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Few things beat summer heat better than walking into a comfortably chilled air conditioned home.

Air conditioning is often taken for granted, but sorely missed when it is not working. The key to keeping cool all summer long is to ensure that air conditioning systems are functioning properly.

Maintaining an AC unit can save money and protect homeowners' investments. Without regular attention, an AC unit will lose its efficiency, needlessly wasting both energy and money as a result. Poor maintenance also can lead to system failure just when it is needed most. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average lifespan of an air conditioning unit is about 15 to 20 years. Homeowners can expect to pay between $5,000 and $15,000 for central air conditioning, with the final cost depending on the unit, additional installation items, such as ductwork, and installation charges. With regular maintenance, homeowners can keep their units humming properly and avoid premature replacement costs.

So what can homeowners expect as it pertains to air conditioner maintenance? The following are some oft-needed checks and fixes that professionals perform during a seasonal maintenance.

· Keep it clean. Washing out the fins and coils of the outdoor A/C unit that houses the compressor and condenser fan is a must to maintain proper heat rejection of the home. This may require unscrewing the metal box surrounding the unit to access the fins. Remove any accumulated debris that may be impeding air flow. Afterward, going inside and replacing the filter that is installed with the evaporator that's located in a central duct near the furnace. Inspect the filter periodically to see if it is soiled and needs replacement. Timing can vary depending various factors, such as the time of year, the accumulation of dust and whether or not pets live in the home. Your service technician can advise on proper replacement schedule.

· Check the thermostat. Ensure that the thermostat is still working properly. You also may want to upgrade an old thermostat to a programmable or smart thermostat that enables you to remotely set and adjust the temperature.

· Clearing Condensation Line. Your air conditioner can produce between 5 and 20 gallons of water a day depending on humidity levels and this water must be safely removed from the home. If your drain lines are not cleared yearly, growth inside the drain lines can cause a restriction and cause the water to back up into your home potentially causing major water damage.

Refrigerant Level Check. Your maintenance will include having the refrigerant levels checked and this is a must as a system operating on a low charge will cause higher utility bills by as much as 20% and cause the system to not keep up on the hottest days of the year when you need it the most.

Periodic maintenance is necessary to ensure uninterrupted service on a home AC unit.

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