AC Unit Condenser: How to Maintain and Repair

How to Maintain Your AC Condenser

What Maintenance Should Be Done on a AC Unit Condenser?

Your outdoor AC unit condenser is the part of your cooling system responsible for expelling the warm air outside. The condenser unit contains a fan and the condenser coil, where the air will move across before being pushed outside. Since the unit is the part of the air conditioner that is located outdoors, it is more subject to becoming clogged with dirt, debris, and yard waste.

As with all components of your air conditioner, your outdoor unit must be maintained to ensure proper heat transfer so that cold air can be delivered to your home and the appropriate comfort level is achieved. Condenser maintenance is relatively simple and only involves a few simple steps.

  1. Clear the Area: The first step in the maintenance process is to clear the area surrounding the condenser unit. You will need to cut back any tall grasses, weeds, or branches that could get into the system and potentially obstruct the airflow.
  2. Cut the Power: To ensure safety when performing maintenance on the condenser unit, you will need to cut the power to it, which can be done at the main breaker.
  3. Clean the Condenser Coil: Working from the intake side, you will need to clean the condenser coil using a commercial coil cleaner. Once done, you can flush the coils with buckets of water and let them dry.
  4. Clean the Fins: Accumulated dust, dirt, and debris will need to be removed from the fins. You can do this with a soft brush. Never use a hose on the fins, as it can turn dirt into mud and push it further into the system. Be sure to work carefully, as the fins are delicate and can be easily damaged.
  5. Check the Pad: The pad that your system is on needs to be level. Check to see if it is; if not, add rocks and gravel underneath it until it is level again.

While there is not much maintenance to be performed in winter, protecting it from the elements is essential. Consider covering the outdoor unit to protect it from snow and ice and reduce the risk of critters making it their home.

How Often Should an AC Unit Condenser be Cleaned?

Cleaning your air conditioner condenser should be part of your regular HVAC maintenance. For most people, that means bi-annual maintenance. One maintenance trip should be performed before the season in early spring and one at the end of the season in fall. If you have regular HVAC maintenance, your condenser cleaning will be part of those visits. If you live in areas with more temperate weather and do not use your system much, you may only need maintenance once per year.

Does Cleaning a Condenser Improve Efficiency?

Even though it consists of only a few main parts, the AC unit condenser or heat pump system has a complex function. The refrigerant in your system will be heated and pressurized in the compressor before moving to the AC condenser coil. The air surrounding the coil will heat up and be pushed out of the outside component. At this point, the refrigerant will transfer the heat to the air going over it and turn back into a liquid.

Buildup and residue on your condenser coil can inhibit this process, affecting your system's energy efficiency and performance.

How to Spot a Damaged AC Unit Condenser? 

Part of maintaining your AC condenser is determining when your condenser unit is damaged. Signs that it might be time to have your AC condenser looked at or repaired include:

  • The presence of loud or strange noises coming from the unit when it is operating or the power is feeding to it, such as rattling, clanking or humming.
  • A marked reduction in the cooling capacity or hot air coming out of your system.
  • Leaking a noticeable amount of fluid around the system that is above the amount of traditional condensation.

How to Properly Straighten AC Fins

Bent AC condenser fins are one of the main problems you may encounter when maintaining your condenser unit. When multiple fins become bent, it can block the air passage and lead to efficiency issues. The radiator fins are delicate and can be prone to damage from branches, twigs, and debris during times of high winds. If you notice any bent fins around your system, you can straighten them with a few simple steps.

Step 1: Inspect your HVAC outdoor unit and identify where any bent fins are located.

Step 2: Remove the cover if necessary to gain access to the fins. Some systems may have clips on the cover; others may have screws.

Step 3: Find the correct-sized fin comb to work with your fins.

Step 4: Insert the fingers of the comb in between the fins and pull down gently and slowly. The comb should easily slide through them. If not, it may be the wrong size.

Step 5: Repeat the process where any bent fins are found.

It is important to note that the fins on your outdoor unit can be very sharp and should not be touched with bare hands. When using a fin comb, it is best to wear gloves for safety.

Fin Comb

Fin combs are small tools with fingers designed to fit into the fins and straighten bent ones safely. The aluminum fins are delicate and require this unique tool to straighten them properly. The combs are stiff on one end and come in various sizes to fit fins or different widths. The fin measurements will be fins per inch, and to determine which size you will need for your system, you will have to count how many fins there are per inch in your outdoor unit. Some have long handles, and others have short ones. The type you choose will depend on the storage space you have for it and the position that is comfortable for you when using it.

You will want to keep your fin comb in good working shape and replace it when necessary. The fins of the comb can become damaged themselves, so you want to make sure to store it in a place where it won’t sustain any damage. If your comb has lost its pointed ends or bent, it is time to replace it with a new one.

Fin Brush

A fin brush is another tool for maintaining your condenser coils. It has soft bristles on one end and is used to gently clean dirt, dust, and debris off of your condenser coil fins. These brushes have no special sizing and can continue to be used if the bristles remain soft and intact.

Repairing or Replacing an AC Unit Condenser 

Your condenser unit is a significant component of your HVAC system. When there is damage to it, you may wonder if you should call out an HVAC technician for repair or if the better, more efficient option would be to replace the component entirely. Repairing the system may be the best option if you are experiencing the following issues.

  • You have a bad relay switch: Faulty relay switches are inexpensive parts that can easily be fixed.
  • A failing capacitor: If your capacitor goes bad, replacing this part is a minimal expense and takes a short time to replace it.
  • A bad motor: Faulty motors can be a more expensive replacement but not typically high enough to warrant replacing the system. If you are performing the motor replacement yourself, it is vital to choose the correct replacement, or you could cause further system damage.
  • Lessened cooling capability: If your system is not cooling as properly as it should, it could result from dirty condenser coils. If this is the case, a simple cleaning could fix the problem.

Situations when you might want to consider ac unit condenser replacement over repair would be when:

  • Your condenser coil has been damaged: If you have to repair damaged condenser coils, the labor can cause it to be quite expensive, and the part is not cheap either. Unless the coil is still under warranty, the cost to replace the unit may not be much more than repairing the coil.
  • There is a blockage in the condenser: If you have a blockage in your system, you will likely need to replace your condenser. In some cases, depending on where the blockage is, you may need to replace the entire system.
  • You have a leak: Replacing the tubes or seals in the condenser cannot be done independently, and the only way to replace bad ones is by replacing the whole unit. A minor leak may be ok for a short time, but a consistent leak of a moderate amount should warrant immediate replacement.

Even if your air conditioning unit may need a repair that only costs a few hundred dollars, it may be worth considering a possible replacement if any of the following are true.

  • The system is more than ten years old: The average lifespan of your condenser unit is between 10 and 15 years, and the closer it gets to this age, the less efficiently it will run. If it is close to the end of its longevity, any needed repair may warrant a replacement.
  • The system is not an energy-efficient model: AC systems have come a long way in recent years. If your unit is older, you may do better with a replacement with a higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio which can save you money on your energy bills.
  • Your system uses R22 refrigerant: The U.S. has officially banned R22 refrigerant, and all newer models use the newer r410a refrigerant. Unfortunately, you can’t use the new refrigerant in an R22 system, so if you have a system that uses it and needs repair, it would be a better option to replace it.

Cost to Replace AC Condenser

If you want to replace your air conditioner condenser, you can expect to pay anywhere between $900 and $2,800, with labor costs making up about half of the total. The amount you will pay will depend on the type of system that you have, the size, and the efficiency rating you are looking for.

Can You Replace a AC Unit Condenser on My Own?

Seeing the cost of replacing your AC condenser unit may have you wondering if you can make the project DIY. Since the process includes working with refrigerant lines and electrical components, it may be best for a professional technician to perform the job. Yet, if you have some HVAC and electrical knowledge and want to attempt the job independently, it is possible to replace it yourself. To replace your air conditioning condenser unit on your own, you will need to.

  1. Turn off the power: The first step to replacing your condenser unit is turning off the power to the system at the breaker.
  2. Disconnect the refrigerant lines: The cooling lines must be clamped and cut.
  3. Remove the condenser unit: Lift the condenser unit off of the pad and remove it from the area.
  4. Place your new unit on the pad: Make sure that the concrete pad is level, then put your new unit onto it, ensuring enough space remains around it for the refrigerant and electrical lines to be connected.
  5. Connect your cooling lines: Splice the old lines from the inside unit with the new ones and double-check them to ensure there is no leaking.
  6. Reconnect the electrical: Use the old lines and connect them to the new unit.
  7. Power the system back on: Flip your system back on at the breaker and check to see that there are no leaks and it runs correctly.

How Long Should an AC Unit Condenser Last?

The lifespan of your condenser unit is similar to that of your central air conditioning system, 15 to 20 years. Since the condenser component has the same longevity as the rest of the air conditioning system, it will likely only have to be replaced when the system needs to be replaced.

Find The Replacement Parts for Your AC System at Superior Home Supplies

Whether you are looking for a replacement condenser unit, coils, thermostats, or an entirely new central air conditioner system, Superior Home Supplies has the products you need. At Superior Homes Supplies, our knowledgeable staff knows the ins and outs of HVAC systems and components and can assist you in finding the best parts and systems to maintain the comfort of your home. Check out our inventory or contact us to find out more.


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