On any given day your air conditioner probably doesn’t cross your mind. It’s only during emergencies, when you may wonder what on earth that noise is, that your air conditioner becomes a topic of conversation. Or if you’re too hot in one room and too cold in another, you may curse it a little under your breath.
But there are some good things to know about your air conditioner any day, things that can make it run better, inform your decisions, even help you save money. These are a few of the most commonly asked questions about air conditioning and some helpful hints to make your home more comfortable.
1. How Long Should An Air Conditioner Last?
Let’s jump right to the headline question! When you’re making such a significant investment, you wish the answer was “forever.” The truth for central air conditioners is closer to 15 years. Thats’s the average lifespan, but it also depends.
If you don’t maintain your system, you can expect to be on the low side of average. You may only get 12 or even fewer years out of your unit if you don’t take care of it regularly.
Worse, without proof of professional maintenance, you will end up voiding your manufacturer’s warranty. So even if the unit breaks down while under warranty, you won’t be able to take advantage of it.
The good news is that with proper maintenance, you can usually expect your unit to last longer, as many as 20, even 25 years.
2. Why Is My Air Conditioner Leaking?
There’s a difference between condensation and leaks, so be sure you know what you’re looking at. Condensation is normal, and your system has a way of dealing with it – by sending water into a drip pan and down a condensate drain line.
But if you see water accumulating, especially around the drip pan, it means something has gone wrong in the process. The most frequent culprit is dirty filters. They can block evaporator coils, causing them to freeze and eventually melt. That much water is too much for your drip pan to handle.
Excess water can also be a result of a damaged drain pan, a clogged condensate line, or a broken condensate pump. Low refrigerant can be a problem, too. If your unit is leaking and failing to cool the house as effectively as it should, then low refrigerant is a more likely cause.
3. What Size Should My Air Conditioner Be?
That’s a big ‘ol “It depends.” The truth is that before anyone installs an air conditioner, someone needs to consider and calculate a number of factors. Among them are the height of your ceilings, the square footage of your home, the number and positioning of windows, even the age of your home and the type of construction.
If that doesn’t sound like a DIY job, that’s because it really shouldn’t be. Mis-sizing an air conditioner can lead to a host of problems, from a home that doesn’t cool properly to exorbitant energy bills. “Bigger” is not better, either. You may think a more powerful unit will cool your home better, but that’s not true. It will simply cycle on and off constantly, costing you more money and putting excess wear and tear on the system.
If you really want to know what size your next air conditioner should be, call your local HVAC contractor and ask.
4. What Type Of Filters Should I Use?
Have you ever been to the HVAC aisle of a home improvement store and stood staring at shelves upon shelves of options, with no clue why you’d spend $25 instead of $3 on a paper filter?
If that’s not your idea of a fun Saturday morning, here’s a simple solution: check your air conditioner’s documents to see what MERV rating is recommended for your unit. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, and it’s based on how well a filter removes different types of airborne particles.
Your starting point should be to purchase a filter with the recommended rating. Too low, and it won’t properly filter out particles that can damage your air conditioner. Too high and it will block airflow, making your air conditioner work harder. Opt for the maximum allowable for your unit.
If you have allergies, or want to improve the air quality in your home by filtering most dust particles, mold spoors, pollen and other common irritants, then choose a high efficiency filter that is specifically designed to remove common irritants.
5. Is Salt Air Bad For My Air Conditioner
Salt air is bad for a lot of things – the paint job on your car, your hardwood floors, and yes, your air conditioner. If you live on the Jersey shore, the salt air and even dust from sand will shorten the life of your unit.
Salt air in combination with humidity is particularly deadly for metal components, causing corrosion and degradation. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream of owning a beach house or be condemned to replacing your air conditioner every few years.
Start by using quality filters and changing them often. Be sure to have your system maintained by a professional. You can occasionally hose the outdoor unit down to clear of salt. And cover the unit during winter months.
If you’re in the market to replace an older, damaged unit, ask your HVAC contractor about models that are made with salt air in mind. Some manufacturers have units that are designed with components that are less prone to corrosion and even have special coatings to protect them.
6. Should I Repair Or Replace My Air Conditioner?
Nobody wants to make a decision under duress, but sometimes, if you air conditioner goes out on a hot day, you may find yourself in just that position. If you’re suffering the heat, you may be tempted to go for a quick repair, but you’re better off taking a minute to consider whether the repair is worth it.
First, consider the repair cost. If it’s going to cost about half as much as a replacement (or more) then you’ll get more bang for your buck by getting a new, and likely more efficient, unit.
Then, consider the age of your unit. Is it 10 years old or more? Repairing it at that point may just be prolonging the inevitable. If it’s less than 10 years old, or still under warranty, repairing it may be the better option.
Finally, consider how well it’s been working. If this isn’t your first repair, if your unit has been ailing for some time, or if you’re never quite comfortable enough – especially in combination with its age – then a replacement is going to be more cost effective in the long run.
7. Do I Really Need Professional Maintenance?
If you want to maintain your warranty, then you do! Not only do you need maintenance, but you need proof that is was done annually.
If you want to get as many years as possible out of your system before replacing it, then you do. Maintenance can mean the difference between a system that serves you well for 20 years, or fails at 12.
Finally, if you want to be safe then you do. Failing HVAC components can become safety and health hazards, so be sure your system is working effectively, efficiently and safely by having a professional clean and service it every year.
8. Can I Close Vents To Balance The Temperature?
It’s a common problem: some rooms are too warm, others are too cold. Your first instinct may be to shut the vents in rooms that are too cold, but that could be doing more harm than good.
Closing vents can cause your air handler to overheat and evaporator coils to freeze over. Both can cause damage and eventual breakdown. In addition, your air conditioner has to work harder as pressure builds up in ducts, which also leads to damage and breakdowns.
It’s pretty bad for your wallet, too. Closing vents actually makes your unit work harder to keep the rest of the house cool, and that will cost you. And it can exacerbate leaks in your ducts, pushing cool air out instead of into your house.
A better solution would be to keep the air conditioner at a higher temperature so you don’t end up with freezing cold rooms. Then you can deal with the too-hot spaces as a separate issue by installing a ductless cooling system, or using ceiling fans to better distribute air and improve its cooling effects.
9. What If I Don’t Have Ducts?
If you live in an old home where central air was never installed, then you may not have ducts at all. Or if you have an addition that was never attached to your central system, then that may be a particularly uncomfortable place to be during summer.
Whether your home doesn’t (or can’t) accommodate ducts, or you just don’t want to incur the expense and mess, then consider a ductless mini-split system. Ductless systems are exactly that – they cool your home via individual units mounted to the wall, no ducts required. They require a small compressor – much smaller than those usually found with central systems – and a bit of electrical work. You decide which rooms you want to put a unit in, and cooling it as as simple as touching the button on a remote control.
They’re easy to install and highly energy efficient. You can be cooling as few as one room or as many as all of them, each individually temperature-controlled.
Those are some of the questions that pop up frequently about air conditioners, but if you have others, get in touch with us and ask. We’re available to make sure that you understand your options and feel confident in decisions that affect your comfort, health and even your bottom line.