Let’s face it: Air conditioners never break down at convenient times — like on the most sweltering, humid and oppressive days of the summer.

It’s around this time of year that the heating and cooling businesses located within Improve Canada — the nation’s largest improvement centre — get busy with calls from homeowners who are desperate for relief. Conveniently situated two stop lights north of Toronto in Vaughan, Improve Canada offers a one-stop shopping experience for all of your renovation and home improvement needs. There are over 350 showrooms in the 320,000-square-foot centre — with 10 heating and cooling showrooms that specialize in keeping your place toasty in the winter and cool in the summer.

The best way to avoid a literal AC meltdown is to schedule an annual service call once a year with one of the HVAC businesses located within Improve Canada. We spoke to Mike Hojjati from GTA Heating & A/C INC (showroom 324) and Moe Shahi from Improve Aire (showroom 9110) to learn the signs that indicate your air conditioning unit needs some TLC. They also share exactly how annual service calls will keep your house nice and cool on those days when you need it the most.

Photo: mapleair_hvac/Instagram 

So, what happens on a service call?

Similar to how we benefit from regular check-ups with a doctor, having your air conditioning unit inspected, serviced and cleaned once a year will prevent costly repairs and ensure your system is operating at peak efficiency. These service calls can run you under $120, and will literally pay for themselves in the long run with lower electricity bills and a system that lasts for the maximum life expectancy (approximately 15 years).

“You should really call every year to get a tune up which involves cleaning the air conditioning unit and also doing a safety check on all of the electric connections, drain connections, etc.,” says Hojjati. “We’ll also check if there are any refrigerant leaks and check the pressure.” Refrigerant is a substance that transitions from a low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid inside your system. Without it, there would be no AC, refrigeration or freezing technology.

In addition, they’ll take a look at the accuracy of the thermostat, motor, blower, drain line, coils, operating temperatures and more. The service calls typically take around an hour and can be arranged over the phone or by stopping by the showrooms located within Improve Canada. Since these local businesses can frequently be found doing service calls and installations for homeowners like yourself, it’s best to arrange an appointment on the website in advance with any of the 350 showrooms located within the home improvement centre.

With ten businesses in the heating and cooling category at Improve Canada you can find exactly what you’re looking for. To name a few, Toronto Home Comfort (showroom 174 and 175) is one of Toronto’s largest suppliers of fireplaces, air conditioners, furnaces, and barbeques — making it a true one-stop-shop for all of your heating and cooling needs. If you’re on that technology tip, Simply Smart (showroom 94 and 95) specializes in ‘smart’ systems that streamline and automate your AC, furnace, water filter and more. Maple Air (showroom 175) has been in the biz for 20 years and even offers a 24-hour live emergency customer service hotline.

If you haven’t had your air conditioning unit serviced in the last year, keep your eyes peeled for these five signs:

Photo: James Bombales

1. There is weak air flow because the filters need to be cleaned or replaced.

If you notice weak airflow coming from your HVAC, the most common culprit is dirty and clogged filters that block normal airflow and reduce your system’s efficiency. An air conditioner’s filters should be cleaned and replaced at least once a year because as your air conditioning system runs, it naturally accumulates dust and dirt in the filters that affect its performance. If you have pets in the house, regular maintenance is even more important. “Usually filters need to be replaced,” says Shahi. “Sometimes, you can take the filter out, clean it, rinse it, let it dry and put it back.”

Blocked filters can also cause the obstructed airflow to carry dirt directly into the cooling coil which will impair the system’s entire heat-absorbing capacity. The US Department of Energy estimates that replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one will instantly decrease your air conditioner’s energy consumption by five to 15 percent.

2. The cooling coil isn’t doing its job — cooling down the air.

Air conditioning units are complex systems. Your air conditioning unit first acts as a dehumidifier, sucking humidity out of the air. As that air travels through your HVAC, it passes through a cooling coil that takes the hot air from your house and transforms it into cool air. The condenser is located on the outside of the house and is the part that gets rid of the hot air for good.

While clean filters certainly help, over the months and years of service the cooling coil and condenser coil will collect dirt. “Sometimes, the coil gets dirty and the air cannot travel through the coil and become cold,” says Shahi. “One of the things we have to do is clean the coil, wash it, ensure there is no blockage.”

Photos: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

3. Moisture and odours are coming from your HVAC.

When your air conditioning unit is functioning properly, you shouldn’t notice any odours or moisture coming from your AC. If you see water around the unit, there could be a few culprits that need to be addressed. It could be that a drain tube is either blocked or broken. It could also point to an issue with the refrigerant levels.

As refrigerant absorbs heat from indoor air, it transitions from a low-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid. “When there is too little or too much refrigerant in an air conditioning system, it creates an ice build up on the coil,” says Hojjati. When your system is turned off or is done its cooling cycle, the ice then melts and leaks moisture from your unit. When refrigerant escapes your unit, it’s harmful to the ozone layer. While not dangerous for us, immediate action is required to avoid bigger problems in your HVAC and the environment.

Odours are a sign of lack of maintenance. For example, since moisture is passing through the cooling coil, it’s a natural place for bacteria to grow if it isn’t regularly maintained. This will result in a musty, mouldy smell. If you ever catch a burning or ‘smokey’ smell, turn your air conditioner off and contact an HVAC specialist at Improve Canada immediately. By being vigilant and maintaining a properly operating air conditioner, you should never run into this issue.

Photo: James Bombales

4. Your air conditioning unit is noisy or making strange sounds.

A little noise from your air conditioning unit is totally normal. Even if you hear squeaking or grinding, it could simply be a sign that your unit is getting old. Regardless, if your air conditioning unit is squeaking, rattling, popping, grinding or hissing, it’s time to bring in a pro from Improve Canada to inspect it.

“After 10 years of using it, a unit can start making noises and eventually it will break down and stop,” says Shahi. But despite that, there are still a few tricks the mechanics can pull that fall outside of a regular service call. “Maybe your air conditioning unit isn’t balanced properly. Maybe the manufacturers left a part loose and it has to be checked and it has to be tightened. That’s what our mechanics do,” says Shahi.

Save energy with the Nest Learning Thermostat available at Simply Smart within Improve Canada. Photo: utekappliances/Instagram 

5. Your electricity bill is astronomical.

Have your energy bills been soaring since the weather warmed up? Your AC unit is a prime suspect. When your system isn’t functioning properly, it can’t cool the air down and so it essentially never stops working.

“If you don’t have proper air flow through your coils, your air conditioning unit is going to be working really hard and cannot exchange the heat in your house. That’s why your energy bill goes up,” says Shahi. Ideally, your air conditioning unit can complete a full cooling cycle, which will keep your bills down. In a short cooling cycle, the unit is constantly trying and failing to keep up with your thermostat. When the unit runs more than usual, your bill soars.

Even if you don’t suspect any problems with your air conditioning unit, the heating and cooling experts at Improve Canada can help keep your bills down and your home cool. Make Improve Canada an annual stop in your home maintenance list by getting your unit inspected, serviced and cleaned at least once a year. With 320,000 square feet to cover and over 350 showrooms at Improve Canada, your home will be in better shape than ever.

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