Heating and cooling a home are among the largest energy expenses most Americans face, says the U.S. Department of Energy.
Right now, you might be enjoying low utility bills, especially if you live in a climate with perfect spring weather. But the “I can’t believe it’s this hot!” summer days are here. We are now running out air conditioning around the clock just to stay comfortable.
That could cost you a lot of money if your system isn’t ready. These simple steps can prepare your AC for this summer heat.
1. Change the filters
This is probably the easiest form of air-conditioning maintenance, but many people don’t do it often enough. The filters should be replaced every month or two to keep your AC running smoothly, says the U.S. Department of Energy.
2. Clean the condensation lines
The pipe that carries condensation away from your air conditioner can get clogged. If the pipe becomes clogged, it could back up into the air conditioner — or into your house — and you’ll have a messy problem and a big repair bill.
To combat this, locate where the pipe drains out and make sure it’s draining properly.
3. Install a programmable thermostat
If you don’t already have one, you can gain significant energy savings by installing a programmable thermostat and setting it to reduce the use of air conditioning or heat at times when you don’t need it, like when you’re away for work. Fortunately, these thermostats are pretty easy to install yourself and require only a couple of tools.
Consider an array of programmable thermostat options at many retailers.
4. Clean the coils on the outside unit
During the winter, your AC’s outside unit has been collecting dust, mud and other debris, especially if you don’t use a cover. All of that gunk clogs up the unit, causing your AC to run sluggishly.
For lightly soiled units, disconnect the power and spray down the outside of the unit with a garden hose. For heavily soiled units, buy a commercial air-conditioner cleaner from a hardware store.
5. Clean the fins
Cleaning the fins on an outside unit will help your AC run better. To clean the fins, use a soft brush such as a toothbrush or small car cleaning brush. Gently run the brush across each fin, being careful not to bend the thin metal.
If you do find that these thin metal fins are damaged, there are a variety of tools you can use to straighten them out.
6. Check the concrete slab
After your outside unit is clean, use a level to make sure the concrete slab is level. If it’s not, the unit will have to work harder to keep your house cool.
If the slab isn’t level, pry it up with a board and add gravel underneath in small amounts until it is. Remove the board when you’re done.
7. Remove debris around the outside unit
Plants, leaves, high grass and debris located close to your outside unit can reduce your AC’s performance. Before you start running your AC, cut the grass, clean out any debris and consider removing plants that block the unit.
During the summer, check the unit for debris at least once a month.
8. Check the ductwork for leaks
According to the University of Florida, sealing leaky ducts can generate significant savings on heating and cooling:
“Leaky ducts make your HVAC work much harder — ducts leaking just 20% of the conditioned air passing through them cause your system to work 50% harder.”
Look for disconnected joints, separated pieces and small holes in your ductwork. If you find leaks, seal them with tape carrying an Underwriters Laboratories logo. Fabric and rubber-backed tapes break down quicker.