By KATHY HAGEMEN
Winter stuck around far too long this year, but spring made a brief appearance and summer arrives officially June 21. With hot temperatures again in the forecast that means air conditioners will be getting a workout.
There are a few things homeowners can do to make sure they have a comfortable AC-cooled summer if they follow a couple of important tips, including keeping the temperature constant by not turning the air conditioning up and down.
“One of the most common mistakes people make is setting the temperature up when they leave in the morning and then turning it down in the heat of the day when they get home,” noted Greg Hottman, owner of Smith Heating and Air Conditioning in Abilene.
“They think their air conditioner will react quickly and pull the temperature down, but usually it doesn’t come down that quickly,” he explained. “It puts a really big load on the air conditioner. It’s better if you keep it at a constant temperature.”
Leaving the thermostat at one setting for air conditioning is different than advice doled out during the heating season, Hottman noted.
“Your gas furnace can catch up very quickly and moving the thermostat can save you money in the winter -- you come home at night and in 45 minutes your furnace can catch up. But air conditioning is different,” Hottman explained. “People come home in the summer and start generating heat by
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throwing in a load of wash or drying some clothes; they get supper on the stove cooking, plus they’re trying to catch up the four degrees they set it up during the day.”
That behavior also puts an additional load on the utility company by creating peak demand times.
“That’s the time they’re having the most trouble supplying electricity to homeowners,” he said.
Another common mistake is not changing the filter often enough. Hottman said that every house is different which means that some people should change the filter monthly, while others can wait longer periods.
“The best way to tell is to take out the filter once a month or every two months and look at it. It’s easy to tell if it should be replaced. You’ll either say this looks great or I should have changed this sooner,” he noted. “The amount of traffic in the house makes a big difference.”
Pets, children, whether windows are opened from time to time or whether windows are closed and shut tight all factor into how much dirt ends up in the filter. That means there are no tight rules regarding how often a filter should be changed.
“For some people changing the filter monthly would be a waste of money,” he said.
When asked if there’s a good temperature for optimal air conditioner performance, Hottman said that’s hard to say since individual preference comes into play.
“Twenty years ago what people thought was comfortable isn’t even the beginning nowadays,” he said. “We are either blessed or spoiled by air conditioning.”
Back then most people set their thermostats in the 78 to 82 degree range. Nowadays, most people are setting their systems around 72 to 74 degrees, he said.
If there is a breakdown that requires a costly repair, homeowners need to decide whether to put more money into the old system or spend the money to replace it.
“Obviously, newer systems are much more efficient. We prefer to have planned change outs when the weather is mild, but we’re geared to replace equipment whenever necessary,” he said.
Although it’s late in the season to do preparatory maintenance, Hottman said that having your air conditioner serviced is a good idea before turning it on.
“Wash the outdoor condenser coil, check the refrigerate charge, inspect electrical and fan blades, bearings and motors to present expensive breakdowns,” Hottman said.
After watching the service technician, homeowners can later do much of the work themselves. “They can change filters and wash the outdoor unit, although I’m not sure they can do much about checking the refrigerant charge,” he said. “If the air conditioner is even a little bit dirty it drives electric bills up and causes the unit to work harder than it needs to work, shortening its life.”
Word of warning: Before doing any work make sure to not only turn off the unit at the thermostat but also shut off the 220 power supply.