Rushville Republican

May 15, 2013

How to get the most out of your air conditioner this summer

Experts say it's all about preventive maintenance

By Daryl Nelson
ConsumerAffairs.com

— With the summer season fast approaching, many people are either purchasing a new air conditioner or repairing the one they have. Those who have central air conditioning will need a bit of maintenance to make sure it's working at full capacity.

According to the folks at Interstate, a New York City air conditioning and heating company, having routine maintenance on your air conditioner twice a year will save you a lot of money down the road.

Based on the company's statistics, the average household spends more than $2,500 a year on energy bills; $1,100 of that goes to heating and $1,400 goes toward keeping the home cool.

Saving money

A good way to save about $180 a year on air conditioning is to get a programmable thermostat. And changing the coil in your air conditioner will save you good money, too.

"A dirty coil reduces the system's ability to cool your home and causes the system to run longer, increasing your energy costs and shortening the life of your equipment," said the company in a statement. "A dirty coil can raise your bill by 30 percent."

According to Frank Alexander, of Alexander Heating and Air Conditioning in North Carolina, there are certain things you can do to determine if the coil in your air conditioner needs replacing.

The company's website says if a technician tells you that your coil needs replacing, he or she should be able to tell you exactly where the leak is as well. If the technician can't, you should be a little suspicious.

"Freon carries a lubricant and that residue is visible most times below the leak," writes Alexander on the site. "It looks like dark wet spots, like burnt cooking oil. Most of the time this will be visible but it may be impossible to see it. Ask your technician how they determined the leak was in the coil. They should be able to tell you where the leak is."

Additionally, you should make sure the technician is using a Freon detector and not just going by what he or she thinks, says Alexander.

"Have the technician show that they have used a Freon detector and that detector has indicated a leak or soap bubbles and ask to see the leak with the soap bubbles," he says.

Another sign that your coil needs replacing says Alexander, is always having to add Freon to the air conditioner. When Freon leaks out of your air conditioning unit, it's a definite sign that your coil may need to be changed, he says.

Lubricating your system

Not having enough lubrication in your air conditioning unit is another reason it may not be working the way it should be.

Some experts say you may be able to add oil yourself, but you might need a professional depending on how modern the AC's motor is. Newer motors may have sealed ports so you aren't able to add oil. You'll need to check your owners guide to verify. If you do find ports, turn the AC's power completely off and add five drops of electric motor oil.

Experts say not to use all-purpose oil, since it's not designed to lubricate your AC's bearings for a long period of time.

Regular maintenance

According to Interstate, one in five people perform maintenance on their air conditioning system themselves, and if the system does lack proper lubricant it could raise your electricity use by 5 percent.

In addition, the company says maintenance on your AC system twice a year will maintain up to 95 percent of its original efficiency and the cost it takes to keep it running properly will be made back quickly through lower electricity bills.

And central air conditioning units should last about 15 years, says Interstate.

"Maintenance doesn't cost, it pays," says the company. "Proper air conditioning maintenance can help your unit last decades." 

"On the flip-side, a neglected air conditioner loses roughly 5 percent of its efficiency each year that it operates without upkeep. So that green machine you bought to stay cool could start to function like the most inefficient thing on the market, if you fail to perform regular air conditioning maintenance."

Lastly, it's important to change or replace the AC's filter monthly, says Interstate. By doing so, the AC won't need to work as hard, which can save you money as well.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.