Prolonging The Life of Your Air Conditioner Will Save You Money
Comfort in our homes and workspaces requires that we install and maintain heating and air conditioning units; it has become an exceedingly essential piece of equipment. Along with being comfortable indoors despite the weather, it serves as a conduit to maintaining good health and work efficiency. Air conditioning units serve as an air filtration system in its own right, preventing microorganisms and bacteria from circulating indoors. They allow people to be the most efficient of workers by preventing mental and physical fatigue due to discomfort and overheating.
While your air conditioning unit brings the most efficiency out of you, you can maintain that by bringing the most efficiency out of your air conditioner. This article reviews how your air conditioner works and how you can get the most out of your air conditioner.
How Air conditioning Works
Let’s start with a simple overview of how air conditioning works. It starts with physics—when a liquid turns to gas, it absorbs heat. So air conditioning works by forcing special chemical compounds to evaporate and condense over and over in a system of coils, which leads to chilling. Then fans blow air past these coils and blow cold air into your temperature controlled home creating a comfortable atmosphere.
According to How Stuff Works, air conditioning was invented by Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902. It began to solve a problem at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithography and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, NY. The problem was that paper at the printing plant absorbed too much moisture from warm summer air making it difficult for ink to adhere. So Carrier cooled the air by blowing it across cold pipes. This lowered the air temperature and reduced humidity. It solved the problem and led to an invention that quickly spread to theaters, stores, offices and eventually homes.
Now that you know a little bit about the history of air conditioning and how it works, let’s take a look at troubleshooting, maintaining and fixing any problems your air conditioning unit might have. First, let’s begin by reviewing the main components of your air conditioning system. How Stuff Works outlines the main parts of an air conditioner as follows:
- Evaporator- receives the liquid refrigerant
- Condenser- facilitates heat transfer
- Expansion valve- regulates refrigerant flow into the evaporator
- Compressor- a pump that pressurizes the refrigerant
For window units, all these parts are contained in a small metal box which fits in a window opening. And hot air is blown outside while cold air comes out the other side, into your home. Central air conditioning systems are regulated with a thermostat. And the compressor and condenser sit in a weatherproof box outside the home. For commercial buildings, the compressor and condenser often sit on the roof. As an aside, there are some other types of air conditioning that have been developed to reduce energy consumption. These include solar-powered systems, geothermal units, chilled water systems and cooling tower technology. But we’re not going to cover these alternative systems in this article.
Air Conditioner Capacity and Energy
So how is the capacity of an air conditioning system rated? And how do you determine how much space a system can cool? Most air conditioners have their capacity rated in British thermal units (Btu). According to How Stuff Works, a Btu is the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. The air conditioner perched on your windowsill at home might be rated at 10,000 Btu. Or, the central air conditioning system in your 2,000 square foot home might be rated at 60,000 Btu. That implies you need 30 Btu per square foot which is a good guideline.
One other rating to think about with air conditioning is the energy efficiency rating (EER). This is calculated by dividing its Btu rating by its wattage. For example, if a 10,000 Btu unit uses 1,000 watts, then its EER is 10. Knowing your air conditioners EER rating is important because it enables you to estimate the energy costs to operate the unit or to compare relative costs to operate two different units.
Common Air Conditioners Problems
Now that we’ve looked at how air conditioners work, let’s look at how they can break. Here are some common problems according to SFGate.com.
AC Problem: Not Cooling
Your air conditioning still blows air, but it’s not cool air. Repairing this problem could be as simple as cleaning the coils or replacing the filter. However, it could also be the symptom of a larger problem. It could indicate that your unit has leaked, or is leaking it refrigerant chemical. If this is the issue, then you’ll need a licensed professional to find and fix the leak and then add the correct amount of refrigerant back into your system. Lack of cool air could also be a sign that your compressor needs to be replaced.
AC Problem: Making Strange Noises
Hear a chirping sound? How about a clicking sound? If you hear it when you first turn on the unit but then it subsides, no worries. But if it continues, you may have a failed relay that needs to be replaced. High pitched squealing as the fan rotates often happens in conjunction with the failure of your compressor. A damaged compressor may also cause the unit to rattle.
AC Problem: Increased Costs
Some homeowners may see an increased cost of electricity while the number of kilowatt hours remains unchanged. This could mean your air conditioning system is losing efficiency. Old units lose efficiency near the end of their lifespans, but there may be other causes in newer units. Other impacts on air conditioner efficiency can be faulty wiring, poor airflow across the coils, failed capacitors or lack of voltage reaching outdoor units. A trained technician can check these possible causes.
AC Problem: Puddles Under the Unit
Are you seeing a puddle under your air conditioning unit? Not good. Puddles could indicate that there’s a breakdown inside your unit. Peddles can stem from a clogged or disconnected drain line or there could be a more serious problem that should be checked by a professional. Regardless of what’s causing your unit to puddle, this type of problem is important to fix because the water could also cause serious damage to your home.
How to Clean Your Air Conditioner
The DIY Network has a 10-step guide to keeping your air conditioner running smoothly. By maintaining your AC like this, you’ll extend its life as well as save yourself money on energy. The best time to evaluate your air conditioner is early in the season when you begin cooling your home again. This 10-step guide is going to ensure that your fan is free of debris and able to work efficiently. Clearing debris will ensure a free flow of air through the fins. The easiest way to clean your air conditioners condenser is by using a spray cleaner like Cal-Blast Condenser Air Conditioner Coil Cleaner. This spray solvent works great on finned coils like the ones found in your condenser. It works by dissolving the deposits and oils that impede clear air flow. After you clean your condenser, you’ll want to double check that your air conditioning unit itself is sitting on a level surface. If your air conditioner isn’t level, you run the risk of your condenser malfunctioning. Then, you’ll want to check your evaporator drain and put in a fresh blower filter. So put on some gloves and get started. You may save yourself over $100 by doing it yourself.
How to Save Money on Air Conditioning
Air conditioning can be expensive because it uses a lot of power. You’ll see this on your electricity bills as soon as you start using AC throughout the days or nights. If you live in a small home, this may not impact your monthly budget as much on a percentage basis. But if you live in a larger home with more square footage, making adjustments to save energy cost could have a huge impact on your spend. If you’re not sure how to save energy, here are some suggestions from CNET on how to limit your costs and start saving more on your energy bills.
Save Money Tip: Keep the Cool Air in and the Hot Air Out
Unless your home is brand new, it’s likely your home has gaps, cracks and openings that force your AC to work harder to cool your home. Air could be leaking out through doors that lack tight seals, broken or missing storm windows or through a poorly insulated attic. Take a walk through your home and examine which areas could be responsible for allowing your cold air to escape. You might find some small fixes that you can take care of yourself, like filling in gaps and cracks with caulk. Sometimes, these crack and gaps that cause your air to escape can be difficult to find if you’re not a professional. The best way to see if your home needs improved insulation is to schedule a home energy audit. Get more information about a home energy audit at Energy.gov.
Save Money Tip: Upgrade Your Thermostat
If you haven’t gotten a smart thermostat, now’s the time. Smart thermostats regulate heating and cooling to save you money when you’re not home. A few popular and effective brands on the market today are Lyric, Lux and Nest. Smart thermostats have various features that can help you save energy and money. Let’s use the Nest thermostat as an example.
With the Nest, you can program your thermostat to adjust temperatures at any time throughout the day and set schedules. For example, you can program the Nest to turn off during the day when you’re at work, then turn on to cool at your desired temperature when you get home. Another great feature offered by Nest is the ability to control your thermostat setting through an app on your phone. If you leave for vacation and forget to adjust your cooling schedule, no problem! You can simply open your app and adjust your cooling schedule.
Save Money Tip: Get Your Thermostat onto the Right Wall
Choosing the wrong wall for your thermostat is more important than you might think. According to CNET article, if your thermostat is on a hot wall, it will think the house is hotter than it really is and blast more AC than you need to actually cool your home. If your thermostat is near a door where cold drafts come in, it could think your home is colder than it actually is, which would prevent your unit from turning on and keeping you cool. The best place to mount your thermostat is on an interior wall, not an exterior wall. You’ll also want to find a wall that’s located in a frequently used area of your home so that you’re thermostat is reading the temperature of rooms you’ll actually be using.
Save Money Tip: Close the Shades
When the sun shines directly into your home, things get hot! Use your shades during the warmest parts of the day to block direct sun from shining into your home and generating heat. Pulling your shades down can also prevent cold air from escaping through your windows.
Save Money Tip: Use Fans
Ceiling fans cool your room and use a fraction of the electricity that AC does. You can even use fans in conjunction with your AC. Next time you go to turn your AC on, try using your fan instead to find out if it will generate enough cool air to get your home at a comfortable temperature. If you find that your fan isn’t enough, turn on your AC as needed until you reach your desired temperature.
Save Money Tip: Consider One or Two Window Units
Running a couple of window units when it’s really hot will save lots of electricity versus installing and running a central air system. There are a couple ways to go about this strategy. One approach is purchasing window units that cool large areas of space. This is great for people that want to cool entire floors of their home. Another approach is purchasing window units to use in single rooms. This strategy works well if you use only a few rooms in your home regularly or if there’s one particular area of your home that tends to be hotter than others. This is true especially in old homes that don’t retain heat as well as new constructions. Some old homes can be very difficult to regulate, even with central air. If that’s the case for you, you may want to consider using a window unit, in addition to your central air, to keep your rooms at a comfortable temperature.
Save Money Tip: Plant Trees
Trees are nature’s way of regulating the temperature near your home. A leafy shade tree near your home will block lots of direct sunlight from entering through your windows. Trees will also cool your home significantly reducing your need for air conditioning or reducing its use. In the winter, trees can have the opposite positive effect. As the weather gets cooler, they’ll slowly begin to lose their leaves, and as a result, they’ll allow sunlight light to enter your home creating warmth during the colder months.
Save Money Tip: Buy Energy Star
Good Housekeeping reports that an Energy Star central air conditioning system will use about 14% less energy than a system that merely meets the government’s minimum standards. If you don’t know what it means for a product to have an Energy Star designation, here’s what it is and why it can help you save money. According to Energy Star, any product that has earned an Energy Star rating has met strict guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. When you purchase an air conditioning unit with an Energy Star, you’ll be using a system that’s designed to save energy and optimize performance. As a result, you’ll be in a better position to save money on your utility bills and help protect the environment from carbon pollutions and other greenhouse gases. Plus you may even qualify for a tax credit…it’s a win, win!
Air Conditioner Maintenance
After you’ve selected the perfect air conditioner unit for your household, it’s time to learn about maintenance and care. Air conditioners can cost thousands of dollars to install and hundreds of dollars to fix, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re giving your new unit some TLC to avoid issues down the road. If you’re not an expert on maintaining your air conditioning unit yet, you will be after you read these tips. Here’s a look at what you can do to keep your costs down, home cool and unit running smoothly.
AC Maintenance: Refrigerant Types
According to Reuben Saltzman, most air conditioners will use one of two types of refrigerant: R-410A or R-22. While both of these refrigerants get the job done, the cost of R-22 is beginning to sky-rocket with no signs of slowing anytime soon. R-22 has also been shown to have damaging effects on the ozone layer and is being phased out as a result. If your air conditioner uses this refrigerant, a leak could cost you tons of money or it could mean a brand new air conditioner when this refrigerant is phased out completely. To avoid the steep cost of new R-22 refrigerant or needing to purchase a new unit altogether, having a contractor tune up your system could help prevent future leaks before it’s too late.
AC Maintenance: Leak Detection
Does it seem like your home isn’t cooling as well as it used to? According to DoItYourSelf, the culprit could be a leak in your “Freon” system. Freon is a brand name of refrigerant that has come to be used generically to mean refrigerant. If you’re not sure whether or not you have a leak, here are some other signs that indicate a leak in your system:
- Your AC is blowing warm air.
- There is ice build-up on the copper lines.
- Your electric bills are uncommonly high for no apparent reason.
- You have symptoms of Freon poisoning, including dizziness, nausea and fluid buildup in your lungs.
If you review these signs and determine you do a have a Freon leak, there are steps you can take on your own to fix this issue.
AC Maintenance: Fixing an AC Leak
If your Freon or refrigerant is leaking, first you’ll want to purchase supplies to seal the leak and “recharge your Freon,” which is just a term used for refilling or replacing your refrigerant that has leaked. Supplies include:
- Replacement refrigerant (must match the type indicated on your AC unit)
- Reusable injection hose
- AC Sealant
- A detailed set of instructions
Sometimes, you can find repair kits that contain most of the items needed for this project. After you collect your supplies, the first step in repairing your AC unit is turning off the system at the thermostat and at the circuit that powers it. Neglecting to turn your system off at the circuit is extremely dangerous and could put you at risk of electrocuting yourself during your repair.
Next, you’ll want to put on rubber gloves, goggles and a breathing mask to protect yourself. According to DoItYourSelf, Freon is more toxic to the environment than it is to humans, but it’s still important to protect yourself as much as possible when working with this toxic chemical.
Now that you’re ready to begin repairing your unit, first you’ll want to attach a temperature gauge to your valves and wait 5 minutes to get a reading. If your temperature gauge reads 45 degrees, it’s likely your coolant levels are sufficient and there is no leak. If you temperature reads above that number, it likely means your coolant level is low. Since coolant doesn’t evaporate, the only way it can become low is by leaking out of your system.
After you’ve determined that you do in fact have a leak, you’ll need to find out the exact location of that leak by connecting your gauges to your AC lines. If you purchased a Freon repair kit, it should tell you exactly where to connect these gauges. After your gauges are attached, look around for visible signs of a leak. Freon usually has added dye to help you spot leaks when they occur.
Once you’ve spotted the leak, it’s time to attach your repair kit. Locate the compressor and you’ll find that it has two lines coming out of it, the service valve and the low-pressure suction line. Connect the injection hose and the can of sealant to the compressor lines and make sure to keep the container upright.
Follow the instructions on your kit to finish the final steps of the repair process. Steps can vary based on the type of kit you purchased, so it’s important that you’re referencing instructions for the repair tools you’ve purchased.
Check out your work and see if you’ve successfully repaired your Freon leak! Turn your power and your air conditioner back on to see if your house is cooling properly. If you’re still having issues with your unit or you’re not sure whether or not the leak is fixed, it’s always best to consult a professional.
In conclusion, prolonging the life of your air conditioner will undeniably save you money in the long run. There are a multitude of smalls steps you can take to do so, as we discussed above, and every step counts. But, problems can still occur. When they arise: fix them. You’ll restore your air conditioner’s optimal operability if you identify and take action on the problem appropriately and quickly. Just by simply implementing some of the small changes to your home and becoming proactive on repairing your air conditioner, you can save on your energy bill and ensure the level of comfort you desire.