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A few simple steps help you keep it cool

POSTED: July 8, 2010 7:02 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Lawson Air Conditioning & Plumbing service technician Doug Corbin changes out a compressor on a Trane chiller on Thursday at the Pilgrim's Pride hatchery in Talmo.

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It sure is hot out there.

And by “out there,” we mean the area outside of our cool, air-conditioned homes, apartments and offices. How did anyone ever survive a Southern summer before A/C?

The downside, though, is that every time that cool air clicks on, it’s more money added to your electric bill. But with a few simple tips — and the help, on occasion, of a professional, you can keep your air conditioner running smoothly and efficiently.

For example, make sure your filter is clean.

“We suggest, if you don’t have a professional service company change it, change it when you change your clocks,” said Jeff Dale, vice president of Lawson Air Conditioning & Plumbing in Gainesville.

Bonnie Jones, director of communications for Jackson EMC, suggested checking your filter a little more often — once a month — to make sure it’s not too filled up with dirt and dust.

“Make sure it doesn’t need cleaning — that makes it work harder,” she said.

Because, it turns out, getting the thick, expensive filter isn’t necessarily the best choice for your machine. The better the filter, the more dirt and hair it will catch — but that also means less air is flowing through, making your A/C unit work harder.

“Low air flow could be from a dirty filter, or from the coil on the indoor unit being dirty,” added Dale, comparing the coil on the inside of your air conditioner to the radiator on your car. “An air conditioner doesn’t blow cold air, it removes the heat from the air. It’s transferring heat through the refrigerant, so it’s important that the coil in the indoor unit and the coil in the outdoor unit needs to be clean.

“That needs to be done by a professional.”

But other ways to make sure your A/C system is running efficiently is by checking to make sure all the vents in the house are open, and by keeping all the doors open so air can easily circulate.

When properly installed, A/C units are made to cool the entire living space, so if there’s a hot spot in one area, it will end up working harder to cool down the whole space.

And if you’re gone for a good part of the day, make sure you don’t set your thermostat too far from your ideal indoor temperature.

On extremely hot or cold days like we’ve been having, your A/C unit will have to work a lot harder to bring your house down from a warmer temperature.

“You can do it 10 degrees (difference from day to evening) in the fall and it will catch up,” Dale said, of the work your A/C unit will have to do. “But on a 90-degree day, you want to keep the extreme closer. So, you want to cool the air in the house, but you have to think about everything — your couch, the walls — you have to cool down.”

And, he added, keep in mind that every time you adjust the thermostat, you’re adding to your electric bill. Even an adjustment from 78 F to 77 F means the air conditioner has to work harder, causing you to draw more power.

Jones said homeowners can check their ducts, too, for any leaks. That way, it keeps warmer air from creeping into the cooled air — and keeps the cooled air directed at where it needs to go.

If you’ve checked your filter, vents, thermostat and ducts and you still hear the cash register’s ding whenever the A/C clicks on, then maybe it’s time to call a professional.

That’s when you’ll get the unit’s refrigerant charged, coils cleaned and a check for any condensation problems.

“You have to be licensed to handle refrigerant,” Dale said. “A lot of calls we get are condensate — water problems. People have water on the ceiling or the floor around their unit; that’s because as that warm air goes across the unit, it dehumidifies.”

On a typical summer day, he said, an A/C unit can emit 5 gallons of water. If the drain gets backed up, it could get pretty messy.
Jones said Jackson EMC offers a tool on its website to allow you to calculate the amount of energy used by your house and whether it falls within normal guidelines. If you’ve tried all the options and you’re still worried about that high power bill, it might be time to bite the bullet and get a new air conditioner.

“If you have one that’s running and running and running, invest in a new one,” she said. “If you have to do that, now is the time because there are state and federal tax credits that will help folks do that.”

The new unit must be Energy Star certified to qualify for tax credits, but the result is a more efficient system that will save you money over time.



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