How to Keep Your Air Conditioner in Optimal Condition

The most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace or clean your filters. Dirty, clogged filters reduce the amount of air flow and significantly reduce system efficiency. Look for the minimum filter efficiency reporting value, or MERV, which ranges from 1 to 12 for domestic air conditioning units; the higher the number, the better the filtration (and the more energy it will take to extract air through it, so balance air quality concerns with energy costs). Ducts can lose up to 30 percent of airflow due to leaks, and window air conditioning units are notoriously difficult to seal properly.

To find leaks, you can use the old “smoke trick”. The air compressor and condenser in a central air conditioning system are usually located outside the house, near the foundation. It works best when there's around 24 inches of free space in all directions, so make sure to get rid of nearby shrubs, tall grass, leaves, and hanging branches. Federal laws require air conditioning units to be much more efficient than they were just 10 years ago.

For central air conditioning, look for the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER; for window units, the measurement is simply called the energy efficiency ratio, or EER. The standards require a SEER of 13 and an EER of 8, but devices with higher numbers will cost less to operate. Air conditioners aren't designed to last forever. Like all appliances, air conditioning units need routine maintenance and cleaning to perform at their best and provide you with the highest return on your investment. With proper maintenance, your air conditioner can provide your home with exceptional comfort for up to 15 years.

Air conditioners and HVAC systems need to be checked regularly by experts to work efficiently for a long time. At the very least, you should try to repair your air conditioner every year, in early to mid-spring. However, for optimal performance, it would be in your best interest to have your unit serviced in the fall as well. An HVAC contractor will focus on your furnace to prepare your system to deal with heating demands once temperatures cool down. While sometimes it may not seem necessary, preventive maintenance is better than having to repair a broken HVAC system. When the central air conditioning service fails during a heat wave, you may have to wait days for an HVAC repair technician to arrive and you'll probably pay at least several hundred dollars for the repair. An air conditioner consumes a lot of energy and electrical faults can definitely lead to risks of fire or, even worse, electrocution.

Charleston homeowners don't always need a professional HVAC contractor to maintain their air conditioners. In addition to keeping monthly cooling costs low, air conditioner maintenance can also help you avoid the cost of expensive repairs or premature replacement services. Regardless of how often you service your air conditioning unit, the technician will perform the same set of tasks to ensure that the system is in good working order. These tasks include checking electrical connections and components; inspecting belts and pulleys; cleaning evaporator coils; checking refrigerant levels; inspecting ducts for leaks; checking thermostat settings; and cleaning or replacing filters. Use this handy inspection checklist to evaluate your HVAC system and then schedule an appointment for any air conditioner maintenance or repair you need before summer begins.

While many people let their HVAC technician worry about the air conditioner filter, you should actually change it at least every 90 days. Just make sure you read the fine print and know if you receive HVAC services annually or twice a year, or if the contract includes repairs and emergency calls. One way to save money and keep your HVAC in tip-top condition is to get an annual HVAC service plan. In addition, it is necessary to check the structural integrity of your furnace to ensure that there are no problems that could negatively affect air quality.

Scheduling service during the winter months is also not recommended, as operating the unit in cold weather may damage it.

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