If you could put more money in your pocket, this summer, would you? Well, you can, by lowering your cooling bill. Chances are, it's higher than it needs to be. You'll be surprised at what you can save. No sacrifice required. Check out these quick and easy maintenance tips that can put you on your way to lower bills in no time.
Quick Facts About Your Central AC
Your central air conditioning (AC) system circulates cool air through your house through supply and return ducts (often the same ducts used for heat in the winter). A typical central AC system has an evaporator, condenser and compressor in a single cabinet located outside the house (usually on a concrete slab right next to it), or alternately, a condenser and compressor outside and an evaporator in a separate cabinet, inside (usually in the basement or crawl space). Both systems have a blower that forces indoor air through the coil of the evaporator where it's cooled, dehumidified, and sent through the ductwork into the house. The heat collected by the evaporator is transferred to the condenser (outside) to dissipate.
Change the Air Filter
This is the most important thing you can do to help keep your system working at peak efficiency. The air moving across the evaporator is cleaned before it gets there by a filter located in the return air duct (usually within easy reach in a wall or ceiling, or at the air conditioner itself). Filters get dirty and clogged through regular use; the dirtier they get, the less air gets through the system. The dirty air that gets through is carried right to the evaporator. Dirt sticking to the evaporator coil further impedes air flow, reduces the evaporator's ability to absorb heat and can reduce your system's efficiency by as much as 10 percent. Not to mention, that dirty air is circulated right back through your house.
Air filters are made by a number of manufacturers and come in a variety of types and efficiencies.
* Most residential systems use 1-inch or 2-inch flat or pleated fiberglass "throwaway" filters (thicker filters may hold more dust but are not necessarily more efficient).
* There are also "permanent" type filters: mesh, electrostatic and electronic, some with pre-filters that collect larger dust particles.
* If you or a family member suffers with allergies or sensitivity to dust or other particulates (i.e., tobacco smoke, pollen or pet dander), consider using a High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter, also known as a HEPA filter. These are specially constructed filters that allow a high volume of air to pass through them while stopping even very tiny particles.
* If you have any question about the right filter for your system, don't guess; check with a professional service technician.
Whatever type of air filter you use, inspect it and either clean it or replace it about once a month during peak cooling season or more often if you're living in dusty conditions or with pets. Never run your system without the filter in place.
Clean Evaporator Coils and Fins
Even if you regularly change your air filter, dirt will still accumulate on the evaporator over time. Check your evaporator coils at least once a year and clean them if necessary, using a vacuum cleaner with brush attachment, careful not to bend the fins.
Clean Condenser Coils and Fins
Condenser coils and fins (outside) are also vulnerable to dirt - from debris and leaves falling from trees, cut grass kicked up by the lawnmower, and lint from a nearby dryer vent - so, check the condenser unit at the beginning of the cooling season. Cut the power to the unit and use the following checklist:
* Gently remove any debris from top and sides.
* Sweep the concrete pad.
* Prune back any overhanging leaves (2 feet is the minimum recommended clearance; 5 feet overhead).
* Use a soft brush to sweep the fins.
* (Optional) Spray the fins with a gentle household cleaner; let it sit for 5 minutes, then gently hose them down pointing the spray into the interior through the fan opening.
* Keep the unit free of dirt and debris throughout the season.
* If you can shade your unit (without blocking airflow), even better: the shaded air around your system will be cooler, and a properly shaded system can operate up to 10 percent more efficiently over the course of the season.
Keeping your evaporator and condenser coils free of dirt and debris can improve your system's performance by as much as 10 percent. Just be careful with those fins. They're a little fragile and easily bent. It's best to use a special tool called a fin comb to straighten them. Those are available through your local home center or online. Be sure to buy the correct comb for the number of fins per inch your unit has.
Other Simple Steps to Savings
* Anything that obstructs the flow of air through your system reduces its efficiency and drives up your bill -- keep your registers clear of furniture, drapes and other obstructions.
* Keep all exterior doors and windows closed when operating the system.
* Raise your temperature setting. Raising the setting even 1 degree can lower your bill by as much as 9 percent over the course of the season.
* Keep your system set on "AUTO" and let your thermostat do its job. If you find you need to run the fan constantly to keep cool, it's time to call a technician.
* Set your system to recirculate the indoor air (if you have the option) rather than drawing outside air. Conditioning the warmer outside air takes far more energy than simply recirculating the already conditioned household air.
* A little money spent could equal a lot of money saved: have a qualified service technician check your system at least once a year. The technician will measure your refrigerant to see if it needs recharging, inspect your coils, measure air flow over the cooling coil, and will do a thorough inspection of the motor, compressor, air handler, and ducts (and of course, the air filter). The technician can spot potentially costly problems early or help you avoid them entirely.
For Owners of Older Houses
If you're still using a central air conditioning system manufactured during the 1970s, you're likely using 30-50 percent more energy than a more recently manufactured unit would use. Even if your unit is only ten years old, replacing it with a new, more efficient unit can save you 20-40 percent in cooling costs. Over the life of the unit, that's considerable savings, especially with energy costs continuing to rise.