There is nothing like that first blast of spring air as it rolls through the newly installed screens in your home. The aroma of life emerging from unfrozen ground, or the scent of the spring s first offerings wafting around a home fills us with hope and plans for the coming months. Inevitably, however, the weather will turn hot and humid. The windows will close, leaving many of us to rely on our air-conditioning units to survive brutal months of summer heat and humidity.
It s costly, but necessary. If you live in North America, heat and humidity are probably complained about more than winter snow and ice. While we pay a great attention to keeping ourselves warm in the winter, though, many of us are lax when it comes to maintaining our cooling systems.
According to the Web site of the AC Doctor (www.acdoctor.com), about five percent of the electricity used in the United States goes to air conditioning, to a tune of around $11 billion per year. A modest maintenance program on our AC units would help to drive that total down, a savings for both consumers and the providers. The main way to save on energy costs is to change or upgrade your current system. Modern high-efficiency air-conditioners will save as much as 50 percent in your bills compared to older models.
In other words, if you ve got a 25 year-old central-air unit, or are relying on window models from 20 years ago, join the energy-efficient club of cool consumers. What you pay today will easily be offset by future savings. But if that purchase will have to wait until next year, follow an AC maintenance plan this spring for a cooler summer.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (USDE), the most common reasons for poor AC performance are refrigerant leaks, over or under-charging of refrigerant, electrical control failure and improper maintenance. The first two require a professional for repair, but the latter is something fairly easy to handle, as it largely concerns keeping the machine clean.
The USDE states that AC filters are the main culprits when it comes to regular maintenance breakdowns. When AC filters become dirty and clogged, the airflow to the unit decreases significantly, causing it to run at a fraction of normal capacity. With a clogged filter, air may bring in dirt and contaminants to the evaporator coil, further reducing the AC s efficiency. Replaceable filters should be changed every two months during the peak cooling season, and cleanable filters should be hosed or wiped down just as often.
Your AC s condenser and evaporator coils won t collect dirt as quickly, but they ll get dirty and impede AC service nonetheless, especially outdoor units. Leaves and yard dirt typically build up around the coils, and these should be cleaned away at least yearly.
Next, check your ducts, particularly where they enter the house on the outside and into the interior. Duct leaks will have your system cycling on and off constantly, adding wear and tear on the unit and raising your energy costs. Fix any duct leaks with duct mastic rather than duct tape.
To get the most out of a window-mounted AC unit, install it on the shadiest part of the house, and near the middle of the room. Also, be sure to install all of the foam weather stripping material packaged with it, or purchase more to fit a tight seal around the unit.
With the summers seeming to get hotter every year, your air conditioner will be getting more of a workout. So until you can replace it, just do a little maintenance.