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Air conditioner servicing

Have you got split-system or ducted air conditioners in your home? If so:

  1. Do you do the recommended basic maintenance, i.e. clean the filters periodically and make sure the indoor and outdoor units are free of dust, leaves and so on?
  2. How often do you have it professionally serviced, to check refrigerant gas levels and have the coils cleaned?
  3. If you’ve had it professionally serviced, what was your experience? Was the cost reasonable and did it have a noticeable effect on the air conditioner’s performance?

I’m asking because many manufacturers recommend servicing every year, but I suspect most people don’t do that and have the air con serviced rarely, or never.

FYI, here’s our article on cleaning and maintaining your air conditioner.

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Hi Chris,
I have had a Panasonic split system for just over 12 months and because I live in a fairly isolated location check the system myself which I found fairly straight forward.

When I had the unit installed, they actually charged me travelling time on top of the original quote which I disputed and eventually came to an agreement. So figure any professional serviceman is also going to charge extra as well.

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We do have a regular maintenance schedule.

Ours is a fully ducted and zoned reverse cycle AC (8 zones)

  1. Return filters are cleaned every 3 weeks which includes drying in full sun (this sanitises them). Regular cleaning and if needed replacement of the filter “wool” makes the unit function at it’s best. The “wool” is cheap and we replace it about every 6 to 9 months as it can quickly start pilling when cleaned regularly. We have had Split systems in the past and in active use the filters should be washed and dried in full sun about every 2 or 3 weeks, saves a lot of build up and keeps the smell fresher.

  2. The Outside Unit is on a substantially larger pad than the unit and is kept free of all dirt, leaves etc on a weekly basis and more often if required. We ensured the pad was higher than the surrounding ground and slopes slightly to drain any water quickly.

  3. We have the unit checked every 2 years for cleaning and fan, drainage, and gas checks, this includes the ceiling unit and zone controllers. My Cousin is an AC Mechanic and does the checks for a reduced rate (a meal) so I can’t comment on a real world cost. We have never had to replace refrigerant and my Cousin says they are well sealed units and only develop leaks due to accidents to pipe work or the coils.

Also ensure the drainage pipe is clear of any obstructions around where it discharges and that when first fitted (if getting one installed) it drains properly.

As we maintain a regular schedule we haven’t noticed any difference in performance and our unit functions flawlessly.

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Thanks @165gunyah. When you say you check the system yourself, do you mean you do your own checks of the gas levels, or just the routine cleaning of filters etc? Refrigerant gas can legally only be handled by a licenced technician.

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Yes just routine check of filters and check hose connections.

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I clean the filter inside but servicing??? Probably a waste of money. I have used air con in my place for many years and have never had it serviced. The first went magically for 10 years and died because of a lightning strike that took out the power board. More cost effective to purchase a new one at that point (plus some house insurance money) and new get a more efficient and modern unit. I’d say save the wasted service money on replacing the unit every 10 years or so…unless the gas leaks…but if that happens then you have a dodgy unit.

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Hi Chris,
I’ve got two 10 year old splits - I clean the interior filters once or twice a year, and routinely make sure the outdoor units are free of obstructions and leaves. The filth-wizards who owned our house previously hadn’t ever cleaned the filters (or much else in the house for that matter) so I replaced them when we moved in and it made a noticeable difference to performance (so clean your filters everyone!).
I had the compressor replaced on one and had it re-gassed when it failed at 6 years. The cost of doing so was reasonable (though I can’t remember a dollar figure), especially given it was the height of summer (read: we were desperate), and the manufacturer actually supplied the compressor for free, which was nice of them because it was outside of the warranty period.
Do I think it’s worth getting the other one serviced? Yes, but that’s based on gut feel only, no scientific data. I’d be very interested to hear others’ experience with performance improvements, or the lack of, following servicing an old unit.

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Hi Chris,
we have a two zone, ducted system. I clean the filters myself, along with the outdoor unit, whenever they look like they need it.
In the 12 years we’ve been in our current home, we’ve had the system professionally checked twice, with no issues found. The first time around, we took advantage of a free offer, and more recently, a discounted offer - $120 covered the checks and inspections, and a clean of the filters.
With the advent of electricity consumption monitoring, I believe we’d notice any drop off in performance fairly quickly if the system were to start losing refrigerant.

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We always clean the filters, typically once or twice a year (vacuum and wash). And the outer casing which also gathers fluff/ dust. We found that more often (monthly) you may need to also keep the drains clear and clean them of mud hornets, ants nests, the odd dead insect and gecko eggs. All not that hard to do unless it’s the drain in the head.

We have never paid for a regular professional installer service (over 30 years). If a unit is loosing gas or otherwise faulty we assume it will soon be evident through a rapid loss of performance. That’s how car aircons which are really compact splits announce their failure. Some service orientated businesses may be leveraging our ignorance and insecurities?

We have however paid for another type of service for physical cleans of our large split systems which worked out at less than $200 per unit.

Experience suggests this will need to be done at around 5 years of summer use (on the hottest summer days and nights). It made sense to have a professional clean which includes a wash and disinfection. Some professional cleaning services we have used do this insitu and hence do not disturb the gas or electrics. We have used Sanitair previously. After nearly 15 years in regular summer use the units still performed as well as when new.

The installers who have the added cost of being licensed generally indicated they remove the whole unit - however for an older split type air con the added cost including a re-gas may make you think it will be cheeper to buy a new unit? Quotes in the past for cleaning by licensed installers have always been substantial. Interestingly some have referred us on to the insitu services, others have indicated they are the only people who can clean aircons. Perhaps if we lived next door to a quarry or cement plant with no enviro control we would need this level of service each year.

ps For the box type aircons we have always been able to clean these ourselves as access is that much simpler.

Perhaps Choice could test the relative performance of a couple of older aircons (average dirty to neglected) compared to after cleaning to give us all a feel for the relative savings in electricity and CO2. We don’t see there is any value in paying for an annual service/check or cleaning internally the hard to get to bits annually is probably unnecessary.

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HI Chris

We have a range of air cons of various sizes, split & ducted. Most of which are only used a couple of times a year.

  1. Yes & no. On the ones we use most we clean the filters. We have one big unit in a ceiling cavity which is very hard to access. That one is not cleaned. The outdoor units are in a protected environment and very hard to access too, so they aren’t cleaned.
  2. When they break down, or don’t provide the heating/cooling required.
  3. NA for us, but we did recommend the business to someone else. They were told the business doesn’t do residential any more, only large scale commercial. So we would need to find someone new :frowning: .
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We have both split system and ducted evaporative system. We usually have them both serviced every 2 years (1/year seems excessive!). We have changed who did the service as the previous firm charged double for it being a double-storey house, so they had to send 2 people (OHS reasons). The current one doesn’t. I think it’s important to have the evaporative system cleaned/checked periodically because water laying about could induce legionaires disease. Cleaning dust off filters, etc is clearly something we can and do attend to ourselves.

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We have a Fujitsu R/C ducted system. We had it installed in 2000.i clean the filters regularly and that’s it. Never been serviced, hasn’t missed a beat.

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In some places, particularly where water has a very high level of dissolved solids, replacing the packing of the pads completely is an annual event if it is used quite a bit - which we do. This is a good opportunity to clean out the unit - not hard to get half a bucket of solids (calcium carbonate mostly) in the process. It kills the internal water pumps with monotonous regularity … Commercial installations seem to test for legionella regularly for OH&S reasons, but this is something the home installations seem to rarely be tested for.

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I recently had two trades I found on Serviceseeking service my split system air conditioner. The second was to rectify something the first one failed to do, which left me with an air conditioner that dripped water when I turned it on. The second callout cost me $180 for 10 minutes. He just secured the pipes and casing, poured a glass of water in, and when it didn’t drip, declared it fixed. He asked for cash and then wouldn’t give me a receipt.

The first service required the replacement of a pipe and regassing of the unit. The flexi pipe they installed was obviously the wrong size, so when it started leaking, I called and asked them to come out and fix it. They said it was hard to find the correct size pipe because my unit was old, but they would try to salvage it from somewhere. After my third phone call to them, I realised this was a delay tactic and they had no intention of ever coming to fix it.

Those experiences have led me to conclude that servicing air conditioners is somewhere in the realm of doing psychic readings: anyone can say they do it, there is no guarantee of quality and there is very little regulation.

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We have a Daikin ducted system, used only in the winter and not heavily eg not all night. After the first 5 years we had it serviced by the installer, cost $150, but he told us not to bother getting it serviced in future unless we have an issue.
We clean the indoor filters twice annually, and the outside unit is kept clean and is relatively sheltered.

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I previously posted under another topic.regarding getting our Fujitsu inverter split system aircons serviced.

He has just finished cleaning them after doing so 2 years ago, and I asked him for before and after photos of an aircon (not ours) which he provided.

Our bedroom aircon which usually runs 24/7 most of the year had to be set at 20 degrees to achieve a reasonable level of cooling due to the vastly restricted airflow and the kitchen unit had to be set at 22 degrees so as to reduce the temperature down to around 27 degrees.

Both are now set again to 24 degrees, as is the lounge unit which was not as dirty, and are easily achieving that temperature whilst the outside temperature is 31 degrees.

Not only are they now working perfectly but all the mould is gone which must be better for one’s health.

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Yuck…2 years is a long time between cleans. It should be relatively easy to remove the filters to wash regularly. The split unit can also be cleaned using a damp cloth.

A partially clogged filter will reduce cooling efficiency and substantially increase running costs.

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This is not about cleaning the filter which we do regularly but is about the professional method of cleaning split system aircons.

Apart from removing all the plastic moulding from the indoor unit and taking it outside for cleaning,
our tradie drops the head off its mounting, and then suspends a very large, specially made funnel shaped bag underneath it which drains into a 20L drum and he cleans the impeller and fins with chemicals and a water jet attached to his hose which he drags to each unit.

When he has finished, the contents of the drum are black and disgusting.

It is no DIY procedure and he has a custom built dual axle trailer which is full of his equipment, complete with a drop down ramp so as to wheel his gear on and off the trailer.

It takes him around 3 hours or so per unit and we paid $220 for each one.

He does not have a website but is on Facebook which gives a good insight of his setup.

There are local cowboys and charlatans who claim to clean split system aircons but all they do is clean the filter and fins for around $90 a unit, leaving the impeller and fins contaminated and the airflow and cooling not performing properly.

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