Home cooling: beat the heat and cut costs

By Reg Deck, AmeriSpec of Canada

There are many steps you can take to cut back on air conditioning costs in your home, so before getting into buying and maintaining an air conditioner, let’s take a look at what you can do to either negate the need for one, or cut back on air conditioning costs:

  • Create shade over windows:
    • By planting deciduous shrubs or trees (so the leaves fall to let the sun in in the winter)
    • Installing awnings
    • Keeping the blinds closed on sunny days
  • Don’t use the stove on hot days. Use a toaster oven, or better yet, cook outside on the BBQ instead.
  • Use compact fluorescent or better yet, LED lights
  • Keep lights, computers, and any other heat generating electronics or appliances off when possible
  • Hang clothes to dry instead of using the dryer
  • Open the windows at night when the air is cooler, and close them during the day to keep the cool air in

Air Conditioner Buying and Repair

If you require a cooler room or home than the above tips can supply, and are looking to buy an air conditioner, here are some tips to getting the most for your money:

The most energy efficient units come with a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). A new air conditioner will have a rating between 10 and 17, with 17 being the most efficient.
It’s also a good idea to consider what type of refrigerant is being used in the unit. Until recently, only Freon units were available, which contains atmosphere damaging chlorine compounds that wreak havoc on the ozone layer and worsen global warming. Instead of Freon based units, look for Puron refrigerant based units, which do not contain these ozone depleting chemicals.

Once you choose your unit, to keep it in good shape, here are some air conditioner maintenance tips:

  • Inspect the blower fan filter regularly and replace it at least every two months
  • Clean the outdoor coil to keep debris, dust, leaves, etc. off. A vacuum is a good way to clean of debris, after which a hose can be used to carefully clean the coil.
  • Regularly clean and lubricate the blower fan and outdoor fan if applicable (follow the manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Close the humidifier damper during the summer if there is one
  • If you regularly do these things, and you still have a poorly performing unit, make sure to have it looked at by a professional. Regular servicing is necessary for your air conditioner, just like any mechanical equipment. Be sure to become familiar with all manufacturer recommendations and maintenance requirements, and your unit will not only perform better, but it will last longer.

Testing your unit:

If tested at the wrong time, an air conditioner can be damaged. Be sure to test only when the air temperature has NOT been below 18ºC in the past 24 hours, or when the power has been on for less than 12 to 24 hours. This may cause the compressor to mix with lubricating oil, potentially leading to the compressor seizing up (likely wrecking the unit).

Although air conditioners are complicated pieces of equipment, many of their parts can be repaired or replaced if proper maintenance is regularly carried out. However, even with the best maintenance, your air conditioner will not last forever, and they are usually not worth repairing once the compressor fails, which has a life expectancy of about 12 years. At the end of its life, make sure to have your air conditioner properly and safely disposed of, either through your city’s waste collection program, or through a local air conditioning company (Home Depot may recycle it for you in certain areas). Call your city’s waste disposal department for more information.