Robert Lamoureux | Air conditioner maintenance and water heater updates

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected]
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Question No. 1 

Hi Robert, 

We’ve been in Santa Clarita for about five years now and, in the areas we lived in prior, we had no air conditioning, so we are now wondering after five years of the system working well, if there is anything that we need to do in the way of maintenance. This summer it seems to be less cold, so it got us to thinking that perhaps there is some sort of service that may need to be done. 

My second question is regarding the hot water heater: Are you supposed to flush this out periodically? 

— Ginal

Answer No. 1 

Ginal, 

Yes, the condenser should be checked annually for its function and serviced as necessary, especially if this is an older system/unit. 

As a homeowner, you can help determine if the unit is functioning well by looking at the suction and liquid lines. The liquid line, the bigger of the two, should have a little bit of condensation on it when the unit is operating in the high heat. If it is dry it means that the unit needs a charge. If the line is icing up, then it could be a dirty filter or low on refrigerant. The refrigerant is like what we use to cool the radiators in cars, acting as a cooling agent to keep the condenser operating at an optimum temperature so as not to overheat. 

The fact that your home is not cooling as it has in the past is indicative that your unit needs servicing by a licensed and insured air conditioning company. I will forward a recommendation to you separately for someone I use and trust. 

You can also check the fins on the condenser. This is what looks like a radiator on a car, only it is on the condenser outside. The fins can run vertically or horizontally, and these need cleaning periodically, especially during the operating season. I have always used a garden hose on a medium setting (not too hard and not too soft), to wash out these fins. This should only be done when the unit is off, never while it is running. 

The air conditioning technician can also perform this cleaning service during their servicing of the unit, but you should at the very least always examine these fins and be sure they are clean and free of debris, which can cause the unit to overheat. Be sure that the pressure is not too much especially on old units, so that there is no damage to the fins. 

Changing the air filter on your air handler is very important, especially if you have animals. Anyone who often keeps doors and windows open, which allows dust in, or those with pets, should be more diligent about at least checking their air filters and changing, as necessary. Generally, in those above-mentioned conditions once a month helps keep the units from overworking and failing prematurely. 

Regarding the hot water heater, these can create hot water deposits easily where hard water exists, such as in Santa Clarita. If the unit has been let go for a long period of time without flushing, it would likely be futile to attempt at this point … but you could still try. 

On the top of the unit, there will be either a ball or gate valve on the inlet side; turn this off. Hook up a garden hose to the pet cock at the bottom of the water heater and open the valve. If it happens to be frozen because it has not been exercised, then do not continue, let it be. Any attempt to force this if it is frozen could end in disaster. Should things go well, and you have good water flow and see no mineral deposits, you are good to go. If you see mineral deposits and the flow is obstructed, here is what is happening with them inside the bottom of your tank: The pilot flame is having to heat through the mineral deposits to then heat the water, causing the unit to run more/less efficiently … a good sign that it is likely time to get a new one. 

I am a huge advocate of changing out water heaters prior to the discovery of cold water one morning, because that is never a pleasant experience. Rarely can you beat the system and get more years out of a water heater, so it is best to change it out right around the time it is expected to be at its life expectancy, because it is likely to quit shortly thereafter … happens all the time. 

It used to be that we’d get close to 15 years from a water heater, but the newer average is approximately eight years. If you are nearing that, I’d recommend playing offense and getting a new one. Use a licensed and insured plumber. Do not skip on this one because these things can be very dangerous if not installed properly and earthquake-strapped as well. 

I highly recommend considering a tankless water heater. It takes about two years to recoup the cost of installing one, but that is made better by the current rebates offered. They are more efficient and help with the age-old issue of running out of hot water. 

Good luck with your project.

– Robert

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