins your unit has per inch in its user manual. Alternatively, if you don't have the manual, you can measure the number of fins in one inch.
If you only have one air conditioner, then you can purchase a comb from your local hardware store that has the same number of fins per inch. If you have multiple units, such as a central air conditioner and a window one, SFGate suggests buying an adjustable comb that will accommodate all your air conditioners.
Once you have a comb, simply run it through your fins. Aluminum is a pliable metal, and you should be able to bend the fins back into their proper shape. The comb will ensure they're correctly spaced.
Rusted Air Conditioner Fins
To see if your unit's fins are corroded, shine a flashlight at the bottom of them. If the light shines through small holes in the fins, they're rusted through and need to be replaced. This type of corrosion is often caused by dog urine, and the holes can be tiny. Even minuscule holes reduce the surface area of your fins, though, and inhibit the heat exchange.
Unfortunately, this air conditioning repair requires professional attention. While you might be comfortable replacing the fins, themselves, there may be rust deeper in the unit. It might not just be your unit's fins that are rusted, but freon lines could also be corroded. An HVAC technician will have the expertise to inspect all your air conditioner's components for corrosion and replace them if necessary.
If you haven't looked at your air conditioner's fins recently, take a few minutes to inspect them. Bends can easily be fixed with a comb, but corrosion necessitates a professional repair. Even if you need to call an air conditioning repair company, though, taking care of any issues now will reduce repair costs later and ensure your unit's running at its optimal efficiency for the rest of the summer.