Eastern Cottonwood, a type of Poplar that is present throughout all of Ohio, is a tree native to portions of the Eastern United States. In late spring and early summer, the fruit capsules open to release their small seeds attached to many cotton-like strands. It is the continuous release of these fluffy seeds for two to three weeks that results in the common name of “Cottonwood”. Usually during peak season the flying seeds can resemble a winter snow. This imitation snow looks pretty in early summer, but these seeds will spell death to your air conditioner and your electric bill.
What happens is the seeds will completely plug up your outdoor air conditioning units coils. The air conditioning coil is made up of aluminum fins that are spaced very closely, kind of like the radiator in your car. Your air conditioner requires a set amount of air to pass though this coil as this is how the heat from your home is released. With a plugged coil the air conditioner works much harder and your electric meter spins much faster. Depending on how much you run the air and how close a Cottonwood tree is, the coil could plug so completely that the compressor in your unit will be overheated and fail. Compressors are very expensive to replace (over $1000.00) but a little intervention can save you this money.
It is best to take a look at your air conditioning coil if you can during and after the peak Cottonwood season. If you see any buildup, get it professionally cleaned as soon as possible. Cleaning usually involves simply spraying off the coil with water. Be careful if you want to try this yourself as you could imbed the seeds deep into your coils and make matters worse. Also some units require partial disassembly to get at all sides of the coils and this could expose you to dangerous electrical hazards or moving parts. Also NEVER use a pressure washer to clean this coil as you will damage it beyond repair.
Remember there are other contaminants in the outdoor air that will plug your air conditioner such as dryer lint, dandelion seeds and dust so a yearly cleaning is recommended to keep your unit working at its peak efficiency and prolong its life.