A central air conditioning system is a complex piece of machinery. And like any other complex machine, it can accumulate little faults and problems over time that add up, causing it to run less efficiently. This can grow into a bigger problem, because your central air conditioner by itself can consume up to 6% of your home’s total energy budget. This guide can help you make sure you’re getting the most air conditioning relief for your energy dollar.
A Clean Machine Is a Happy Machine
Dust, dirt, and debris accumulate everywhere, and they’re the enemies of a smoothly functioning machine. A central air system is no different. One of the places dirt accumulates most rapidly is on the AC filter, and a dirty filter makes the system work harder to force air through it. Be aware of the manufacturer’s instructions on when to replace your filter (or wash it, for reusable filters). This is usually about every one or two months.
You should also be sure to keep the outside unit clean so air can flow through it freely. Don’t allow leaves and sticks to accumulate in the condenser fins on the outside of the unit. Cut back vegetation that’s growing closer than two feet to the unit.
Once a year or so, shut down power to the unit and clean it off. Vacuum the fins carefully so as not to bend them — don’t use a pressure washer! Your local hardware store should have condenser coil cleaner and fin combs that will help you clean and straighten bent fins. Open the unit and vacuum out any leaves or debris that have accumulated inside, and wipe down the fan blades with a soft cloth.
Choose Your Settings Intelligently
How you set your air conditioner has a major effect on how hard it has to work. The US Department of Energy recommends you set your thermostat no lower than 78 degrees in summer for best performance.
There are a couple of investments you can make to assist your air conditioner. Ceiling fans can help keep your house cool much cheaper than running your air conditioner on full blast. And a programmable or smart thermostat can help you set your central air system to operate only when you’re home, so you don’t waste energy keeping your house cool when no one is there.
Improve Your House’s Energy Efficiency
The cooler and more efficient your house is on its own, the easier it is on your central air conditioner. Having your local utility do an energy audit of your house is usually free and will help you identify areas where you can save energy and money. Make sure your house is properly sealed and insulated so cool air can’t escape. Install double-glazed windows instead of single-pane, and shade windows that are heated by direct sunlight with awnings, blinds, or curtains.
Seek Professional Help
While these tips can help keep your air conditioner running efficiently, they’re still no substitute for professional maintenance. A professional will be able to spot and fix problems you may miss, as well as lubricate the moving parts, clean and repair your duct work, and recommend improvements that will save you money in the long run. You should plan to have your air conditioner professionally serviced every year.
Following these suggestions may seem like a lot of work, but it will pay off in terms of lower energy bills and longer air conditioner life.