There is almost no feeling in the world more pleasing than the arrival of warm weather in Pittsburgh. The sun and pleasant air are applauded by everyone after a seemingly interminable winter has come to an end. People’s moods are even affected by the warmer weather making the onset of summer even more desirable.
If you are looking to keep your home cool as well as save some dough during the summer months, your HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) is a great place to start.
There are a number of things that can go wrong within the air conditioning system that can cause it to work improperly or even work not at all. And these problems will have less of an impact if they are prevented rather than cured.
Seasonal HVAC system maintenanceis of the utmost importance and it’s something that should not be ignored or put off.
Here are some great ways to get your home ready for the summer heat.
Let’s start with a checklist to take care of the HVAC system inside of your home.
Don’t lose your cool . . . Change the filter
As a general rule of thumb, the changing season signifies that it’s time to change your HVAC system filter. Routinely cleaning and changing filters—at least every three months — will help keep the air conditioning in your home working at its best. This is something you can do yourself quite easily. Simply purchase a new filter and replace the old one. If you have pets or if someone in your family suffers from allergies or if someone in your home is a smoker, filters should be changed more frequently, about every 30 days.
Filter Tip: Try using high quality pleated filters that have an electrostatic charge. This functions like a magnet so they can grasp very small particles, including those that transmit germs.
AC Fact: The motivation for the first AC unit wasn’t comfort. Rather, Willis Carrier invented a modern air conditioner in 1902 for a publishing company in New York that was experiencing problems with the ink control and paper expansion/contraction due to varying humidity levels.
Keeping cool is a breeze . . . Maximize air flow with fans
Many people use their ceiling fans in their home until it just gets too hot. Then they turn the fan off and rely on their air conditioner. That’s a mistake. Using your air conditioner and ceiling fan in tandem can save you some serious money. But to do that, you have to use them properly.
Here’s how. The fan needs to turn in the right direction to actually cool you off. Don’t worry about clockwise or counterclockwise. The fan should be pushing the air down and you should be able to feel a breeze when standing directly under it. If you don’t, turn off the fan and flip the switch that changes the direction of the blades.
Next, turn up the thermostat. If you only turn on your fan, you’ll really be using more energy than you were without it. Instead, turn up your thermostat 2-3 degrees at the same time. The breeze created by your fan should keep you comfortable. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “If you use air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort.”
Lastly, turn off fans in unoccupied rooms. Fans do not lower the temperature. Instead, they simply make the air feel cooler. This is the same reason windy days feel colder than normal days even if the temperature is the same (wind chill). So, leaving fans on in unoccupied rooms only wastes money.
AC Fact: Even though the Great Depression was in full swing, movie theaters were among the first businesses to use air conditioning. People would flock to see a movie in the summertime in order to cool off, so theaters began releasing their biggest films during the summer months, hence the ever-popular “summer blockbuster.”
Playing it cool . . . Check the ducts
Lastly, but most important, don’t overlook the supply ducts. Check that every vent is open and that air can pass freely. Furniture, rugs and curtains shouldn’t block the output for your air conditioner.
Some homes have dampers within their HVAC system ductwork. These dampers are designed to control the flow of air through specific rooms or even entire floors. Unlike registers that are visible through grilles on the floor or ceiling, dampers are mostly hidden inside ductwork. Look for what you can see, handles or knobs on the exterior of ducts which you can rotate from the outside. They allow you to position the dampers open, closed or somewhere in between.
Your air filter plays an important part in trapping dust, mold and other airborne materials, but it does not block 100% of these particles. Some still make their way through it and continue along to the ducts. Ducts can be the breeding ground for dust mites, rodents and insects when your system is not in use. Inspecting them is a must.
If you’re experiencing indoor air quality issues – if someone in your home is suffering from severe allergies or asthma attacks or if you suspect there may be mold growing inside you HVAC system – you might want to consider having your ducts professionally cleaned.
AC Fact: When AC systems were first introduced, the output settings were measured in “Ice Power.” In other words, how many blocks of ice it would take to produce the same amount of cooling power.
Now, let’s review the checklist for the outdoor AC unit.
Clear around the HVAC unit . . . Oh yeah, that’s cool!
If applicable, the next thing to do is examine the HVAC systems’ outdoor unit.
Just because you feel the effects of your air conditioning system indoors doesn’t mean the outdoor area adjacent to your HVAC unit isn’t just as important to maintain.
Everyone likes and admires a clean yard around their property, but in order to keep your filters clean and your indoor air quality in top-notch shape, you need to give your AC unit some space. The unit usually requires about two to three feet of space around the area it is located. Many times, fallen branches, unkempt bushes and hedges and various other kinds of debris and dirt can clog your filters and hinder the effectiveness of your outdoor HVAC system. Make sure to free and clear the area around the AC unit of anything that could prevent you from enjoying quality indoor air all summer.
Storm Tip: Your HVAC system is subject to power outages and storm damage from debris, hail, fallen trees and lightning. If you’re expecting a storm, cover your HVAC system with a heavy canvas to help protect it. Turn it off during a major storm to prevent power surges from damaging the system. After the storm, check the system before turning it on to make sure it wasn’t damaged.
AC Fact: In 1736, members of the British Parliament cooled the rooms in the British House of Commons by hand-cranking a 7-foot blowing wheel. They called the man who cranked the wheel the Ventilator.
Don’t blow your cool . . . Have your AC checked
Condenser coil. This is also a part of your outside HVAC system. It cools the refrigerant in the system that keeps the house cool. A dirty coil will force your system to work overtime and can shorten the life of the coil as well. Allow a professional to clean the coil to extend the life of your unit and lower your energy bill.
The various lines connecting your HVAC system require insulation. These may have been stripped, cracked or damaged during the winter. In addition, too much sun exposure to the raw piping can create problems and system breakdowns. Look for any damage to the visible piping’s insulation and if it needs replacement, do so before turning your system on. And always turn to a professional for assistance.
The next thing you need do when you are inspecting the AC unit is to check the panels. They enclose the electrical system that connects the unit to the inside. If one of these panels is missing or damaged, it could have a disastrous effect. This is also something that needs to be repaired by a trained HVAC professional.
AC Fact: Prior to AC, homes and buildings were designed with high ceilings, breezeways, sleeping porches, landscaping to create shadows and more so that inhabitants would stay cool. When AC became the norm, architects stopped building for the cooling effect (making it that much harder when we have to go without AC.)
Cool beans . . . Help Your HVAC Do Its Job
To help get the biggest bang out of your HVAC buck, use these energy-saving tips.
Get a programmable (or smart) thermostat. So-called smart thermostats allow you to program the temperature settings in your home. If you know you’re not going to be home, you can schedule your unit to turn off or let the indoor temperature rise a bit. Not only does this help save money but running a climate-controlled schedule can help prevent your AC from working too hard during the warmest months.
Set your thermostat to your ideal temperature, not any colder. Setting the air conditioner to a colder-than-desired temperature doesn’t cool down your house any quicker – it just keeps the unit working longer than necessary. You can save up to 1% on your yearly cooling bill every time you raise the temperature by one degree for a period of eight hours.
Get a dehumidifier. Humidity is the high density of moisture in the air. When it comes to your AC system, it can lead to rust, mineral build-up and other corrosive residue. Employing a dehumidifier will reduce the amount of humidity in there and help your home stay cool. Plus, it will extend the longevity of your AC system.
According to Trane, one of our retail partners, homeowners can also help boost their HVAC system’s efficiency by:
Closing blinds or drapes to block sunlight during the hottest part of the day.
Installing awnings over windows exposed to the direct sunlight
Not placing lamps, TVs or other heat-producing appliances beneath wall-mounted thermostats, as “rising heat from that equipment may cause the air conditioning system to overcool your house.”
When you work to make your home and your HVAC unit complement one another, you can save money on your utility bill. If you’re trying to avoid replacing your unit, you can keep it going for years to come by making sure it’s not going to be overloaded or overworked. You can also enjoy a much more comfortable home at the perfect temperature, not matter what the thermometer reads outside.
AC Fact: The amount of energy that the U.S. uses annually to power our air conditioners is equivalent to the amount of energy used annually by the entire continent of Africa.
Even with routine maintenance, no HVAC unit can last forever. While proper preventative care will no doubt extend the life of your current HVAC system and keep it running at optimum performance levels longer, eventually you’ll need to replace or upgrade your unit.