How Do I Take Care of My Air Conditioner in the Summer?

How Do I Take Care of My Air Conditioner in the Summer?

Your central air conditioner is the modern luxury that cools your family and your home when you need it most. However, air conditioners become less energy efficient over time, especially if you don't care for them as you should. While some of these problems are the unavoidable result of age, there are issues caused by the buildup of dirt, dust and grime that are completely preventable if you take care to provide the proper maintenance. When certain parts of your air conditioner aren't cleaned regularly, the entire unit has to work harder and use more energy to create the comfortable environment you desire, which is important to keep in mind whether you have central air or are looking to increase window air conditioner efficiency. Follow these air conditioner efficiency tips to save money and get the most from your appliance.

Schedule Your Annual Tune-Up in the Spring

It's vital that you invest in an annual tune-up before the hot weather arrives. Most HVAC companies offer tune-up services to keep your system running at optimum energy efficiency. A tune-up will include tightening all electrical connections, lubricating fans and cleaning the system. The technician will check the coolant levels and be able to diagnose more serious issues that sometimes arise after years of use, like refrigerant leaks, and then fix the damage to restore your high-functioning air conditioner. Just as tuning up your car improves gas mileage levels, tuning up your air conditioner will make it more energy efficient and help preemptively avoid major breakdowns.

Change the Air Filter

Your air conditioner moves air through your home in a regular cycle. After it sends the cool air into living areas, it then collects old air and moves it back through the system. Before the air returns to your air handler near the furnace, it goes through an air filter, which captures particulates and airborne pollutants that could damage your system. As the air filter fills with allergens and dust, it gets clogged up, which limits the airflow moving to the handler and causes your system to strain and run inefficiently. Extend the life of your air conditioner and keep its energy efficiency at peak performance levels by changing the air filter regularly. Make sure you're also choosing the right air filter for your home.

Clean the Return Air Ducts

In addition to changing the filter, you should also take the time to clean your return air ducts. Duct covers that are clogged with lint, dust and dirt block airflow and force your system to work harder, shortening its lifespan while harming its efficiency. Vacuum these ducts every time you clean the room to ensure that there is adequate airflow reaching your HVAC unit.

Check the Pipe Insulation of Your Air Conditioner

Torn or disintegrated insulation can impact the air conditioner's cooling power. Inspect the insulation covering the coolant pipes each summer, and replace them if necessary to keep the air conditioner running efficiently. You can easily remove the old insulation and replace it with new materials yourself.

Pay Attention to the Ductwork

Even the ductwork in new homes can be dirty, as construction debris and dust naturally collects inside them. If rodents or other pests have visited your home, then your ducts may also have a coating of droppings and nesting materials inside them. When the air turns on, fine particulates drift into the home and lower your indoor air quality. They also drift back through your air conditioner system on the return air side and start to hamper airflow. Have the ducts professionally cleaned as needed to improve indoor air quality and make your system more energy efficient.

In addition to being dirty, ductwork can also be leaky. Loose joints or damaged sections of ductwork can allow your treated air to escape into unoccupied areas of your home, which can seriously harm your energy efficiency. You can patch accessible leaks with aluminum foil tape, but for leaks deeper in the system, you may need to have your ductwork professionally sealed with special equipment. For further ductwork efficiency, you can wrap your accessible ducts with insulation.

Give Your Wiring an Inspection

Another way to improve your air conditioning efficiency is to check the wiring in the condensing unit for any signs of overheating or wear. Remember to turn off the air conditioner before you begin. If you see scorched, frayed or damaged wires, call a professional to repair the damage.

Clean the Outside Compressor

One of the most important central air efficiency tips is to keep your compressor and condenser coils clean. This is part of a tune-up, so you won't have to open the system if you invest in professional services. However, the coils can get dirty, which means they will struggle to absorb heat effectively. You can clean the evaporator and condenser coils with a garden hose, but be careful to not get any electrical connections wet. When cleaning coils, inspect the fins, as they are delicate and bend easily. If you notice any bent fins, simply straighten them out using a fin comb. In addition, you should remove any grass, weeds or old leaves from the winter that accumulate near your air conditioner, and avoid landscaping within two feet of the unit. Items should not be stored near the exterior compressor, because anything blocking airflow makes the system less energy efficient.

Give Your System a Break

Even with proper maintenance, a system that is constantly running will lose efficiency faster and need to be replaced earlier than a system that is used moderately. Going easy on your air conditioner will keep your monthly energy bills low, too. To make sure you’re not relying too much on your air conditioner to keep your home comfortable, try these tips:

  • Upgrade to a smart thermostat. You’ll be able to control your thermostat from anywhere with a smartphone, and you can easily create custom cooling schedules so that you’re not wasting AC when nobody is home. 
  • Seal air leaks around your home with caulk and spray foam.
  • Replace weather stripping around doors and windows if it’s cracked or brittle.
  • Block out solar heat from sun-facing windows with heavy drapes or blackout curtains.
  • Make sure your ceiling fans are turning counterclockwise and use them often in occupied rooms so that you can set the thermostat higher without sacrificing comfort.
  • Avoid using heat-producing appliances during the heat of the day. Run the dryer, dishwasher and oven after dark, when the temperature is lower.

Save Up to Buy a New Air Conditioner

If you are wondering how to make your air conditioning more efficient while you coax along an elderly unit that is decades old, it's nearly certain that the most effective way to bring your cooling bills down is to invest in a new air conditioner altogether. Look for a unit that bears the ENERGY STAR label so you know that you're purchasing one of the most efficient models on the market. It's a large amount of cash to shell out in one go, but you'll thank yourself later with the savings you experience over time, not to mention all the future breakdowns and repairs that you avoid. Read more on how to choose the right air conditioning unit for your home.

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