Q: I'm trying to sell my home and the buyer hired a home inspector who said I needed to replace the air conditioner because the coils were damaged by hail. My air conditioner works just fine, but the buyer insists on getting a new air conditioner. Have you ever heard of anything like this?
A: I have heard and have seen the damage to air conditioners and heat pumps caused by hailstorms as well as animal urine.
The question is how much damage was done.
The air conditioner has two coils. One is inside the home and is called the evaporator coil where the refrigerant evaporates and absorbs heat from the home. The heated refrigerant is then delivered to the outside air through the fins on the outside unit's condensing coils.
The fins are made of thin strips of metal to create a larger surface area where the heat can be released. If the fins are significantly damaged, the heat in the refrigerant is not released to the air efficiently. Although the air conditioner still cools the interior of the home, it takes longer to cool and that takes more energy. The more energy you use, the more it costs to cool.
The damaged fins also cause the compressor, the exterior fan as well as the interior fan to work longer, reducing the useful life expectancy of the equipment. The outside coil's fins are sensitive to damage, and all residential air conditioners have a wire cage that covers the fins to protect them from accidental damage caused by mowing, weed eating, etc.
If the air conditioner is under five years old, it might be worth the expense to have the coils replaced. With an older unit, it might be more cost effective to replace the entire unit. If the damage is the result of a hailstorm, contact your insurance company to see if the unit is covered under your homeowner's policy.
If the fins are slightly damaged, they can be repaired with a coil comb, but the work needs to be performed by a licensed professional heating and cooling contractor. Also take into account that combing the fins may void any warranty offered by the manufacturer.
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