Keep Your AC Clear
The big AC unit that sits outside your house is called the condenser and it’s what actually cools the liquid in the coils of your AC. Cooler coils mean cooler air in your house. You’ll want to keep the area around the condenser clear of grass, bushes, leaves and just about everything else so that the fan gets the maximum amount of air that it can. A good rule of thumb is to make sure there is nothing blocking the vents or around the unit for one or two feet in every direction. And be careful to make sure that cut grass isn’t blowing into the unit each time you mow your lawn.
Keep Your AC Clean
Different air conditioning units can be cleaned different ways, but you generally want to make sure that the interior is free of debris on the outside and inside. To clean your air conditioning unit you should always check your service manual first, but there are some general steps. Make sure you turn off the power to the unit before cleaning. Most units can be cleaned with a hose sprayed from the top down, washing any dirt or debris from the inside. You might want to remove one side panel of the outside unit and then take a broom or rake and any left over debris or leaves that have been washed down to the bottom. Some sites recommend cleaning the coils with soft brushes or wet rags, but coils can be damaged easily. I’ve found that spraying them down with water usually works fairly well.
You’ll also want to keep your AC unit clear and clean during the winter off season when you’re not using it. There are some pros and cons to covering your AC during the winter and your choice will ultimately depend upon your situation.
Keep Your Condenser Cool
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends shading your central AC unit so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to cool the coils inside it. This is a great idea and one which I haven’t taken advantage of yet. My AC unit sits in the hot sun for about half the day until the sun moves over my home, so during the early afternoon my AC is working hard just to keep my house, not to mention itself, cool. Planting a shade tree near (but not too near) the unit is a great idea. According to the U.S. Department of Energy this one action could save you up to 10% on your cooling bill!
Keep The Temperature Consistent
Don’t turn your AC unit on and off because that can burn out the interior switches and sometimes even mess up your thermostat. You’re better off setting your thermostat temperature and letting the air conditioning catch up and do its job without your interference. To save even more money you can use an automatic thermostat which you can program to change the temperature to be a little warmer in your house when you’re typically away during the day. You’ll also want to keep your central air conditioner fan on AUTO and not ON all the time. These systems are meant to cycle on their own terms and keeping your furnace fan ON all the time could actually make your home warmer as you blow warm air back into your home.
Check Your Air Conditioner Regularly
You’ll want to check a couple different things on your AC about once a month. You’ll want to check your air filter and replace it a little more than usual. Some sites recommend replacing it once a month, but I think that might be a little over zealous. My filters cost me nearly $20 a piece and the manufacturer suggests changing them every six months. I usually end up changing them three or four times a year as I see a need. Besides the filter, you’ll also want to look around for any leaks in the hoses or air ducts. You’d be shocked at how often you’ll find loose ducts with small gaps and tiny air leaks around older duct work. You might also consider insulating your home’s air ducts which will not only help with heating, but also on cooling.
Keep Your AC Charged and Serviced
Even after all these checks on your own, you’re sometimes better off having a professional come in and look things over, especially if you suspect any problems. Some local utility companies actually offer affordable service plans you can buy that will include a free yearly check or two just to make sure everything is running as it should. A professional technician can also tell you if you the refrigerant should be recharged or if anything may need replacing sooner than you think. You might even want to consider having a full service on your AC unit every year or two. You’ll almost definitely make up the money in energy savings and peace of mind during those hot summer days.
I’ve also made sure to have ceiling fans installed in just about every room in the house this past year so that I can keep my thermostat set a little bit higher but still feel cool with the fans going. I make sure the ceiling fan direction is properly set and, yes, they really do make a big difference when they are running. It’s estimated that you can save 5% of your energy bill for each degree higher you set your thermostat in the summer months.
I hope this helps you save some money this season and helps you and your air conditioner unit last longer and run more efficiently all summer long!