Air Conditioning Tips For A Cooler Summer

Super easy tips to make sure your air conditioner keeps you cool this summer.

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Matt Anderson's Take
With summer temperatures getting hotter and hotter each year, many of us rely on our air conditioners to keep our homes cool. A hot home can make living and sleeping unbearable so keeping your AC unit running at peak efficiency is important. Follow these tips to keep your air conditioner running cold.

Change Filters


Changing your filter every month is one of the easiest things you can do to help your HVAC system run better. A clean filter allows more air to enter the cooling unit and thus more cold air to come out. Air filters get clogged with all sorts of dust, dander, pet hair, and other airborne debris so pop in a new one regularly. Buy 12 air filters at a time and you'll be good for an entire year.

Open / Close Doors


Any room that has an HVAC register in it (a vent where the air comes out) should have its interior doors left open whenever possible. Closing a door makes it harder for the air in your home to properly circulate and your home won't cool as well.

The exception to this would be closets. If your closet doesn't have an HVAC register in it then closing that closet door will give your air conditioner less space too cool down. So, close closets that don't have a register in them.

Open Vents / Registers

Keep all of those air vents / registers fully open so air can circulate around your home properly. Use the directional fins to adjust which direction the air blows in but don't close them off.

Clean Condenser


The condenser is that large unit outside of your house. It basically works like the radiator in your car so it requires good air flow through the aluminum cooling fins. Over time, this unit will get quite dirty with dust and dirt so it needs to be cleaned each month.

Cleaning it is quite easy. First, shut of your HVAC completely and never wash the outdoor unit when it's running. Second, grab a garden hose and spray the metal fins, starting at the top and working your way down. Avoid spraying the fan motor and any other electronic bits, focus just on the metal coils.

Only after it's completely dry can you turn the air conditioning back on. If it's not dry you'll put added strain on the unit if you turn it on. Also note that if your coils are especially dirty, you can buy coil cleaning products to help you along.

Clean Interior Coils

The indoor part of your central air conditioning unit also has a set of coils that needs to be clean from time to time. Often, this is done as part of an annual checkup and cleaning that an HVAC company will provide. It usually involves going into an attic or basement to access the interior coils, popping off a panel (when the unit is off), and cleaning the coils with vacuum and / or soap and water. It might get a bit messy and may best be left to the professionals.

Check Refrigerant Levels


This isn't something you can really do on your own as it requires a special set of gauges and refrigerant refills (which usually require a certificate/license to get). Leave this to the pros and have them do a system check annually. If your refrigerant is low they'll top it off and also be able to repair leaks if needed. Running a system without too little or too much refrigerant means your system isn't running efficiently, it will cost more to operate, and you may be damaging it.

Duct Seal


This is a pretty easy DIY job for most homeowners. Air conditioning duct work is often quite leaky. It's just metal tubes and where they connect is usually not airtight. You can use aluminum tape (but, ironically, don't use duct tape as it dries out) anywhere one piece of duct connects to another, as well as covering screw holes with it.

You can also use a duct mastic that you spread on with a putty knife. The mastic is a little messy but it's not too difficult to apply. Pop off each register (vent cover) and apply the mastic inside to cover the joint where the duct connects to the register. A system that is sealed will allow more air to reach each room rather than leaking out into your attic or walls.

Attic Insulation & Ventilation


If you have an air conditioner and / or ductwork that runs through a hot attic you can take steps to better insulate and cool that attic space. To start, consider adding more insulation to the attic floor. Most home improvement centers will rent a machine that will let you blow in more insulation. It's messy but easy to do.

On top of that, try ventilating the attic space with an attic fan or roof fan. Getting more hot air out of the attic means the air conditioner can cool more efficiently. If you want to go all out, try a radiant barrier product to help reflect the sun's heat before it gets into your attic.

Shade Condenser Unit


Shading the outdoor condenser unit so it isn't in the direct sun can really help it operate more efficiently. Consider planting shade trees or adding a shade sail to protect it from the sun. This will also help the unit last longer as it won't be damaged by the sun's rays. Just make sure to keep several feet of clearance around the unit.

If you've seen those HVAC mister products, the kind that spray a mist of water on the condenser coils to keep it cooler, be sure to skip those. Although the concept is solid, they just don't work well and don't last. I've tried these and they just leak and break apart and often leave mineral deposits on the cooling fins which does more harm than the misting does good.

Clear Out Space Around Condenser


While I just mentioned shading the outdoor condensing unit, it's important that you don't crowd the unit either. If you plant a tree keep it several feet away. If you add a shade sail above the unit it needs to be up very high so it doesn't impede the flow of hot air blowing out of the condenser.

You'll want to keep the area around the condenser unit free of dirt, leaves, yard items, and so on. Condenser units generally pull in cool air from the side and shoot that air (which will then be hot) out the top. If any of that airflow is blocked the unit won't run efficiently and you'll risk burning out the condensor motor faster.
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