Summer’s almost upon us. That means more ice cream, more evenings on the patio and, of course, the battle to keep your house cool as the heat bears down. As it turns out, there are several tips from the experts to keep cool until fall. These are easy changes you can put into action to get a lot more out of your air conditioning budget this year.
How Air Conditioners Work
To really get to the heart of the matter, it’s important that you understand how an air conditioner works. This way, you can strategically plan ways to help it work better, rather than doing things that are counter to its function.
Room air is cooled by an air conditioning unit (or HVAC) in three basic steps:
1. The fan located inside your indoor air handler or furnace kicks on, sucking room air in through your cold air returns. The air passes through your filter, so make sure it’s clean. The pennies you spend on a new filter add up to energy savings in real dollars.
2. The warm room air then moves over a set of coils that contain a refrigerant, which cools the indoor air and causes it to release water. The water drops into a pan and is removed via the condensation line. At the same time, the liquid refrigerant inside the coils absorbs the heat, changing into a warm vapor, which is then pushed outside to the condenser coil in your outdoor unit, where it releases the heat from your home.
3. Since the fan is still running on your air handler, cold air comes out the vents and more warm air is sucked across the evaporator coil (also known as the a-coil because of the inverted v shape). Meanwhile, the fan in the outdoor unit is cooling the refrigerant down until it turns back into a liquid and moves back into your home toward the evaporator coil where this whole cycle started.
Give Your Air Conditioner An Assist
Though your A/C unit is absolutely doing the best it can, it could probably do a lot better if you’d lend it a hand. As a homeowner, this benefits you in two ways: first, your house is less costly to cool and secondly, not pushing your condenser unit as hard as it possibly can go can help prolong its life. Some of the things that can make a big impact should really be performed by a pro, but there are lots of little ways you can contribute to the health and happiness of your entire household. Try these out:
Start with the outside unit. Your condenser unit should always be free of weeds and debris, no matter what time of year it is, but it’s doubly important in the summer. The more garbage that’s plugging up the fins on the coil, the less air movement — and more effort required — for cooling the refrigerant down.
You can also help your unit by giving it a bath at least once a month. Just take a regular garden hose with a trigger sprayer and go all the way around the unit, spraying between the fins, until the water runs clear. Lots of dirt and sand could be hiding up in there, reducing your unit’s efficiency. A fin comb can also help straighten bent fins.
While you’re at it, make sure that unit has plenty of shade. Plant a tree, erect a sunshade, build a little roof over it (but allow at least two feet all around and on top for adequate air flow). The heat from the sun is yet another enemy of the refrigerant in the coil. Keep it as cool as you can with what you have to work with.
Wall units can cool your most used room without cooling the whole house. Get a more permanent solution to your cooling needs. Wall air conditioners feature innovative technology, remote controls, and sleek, clean lines that can help you stay cool and comfortable all year long — without disrupting your design. They are ideal if you want to cool a home office, or a master bedroom for a cool night’s sleep, giving your large system some time off.
Take advantage of those ceiling fans. As the days get warmer, make it a point to set your ceiling fans to rotate in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing air down. You do double duty with this one. The proper rotation creates a chilling effect that allows the average homeowner to keep their thermostat as much as four degrees Fahrenheit higher than they would without the fans blowing. It also helps keep the cold air more evenly distributed, assuming you have ceiling fans in all or most of your rooms.
Cover the windows. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how good your windows are when the worst of the summer’s heat is beating down on them, there’s going to be a noticeable warming coming from that direction. This is when having heavy curtains, thick blinds or plantation shutters come in handy. During the part of the day when the sun hits your windows the hardest, cover them up to reduce heat radiating into your cool spaces. Another option for places where it stays hot a lot of the year is to add awnings over windows that are chronic sources of radiant heat.
Do hot chores at night. (Give your appliances the afternoon off) Meaning your cooking, your drying, your extra hot baths — whatever produces heat that’s not really tied to any specific point in the day should be moved to the night shift. If you absolutely need to do these things during the day, keep the cooking limited to the small appliances, dry your laundry outside in the smouldering heat and maybe try a warmish shower. Remember, the more heat you add to the house, the more heat your air conditioner has to move out of your house. Don’t make it an unwinnable battle.
Should I Replace My Air Conditioner?
6 signs it’s time to replace your air conditioner
- 1. Air conditioner is more than 10 years old. In general, you can expect a well-maintained air conditioner to last about 15 years. However, if you’re in need of expensive repairs and your air conditioner is more than 10 years old, it will often make more sense to replace it. This is especially true when you consider the advancements in efficiency we’ve seen with air conditioners in the past decade alone.
- 2. Air conditioner is inefficient. If your air conditioner has a low SEER rating, it can cost you a lot of money to operate it. Currently, newly manufactured air conditioners must have a SEER rating of at least 13. If your air conditioner’s SEER rating is below 13, you can cut back on your energy costs by replacing it with a new, more efficient unit.
- 3. You’re facing expensive repairs. Any time you’re facing an expensive repair, you’ll want to weigh the costs of the repair against the costs of a new unit. If the cost of the repair would cover a large part of a new system, and especially if your air conditioner is showing any of the other signs in this list, it will likely make more financial sense to replace it.
- 4. Frequent breakdowns. Does it seem like your air conditioner is constantly breaking down? Are you calling an HVAC repairman every month because of a new problem with your unit? These repair costs can really add up, and it doesn’t make sense to keep making them on older units. Save yourself the headaches and the money by investing in a new unit.
- 5. Air conditioner uses R 22 Freon. Freon is being phased out by the federal government in order to conserve energy nationwide. As a result, the costs of Freon are rising exponentially. If your air conditioner uses Freon, you’ll have to replace it eventually in order to switch over to the new refrigerant (R410A). If you’re having major problems with your air conditioner, especially if they involve the need for more Freon, it’s probably a good time to replace your unit.
- 6. Your home isn’t comfortable. Do you have a hard time keeping your home cool? This could be the sign of an aging air conditioner or even an incorrectly sized system. Regardless of the cause, you want your air conditioner to do its job! If it’s not going to keep your home cool, you’ll want to replace it with a unit that will.
What About the Bigger Stuff?
There are other improvements to your home that can help keep the heat out — they should be performed by a professional installer. Most of this takes place in the attic or on the roof, including installing radiant barriers to reflect the sun’s heat, attic fans that can push the super hot air out and suck in relatively cooler outside air and verifying that you have adequate attic ventilation and insulation.
There are plenty of pros in our community who can help you get on the road to a totally chill summer this year. I’m happy to recommend a few; feel free to call, email, or text.