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GIVE YOUR AC A HELPING HAND

There are some things you can do to keep your central air conditioner running efficiently. This certainly does not take the place of having regular professional service calls: Technicians have special equipment and pressure gauges to check the internal components of the system. The easiest thing for you to do is to change your filters. More difficult is to inspect ducts for air leaks, if you can access them. Seal leaks with aluminum tape or black Gorilla Tape for ducts. Other aspects of cleaning may be best done by a technician, so if you're in doubt, schedule a service call. But here are some additional basic upkeep tasks to consider.

- Before you clean the outdoor condenser and indoor air handler, make sure all electricity is off, switching off any secondary power switch and circuit breakers to the outdoor condenser unit.

- Getting adequate air flow through the outdoor condenser coils is important for efficiency because this is where the heat is exhausted from the refrigerant. Clear away tools and other garden supplies.

- Inspect the top for leaves, twigs and other debris and remove. Clear away any vines or other plants growing along and under the concrete base.

- With all power off, remove a side cabinet. Clean out debris that has accumulated inside it, which may block the coils. You don't have to make it spotless. If the fine condenser fins are not all in alignment, use a utility knife or fin comb from a store to very gently straighten them so that more air gets through.

- It is important that all the screws holding the cabinet sections together are tight when you reinstall the cabinet. Even if it is clean and you do not remove the cabinet, check all the screws. If they are loose, air will be drawn in gaps instead of through the coils, as designed.

- Just as the proper amount of air flow is important through the outdoor coils, it is also important through the indoor coils. With the circuit breaker still switched off, remove the side cover on the indoor unit to expose the evaporator coils and the blower. Quite a bit of dirt can accumulate on the indoor coils, blocking air flow and insulating them from the air. This is because the coils get damp when the air conditioner is running and dirt sticks to it. Gently wipe the coils and then use the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to clean them and the blower as well as possible. When you reinstall the cover, make sure to tighten the screws.

Send questions to James Dulley, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or go to www.dulley.com.

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