Ten Simple Steps to Improve Your Air Conditioning

A/C season is here and it’s come strong this year! A lot of people act like air conditioning is a mythical beast that can only be tamed by skilled technicians who want to break your piggy bank. In some situations, yes you do need a technician to solve problems and troubleshoot. However John and Jane homeowner can do a lot of simple preventive maintenance procedures on their own and follow a few tips to make sure that an A/C in working condition stays that way. Most issues that wind up costing the big bucks are caused by years of neglect. Follow these ten steps and your A/C will run above par this season.

Clean Your Coils!

Air Conditioning functionality depends a large part on how efficient your coils are. Coils inside air conditioning units are basically radiators. The coils on the condensing unit are used to suck hot air out and maintain your compressor. Inside the air handler (the inside unit) your evaporator coils are used to cool your home. Refridgerant is pushed through them at freezing temperatures and the blower pushes air over them, supplying your home with a more comfortable air temperature. Both of these radiators tend to get clogged with various forms of materials alien to their natural state. At any air conditioning supply house or home impovement depot you can find a satisfactory coil cleaner. Most forms are either alkaline, acid, or various types of foam. The best thing to use here is a pump sprayer if you have one, but if not you can just use a spray bottle. Put the nozzle as fine of a spray as it will go and get as close to the coils as possible. Saturate them thoroughly and let it soak. After about five minutes wash the coils out. The higher the pressure the better, so if you have a long enough hose and a spigot nearby that’s probably the route you want to take. Make sure to read the directions on the coil cleaner, wear proper protective gear, and follow the directions thoroughly.

Change Your Filter!
Although a lot of maintenance guides have varying opinions on how often a filter should be changed it is an imperative part of the air conditioning process. The blower pushes the air across the evaporator coil and through the filter. If your coils are dirty chances are your filter is toast, too. You can decide whether or not it needs to be replaced by pulling it out and looking at it. If it just has a few dark stains on it than it’s probably not worth the money of changing it. However, if it’s been a while since you’ve changed it and it has a layer of dust on top of what’s actually caught in between the fibers of the filter fabric then it’s definitely time to toss it. You gain two things with a newer filter, the first being a better air quality and the second being improved air flow.

Check The Charge!
This one is somewhere in between professional and do-it-yourself handyman. The E.P.A. mandates that anyone handling, buying, or using refridgerant be certified Type one, two, three, or universal technician. The test is an outrageous amount of money and has absolutely nothing to do with working on air conditioning. Either way, even without a pair of gauges you can do a few things to see how far off your charge is from par. Running from the condensing unit to the air handler will be two copper lines called the line set. The larger one is the low or suction side and the smaller one is the high or liquid line. An instant give away is freezing on the suction line. This means there is either a leak or very low charge. If this is the case shut the air conditioner off to let it thaw and call a technician. Another sign is profuse sweating from the same line. Past that it is really hard to tell without hooking up gauges. If you’re lucky enough to be E.P.A. certified and own a pair of gauges you’re looking for a low side charge around 65-72 and a head pressure of 250-275.

Make Sure All of Your Return Vents Are Clear!
If it feels like you’re not getting good air pressure coming out of your vents you should check out your return line. A return vent covers the return line and its job is to pull the warmer air from your house and push it back through the system. If this vent is very dirty or blocked by a piece of furniture you lose a lot of flow and could wind up seriously damaging your system. Running a broom along the slats of the vent to clear off any built up dust should do wonders for you.

How Old’s Your Thermostat?
A lot of times a thermostat is on the fritz long before it dies off. A deficient thermostat can cause all kinds of crazy problems. Sometimes they won’t call for the compressor to push the refridgerant through the line set or they’ll stay on constantly or even call for heat! A new thermostat will insure the highest level of efficienty for your system. A new, digital unit is usually less than fifty dollars and easy to install. The directions contained within will explain how to actually remove the old T-stat and secure the new one. Any wiring involved should just be simply matching the old to the new. Each wire’s color represents a different job and coordinates with a letter on the T-star.

Keep Your Unit Running!
This is a super important tip that almost no one ever follows. If you cut back your thermostat to say seventy or seventy-five and leave it set while you’re not at home it will really pay off for you in the long run. Everyone’s immediate thought here is usually that their electric bill will go through the roof if they do this. Quite the contrary, actually. If the unit has been off the entire day then the air inside has basically done whatever the outside air has been doing. As it gets hotter outside, it did the same inside. This means that when you come home and kick your air conditioner down to sixty-five to cool down your outrageously scorching home it will take longer to cycle the hot air and put more stress on the unit, thus a higher demand for electricity. Try this for a while and see how much more comfortable your bill and inside temp are.

Keep Your Blinds Closed!
In the high heat of the day your windows can actually work sort of like a magnifying glass does on an ant. It takes five minutes to walk around your house and make sure that all of your blinds are closed and it’s free. This keeps all the heat of the day from locked out of your home. In turn it’s easier for your air conditoner to keep the air inside at a comfortable temperature. Direct sunlight is about the hottest heat you can find. If you take a temperature reading from a shaded area to a spot directly under the sun you’ll find an amazing different. It’s the same with your house.

Make Sure Your Air Handler Is Sealed!
Any gaps in the cover of your air handler could be causing a lack of air flow to the ducts. This can also let in foreign objects to the system that could put more stress on the coils or burn out your filter quicker than normal. If the cover is loose due to a missing screw you can replace it with a 5/16 screw found at your local hardware store. If all the screws are in place but it still just doesn’t want to fit right you can pick up a roll of aluminum duct tape and cover all the seams.

Check Your Ductwork!
Improper duct work can be a real headache. If you have a crawl space or basement your main duct line can usually be found down there. Follow the line from where it meets the air handler all through out if your air flow feels poor. Sometimes during installation or over time the ducts will kink. They can also get holes in them. These two things will cause major air flow problems in contained parts of the house. A lot of people say that if one room isn’t getting enough air flow to close your other vents to try and push more air that way. This is a somewhat asenine idea because a room with poor air flow generally indicates duct restriction or a hole in it. If there is a hole you can cover it with the aforementioned aluminum duct tape. A kink should probably be taken care of by a professional, but can be done by a home owner. You’ll have to buy a square of duct, cut it to size, box it out, fit it in place of the old one, and tape it up on either side to seal it.

Check Your Inside Temp!
Possibly the best way to make sure your air conditoner is running properly is to check the temperature at the registers every now and then. Anyone can put a hand up to the vent and say it’s ok, but unless you have a realistic idea of what is actually coming out then you can’t be sure if your unit is running efficiently or not. There will be a possible two to five degree difference in what your t-stat is set to and what’s coming out of the vents. Anything past that and you’ve got problems.

If you follow these ten simple steps and tools you’ll keep your home as cool as possible without calling out a professional. Any problems beyond the things listed above should be left to certified technicians who are bonded and insured. Johnny Homeowner should never try to edit any of the electrical wiring within the air handler or outside condensing unit. All directions on any of the aforementioned materials should be followed to manufacturer’s specs.

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