Air Conditioners: From Maintenance to Buying New
By: Danny Lipford
Staying cool is on the top of most people’s minds during the hot summer months. But what if your air conditioner isn’t working properly, or you don’t have one at all? Whether your existing AC is in need of upkeep or you’re in the market for a new one, read on for some helpful tips to keep you cool!
Maintain AC Units for Maximum Performance
By performing regular maintenance on your air conditioner, you will not only extend the life of the unit, but your home will remain at a comfortable temperature without an uncomfortably high energy bill.
How to Maintain Window, Portable, and Wall AC Units
If you have window units, the most important maintenance step is to change the air filter regularly. Most window units have a simple filter in the front grill area. Clean it once a month during cooling season and be sure to replace it when it has any holes or just appears worn. Also, be sure to clean the air conditioner properly by vacuuming around it to remove any dust and dirt that will clog up the unit and cause it to not work properly.
During the off season, if possible, take the unit out of the window and store in a dry location. If you must keep the unit in the window, be sure to cover the part that is exposed to the outside.
How to Maintain Central AC Units
For central air conditioning units, the single best way to keep yours working properly year after year is to have it serviced annually by a trained HVAC professional. They will take care of the many items related to maintaining the unit and be able to perform any necessary repairs or “tune-ups”.
Beyond that, be sure to keep the unit outside free from leaves and debris by raking around it and spraying off the unit with water. And make sure, above all, to change the air filter inside the house every few months or more.
Choosing a New Air Conditioner Unit
If your air conditioner is older than 12-15 years, it may be time to purchase a new unit. When it comes time to purchase a new air conditioner, a little homework will ensure you will get the best unit for your needs and keep energy costs to a minimum.
There are various types of air conditioner units to choose from including window, portable, through the wall, and central. With each type there are many brands to choose from, size and energy ratings to consider, and additional useful features.
The rating used to choose an energy efficient central air unit is called SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating). The higher the SEER the number, the better. The current national efficiency standard for SEER is 13, but that is the absolute minimum. Look for anything over 13, and keep in mind that the higher the SEER rating the more efficient your unit will be.
Terms you might hear when buying an air conditioner unit include:
- Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE): This estimates how much heat a unit delivers for every dollar spent on fuel. The higher the AFUE, the lower your heating bills.
When choosing a window unit the most important factor is the size of the room you wish to cool and the cooling power, or BTUs, of the unit you choose. Here’s a general guide for window air conditioners based on room size:
- 12′ x 12′ room: 5,000 BTU unit
- 16′ x 16′ room: 7,000 BTU unit
- 20′ x 20′ room: 10,000 BTU unit
- 24′ x 24′ room: 14,000 BTU unit
For a more accurate measurement, use the Air Conditioner Sizing Calculator at Consumer Reports.
In addition to size, make sure the AC unit you buy:
- Has an EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) of 11 or higher
- Carries the EnergyStar label
- Has a low noise rating
- Provides good air flow
- Uses a permanent or reusable air filter
- Has various speed settings
Portable AC Units
Basically a window unit on wheels, a portable air conditioner uses an exhaust tube, which must be vented outside, to remove hot air from the room. They are portable in the sense that they don’t require permanent installation. Most units come with a window venting kit that allows you to prepare a window for the exhaust tube.
When choosing a portable air conditioner, consider many of the same factors you would with a window unit. These units are ideal for an area in your home that needs either additional cooling or is not usually occupied.
Through the Wall Units
These type of AC units are similiar to what you often find in a hotel room; and are excellent for large open rooms, one-room apartments, or a remodeled garage. They can offer the benefit of both heating and cooling, functioning primarily as an extremely large window unit. In addition to the considerations above, keep in mind the size required for the wall opening.
Central Air Conditioners
When it comes to choosing a central air conditioner, there are many factors involved, such as the size of your home and the amount of windows and insulation contained in your home. The single best choice you can make is to choose a reputable air conditioning contractor who will determine the correct system for your home. As with any contractor, check references, ask questions about warranties (limited vs. extended), and get several comparable bids.
Once you’ve selected a contractor, they will determine the correct size and type of unit for your home to ensure the air conditioner isn’t too large or too small for your home.
- How to Reduce Air Conditioning Energy Costs (video)
- How to Keep Your House Cool During a Heat Wave (article)
- How to Choose a Portable Air Conditioner for Your Home (article)