Inspect Your Air Conditioner's Fins To Keep It Running Efficiently This Summer

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Air conditioners have many complex parts that need an occasional adjustment, which is why they occasionally need to be inspected by an air conditioning repair technician. There is, however, one component that you're able to inspect yourself -- even if you know nothing about the appliances. Your central AC unit has fins, which are simple but vital parts. As you get your air conditioner ready for the upcoming summer, you can inspect these fins to make sure they're in good shape. If they aren't, you may even be able to fix them yourself, depending on how they're damaged.

Your AC Unit Has Fins

Every air conditioner, regardless of whether it's a small window units or a large commercial system, has fins. On a residential central AC unit, fins are usually on all four sides of the unit. They're thin aluminum pieces one the exterior of each side.

The purpose of your air conditioner's fins is to make the heat exchange process go as efficiently as possible. In this process, the air that enters your air conditioner is cooled by a cold coil that runs through the unit. The fins are affixed to this coil so that they're cold. This increases the surface area of cold metal in the unit, which increases how quickly air is cooled when it's drawn in.

In order to fully maximize the efficiency of the heat exchange, fins are made as thin as possible. Making the fins thin increases the surface area of cold metal, but it also makes the fins more susceptible to damage, particularly to being bent or corroding.

You Can Straighten Bent Air Conditioner Fins

If your air conditioner's fins aren't straight, you'll easily be able to tell. They won't look straight, and they won't be parallel. If the fins aren't all straight and parallel, your air conditioner won't run as efficiently as it ought to because air won't flow through it as quickly it should. The airflow will have to bend with the fins, which will slow it -- and the heat exchange -- down.

To fix bent fins, you'll need to get an air conditioner fin comb. Hardware stores usually carry several different sized combs, especially in the spring and early summer. To see what size comb your unit needs, look up the fins-per-inch in your air conditioner's owner's manual, or simply count the number of fins in an inch. At the hardware store, you'll see that comb sizes go by fins-per-inch, and you should be able to find one that matches your air conditioner's fins-per-inch.

If you have several AC units, such as your central unit and a window unit, SFGate recommends springing for an adjustable comb. With an adjustable comb, you'll be able to change the fins-per-inch to match each of your air conditioners.

To straighten your central AC unit's fins, just run the comb through them. Aluminum bends easily, and the fins should go right back into their proper straight and parallel formation.

A Professional Should Replace Rusted Fins

To inspect fins for corrosion, shine a light on them. You shouldn't see any light passing through any fins. If you see small dots of light, then at least some of the fins have holes from rust. Unfortunately, there's no way to reverse corrosion or fix rusted fins. They need to be replaced.

Even if the holes in your air conditioner's fins are small, the fins should be replaced. The rust will only get worse, and the holes decrease the fins' surface area and, thus, the efficiency of the heat exchange.

Corroded fins should only be replaced by an experienced air conditioning repair technician. This is a more involved job than simply straightening the fins. Additionally, other components of the unit should be checked for corrosion and replaced if they are rusty.

Before you start up your air conditioner this year, take a look at its fins. Fix any crooked fins, and call an air conditioning repair service about any rusted ones. Taking care of this now will ensure your unit will run well all summer long.