Gerber Life Family Times --- News and tips for familes of all ages and stages of life

A Refuge from the Heat  
Tips for keeping your system in tip-top condition.


Retirement Savings
Tips for starting on the road toward retirement savings.

Spider Bites
Learn to recognize and treat spider bites.

Create a Hideaway
Fun ideas for helping kids create their own hideaway.

Maintaining Your Air Conditioner
Tips for keeping your system in tip-top condition.

Gerber Life Family Times Archive

ImageIn many parts of the country, the hot, humid days of summer induce living things to move a little bit slower, drained from the heat. Dogs find a shady spot to lie down, garden and flowerbox plants wilt under the scorching sun, and people abandon heavy clothes and long pants for shorts and tank tops—all in an effort to stay cool.

For those who have air conditioning both at home and at work, and refuse to live without it, any day without the "AC" because of equipment problems is complete misery.

By following some basic steps and establishing a regular maintenance program with a professional HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor, you can improve the chances of your air conditioning system serving its full, useful life in the most efficient way possible.

If you are considering installing a home system, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association (ACCA) emphasizes that accurate sizing of the system is vital to the efficiency equation. If you aim to replace an existing system, a professional HVAC contractor won't simply replace old equipment with new equipment, the ACCA notes, since it's entirely possible that the original system wasn't sized properly in the first place.

Matching the demands of your home. To assure that cooling equipment matches the demands of your home, a contractor will perform a series of calculations that takes the following variables into consideration:

  • Overall climate where you live
  • How your home is sited, e.g. faces south or north
  • Amount and quality of insulation in the attic, basement, walls and crawlspace
  • Number of windows and their efficiency rating
  • Other sources of heat such as kitchen appliances and lighting
  • Landscaping near the home

By making load calculations, the contractor matches the different capacities, efficiencies and configurations of air conditioning equipment to the specific demands of your home. An under-sized system will reduce the comfort level, use more energy and not last as long. An over-sized system will be more expensive to operate and may lead to moisture-related problems.

In evaluating your home, the contractor will be able to tell you if your system isn't operating at peak efficiency because of dirty or blocked ducts, grilles and registers. Sometimes, just making sure the ductwork is clean and clear, or replacing a faulty register, may improve the comfort level. The contractor also will be able to tell you whether the cost of a new, high-efficiency system will outweigh the energy dollars your old system wastes due to its age and inefficiency.

Saving energy. According to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), up to 50% more energy can be saved with proper installation, sizing and maintenance of commercial central air conditioning and heat pumps. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average home spends approximately $1,900 each year on energy bills, with heating and cooling accounting for as much as half of the energy use. With the proper sizing, quality installation and maintenance of air conditioning equipment, as well as other home improvements to increase efficiency, the EPA finds that a homeowner can save as much as 20% on annual total energy costs.

Since HVAC equipment is usually hidden from view—such as in a basement, on a rooftop or behind shrubbery—it is easy for homeowners to fall into an "out of sight, out of mind" way of thinking, taking their cooling system for granted. Failing to properly maintain a system leads to higher utility bills, decreased efficiency, discomfort, repair costs, and early replacement costs.

Pre-season maintenance. The EPA recommends professional maintenance check-ups for both your heating and cooling systems. Since contractors are in high demand during the peak winter and summer months when there are more emergencies, it's often best to schedule your maintenance check-ups for spring and fall.

During the check-up, the EPA advises that the contractor should:

  • Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump when in cooling mode. Clogged drains can cause water damage in the home, affect indoor humidity levels, and breed mold and bacteria.
  • Check system controls to ensure proper and safe operation, so that the system starts, operates and shuts off properly.
  • Check thermostat settings to ensure that heating and cooling systems turn on and off at the programmed temperatures.
  • Inspect, clean or change the air filter in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump. A dirty filter reduces efficiency, increases energy costs and can damage your equipment, even leading to early equipment failures.

Your contractor can show you how to do this yourself.

  • Lubricate all moving parts. Lack of lubrication causes friction, increasing the amount of energy used and causes equipment to wear out more quickly.
  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors.
  • Clean indoor and outdoor coils before warm weather begins.
  • Check central air conditioner's refrigerant charge, and adjust it if necessary to assure it meets manufacturer specifications.
  • Clean and adjust the blower components to provide proper system airflow.

Preventive maintenance you can do yourself to help care for your home cooling system, as suggests the Minnesota Building Foundation:

  • Locate and inspect the outdoor air conditioning unit (the condenser).
  • Turn off the power to the air conditioning system then clear away obstructions, prune excess plant growth, and clean debris from the appliance. Use a garden hose with spray attachment to spray from the top of the coils downward, to help wash any dirt or debris to the ground.
  • Avoid damaging the coils; they are very delicate.
  • Contact a professional HVAC contractor if you suspect any problems.
  • Inside your home, locate the condensate drain line. A properly working air conditioning system removes moisture from the air, which must be allowed to flow freely to a drain or condensate pump. Be sure to keep the area clear and the drain line clean.
  • Inspect around the furnace for condensate leaks.
  • The furnace air filter must be changed during the air conditioning season.

When to replace your current cooling system? Even with regular maintenance and proper care, a home's cooling system won't last forever. The EPA suggests that you should consider a new system if:

  • Your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 12 years old. Newer, more efficient equipment will save energy and money.
  • Some of your rooms are too hot or cold. This may indicate duct problems, inadequate air sealing, or poor insulation.
  • Your home has excessive dust and/or humidity problems.
  • Your cooling system is noisy. The duct system could be improperly sized, or there may be a problem with the indoor coil.
  • Your equipment needs frequent repairs and your energy bills are increasing.
  • You leave your thermostat set at one temperature. A programmable thermostat can adjust home temperature while you're away or sleeping, and is a great energy-saving step.

Environmental benefits: Properly maintaining an efficient heating and cooling system can have a huge environmental impact. More than 17 billion pounds of greenhouse gases could be prevented, reports the EPA, if just one in ten households:

  • Has their heating/cooling system serviced annually by a licensed contractor
  • Cleans or replaces filters regularly
  • Uses an ENERGY STAR qualified programmable thermostat, and
  • Replaces old equipment with an ENERGY STAR qualified model that is sized and installed properly

By following a few simple tips, establishing a routine maintenance schedule, and regularly changing filters and clearing obstructions, your air conditioning system can be free to do its job of keeping you "cool as a cucumber" while helping the environment.

Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association—
Consortium for Energy Efficiency—
Environmental Protection Agency—
Minnesota Building Industry Foundation—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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