We all welcome the warm spring weather after a long cold winter. Before you know it, though, the dog days of summer will be on us, and your air conditioner will start running non-stop. In the summer, your air conditioner accounts for the majority of your electric bills. Those electric bills can take a big bite out of your budget. Why not lower those bills (and extend the life of your air conditioning system) by doing a little HVAC maintenance and limiting the amount of time your air conditioner runs. You can lower your bills considerably just by doing a few simple things:
1. Change the filters in your HVAC system at least every three months. Keeping your filters clean and fresh reduces your system’s energy demands. If your filters are dirty and clogged, your air conditioner has to work harder to circulate the air through the house. Operating your system with dirty filters also reduces the air quality in your home and increases the particulates that can infiltrate your HVAC machinery and cause it to malfunction. Change the filters every three months.
2. Install a programmable thermostat. Cooling your house when no one is home is a waste of energy and money and makes your system work harder than it needs to. Studies have shown that you will save money by raising the temperature when you are not home so that your air conditioner runs less often.
Install a programmable thermostat. You can get a decent one from most hardware or home supply stores for as little as 25 or 30 dollars. You can probably replace the thermostat yourself. If not, hire a handyman. It will pay for itself in no time. Program the thermostat to operate the air conditioner during the hours you need it most. Some pricier “smart” thermostats will learn your lifestyle habits and will program themselves to go on and off when you need it.
Other new types of thermostats can be programmed to operate certain rooms of your house. With those thermostats, you have lots of control over which parts of your house are cooled and when. For example, at night time when everyone is asleep, you need to cool only the bedrooms and not the entire house.
If you choose not to install a new thermostat, you should get in the habit of manually turning the temperature up during the day or when you are not home.
3. Caulk leaky windows and doors. Walk around the outside of your house and run your fingers around your windows and doors. If you feel cold air escaping, you should caulk the leaks. Not only will it save you the expense of cooling the outdoors, it will save you money in winter by keeping out the cold draughts.
4. Close your fireplace flues. Make sure your cool air is not escaping out through your fireplace chimney. Just make sure to remember to open the flues before you build a fire next season.
5. Set the thermostat on the highest temperature setting you can stand and run your fans. Raise the temperature setting on your thermostat and your air conditioner will run less often. If that idea makes you sweat just thinking about it, here is an easy way to acclimate yourself to the warmer temperature. Raise the temperature just one degree each week. Try to get to the point of keeping the temperature set at no lower than 78 degrees. If you have a fan, use it when you are in the room. The moving air will make the room feel cooler than it actually is. Put a big bowl of ice in front of the fan and voila! Instant cool. With a ceiling fan in particular, you might be surprised how comfortable the room will feel with the thermostat set at a warmer temperature. Set your ceiling fan to run counter-clockwise in the summer. Your fan costs less to operate than your air conditioner and it is cheaper to replace when it wears out.
6. Close windows, blinds, and curtains. Close the blinds or curtains to keep the sun from shining in and solar heating the house. Consider installing heavy or insulated draperies to keep the temperature cool in the summer (and warmer in winter). Blackout shades or draperies may be even more efficient. You can also install window film on your windows to reduce the amount of solar heat coming in through the glass.
7. Close the doors and air conditioning vents to unused rooms. You can save money by closing off the rooms you do not use. Examples include guest bedrooms and bathrooms, and basement rooms.
8. Trim trees and shrubs back from your outdoor air conditioning equipment. The outdoor machinery needs unobstructed air circulation to efficiently operate. If plants have overgrown it, they can cause the unit to overheat and malfunction. Additionally, the plants will drop debris into the mechanism which can also cause it to malfunction.
9. Have your air conditioning system professionally inspected and serviced each spring. Find a reputable HVAC contractor and establish an HVAC maintenance agreement with them. They will inspect your system and perform routine service on it. Think of it like a tune up for your car. Their technicians will go over your entire system, inside and outside. They will clean the coils and other dirty parts, check connections, add refrigerant if needed, and conduct any necessary HVAC maintenance, repairs, or adjustments. This small step could prevent a system failure in the heat of the summer. If you do need emergency service during the summer, the contract most likely entitles you to priority service over other customers who do not have such an agreement.
Keeping your air conditioner in good working order is one of the best ways to get the maximum use out of it. A professional and reliable HVAC maintenance technician can advise you on other good HVAC maintenance tips tailored to your needs.