10 tips to help keep you cool AND save money on your air-conditioning system this summer!
Summer has not officially arrived, but it is HOT here in Kansas. If you have air-conditioning, there may not be a more important home maintenance step to take than this: make sure your A/C is in top condition and ready for the stress of a long and hot summer.
This is especially important, if you value comfort or appreciate avoiding big repair bills due to an overworked, over-stressed, broken-down A/C!
An air-conditioning system is one of the most expensive systems to run in our homes. Therefore, making sure it is running at top efficiency is so very important. A little bit of work now, can save you big-time on your electric bill as the summer goes on, AND, can potentially extend the life of your system by months, if not years.
So – what can you do to keep your A/C system running at its best? Here are my top 10 tips regarding A/C maintenance:
Tip #1: GET SOME HELP! There are many home maintenance items you should tackle on your own. In my opinion, however, this is not one of them. The proper care and feeding of your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) system is something I feel warrants calling in some professional help. There are certainly some steps you can take now – on your own – and on an ongoing basis that will help keep your system running properly (and keep your monthly bills lower). However, for a full A/C check/tune-up, it’s time to call in the pros!
There are components within the A/C system that require some special knowledge, tools, and techniques to properly investigate and diagnose. Also, an inherent level of danger exists when working on equipment which is driven by electricity. That danger level increases even more when this electrically-driven equipment needs to get wet in order to be properly cleaned. For this, and many other reasons, a spring tune-up by a local HVAC specialist is well worth what you’ll pay for it. In my area, we can expect to pay about $100 for a very thorough cleaning and tune-up of the system each season. If you sign up for both spring and fall services, you may be able to bring that cost down a bit.
Here’s another key reason to bring in a professional – this has helped save my bacon on more than one hot summer day. If you find a good, reliable company in your area, and have them come out spring and fall to help start up both your A/C and heating system – they know you, they are familiar with your system, and have a vested interest in keeping you happy and comfortable!
Then, if the worst happens, and you find yourself baking inside your home due to no A/C, it’s really helpful to be able to call the company you’ve been working with, and say something like: “Hi Jim, this is Darren – unfortunately my A/C has stopped working, and it’s gettin’ hot in here. You guys were out here earlier this spring for an A/C tune up, and it looked like everything was in good condition. Could you have someone come over ASAP to help troubleshoot the system, and see what we can do to get up and running again?”
Now – this is not a guarantee they’ll put you at the front of the line. But if you have a good relationship with the company (especially if it is a smaller company, and you know the tech or owner) and if they care at all about good client service (I know – harder and harder to find these days, but they ARE out there!), you’ll be pleased with the results!
To give you more of an idea of what is involved with the spring startup and maintenance of the A/C system, HERE is a video that gives you a good overview of what to expect, and all the work that needs to be done to get the system up and running correctly.
Tip #2: Keep the outdoor unit (condenser) clean. Also – keep the area around the condenser clear of grass, weeds, leaves, etc. Your A/C’s condenser unit does the bulk of the work in keeping your home cool. Even a small amount of debris or dirt in the coils of the unit can cause problems. Tall grass or weeds around the unit can easily be drawn into the coils, slowing air flow, and reducing the unit’s efficiency. BTW – it’s a good idea to turn the A/C off as you mow or trim around the condenser, so the clippings do not get drawn into the unit.
You can clean the condenser yourself. Two key tips:
1. Turn the power off first – preferably at the breaker inside, and at the unit itself.
2. A gentle stream of water on the coils, from the top down, with a back and forth motion to move the debris down and away. NOTE: do not spray directly into the unit from the outside – the coil fins are surprisingly easy to damage, and you do not want to push the debris inside.
Tip #3: Make sure your filter is clean. Check your filter once a month, and replace (or clean) when dirt begins to accumulate. I find that I can usually get 3 months from a high-quality filter, during the winter and summer season. If you open your windows more in the spring or fall, you may need to replace your filter more often, perhaps monthly. Bonus tip: every time you change your filter, grab a sharpie and write the date on the filter. You’ll have an easy reference for next time you check – trust me, you won’t remember how long it’s been. If you see the install date every time you throw a dirty one away, this will also help you to get a better feel for how often your filter should be replaced,
Tip #4: Manage your airflow. If you have a two-story home, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the lower level is always cooler than upstairs. Use this to your advantage. Close some of the lower level vents to push the cold air upstairs. It WILL end up on the lower level soon enough! NOTE – be careful about how many registers you close off. You don’t want to close off so many that the airflow is restricted to the point of increasing back pressure on the system.
Tip #5: Keep the curtains drawn – especially on the south and west sides of your home. Consider thermal or blackout curtains in difficult-to-keep-cool rooms.
Tip #6: Use your fans and ceiling fans. Fans can make you feel several degrees cooler. If you have them, use them! If you don’t, purchasing a few fans, or installing a few ceiling fans – perhaps in the bedrooms and main living areas. Here’s a ceiling fan question I’m sure you’re dying to know the answer to: blow the air up in the winter/down in the summer, or vice versa? My extended family has debated this one for decades! Here’s my bottom line – the ceiling fan’s job is to mix the air in the room. Up or down will do the job. But in the summer – when you WANT to feel cooler – having air blowing directly down on you will inherently make you feel cooler. In the winter – when you want to feel warmer – having air blowing directly on you doesn’t help. So my call (and the correct answer ;-)) is down in summer, up in winter.
Tip #7: Make sure the humidifier is turned off. If you have a whole-house humidifier running with your furnace, it should be wired so that it will not turn on with the A/C. But – I’ve found that not always to be the case! You don’t want to be adding moisture to the air all summer, so make sure the humidifier is off!
Tip #8: Do heat-producing tasks early morning, or late evening. Whenever possible, avoid running the dryer, dishwasher, oven, etc., during the heat of the day.
Tip #9: Grill! I know this is kinda obvious, but every time you can cook outside rather than inside, you reduce the cooling load. And – you get an excuse to fire up the grill.
Tip #10: Replace your HVAC filter. Sound familiar? Yes – this is a repeat of #3. It’s THAT important. A clean filter allows much more air flow. More airflow means more efficient cooling. More efficient cooling translates into lower bills and longer life for the entire HVAC system. It’s a huge win. Change that filter!
There ya have it – 10 tips for staying cool and saving some money on your A/C bill this summer. If you have any questions or thoughts to share – please feel free to post below!
Thanks for reading!