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maintenance on an air conditioner

Air conditioners may seem like complex machines with coils, fans, wiring and loud noises, but your air conditioner actually cools your home using the natural movement of heat energy and the refrigerant’s ability to absorb and release heat under varying pressure changes. Of course, there are a few other important details to know about the air conditioning system in your Columbia home. With a good understanding of air conditioning basics, you’ll have a greater appreciation for the job it performs and the elements that affect home cooling, comfort and energy bills.

Air Conditioning Basics

The typical split-system air conditioner has an indoor air handler that houses the evaporator coil, condensate drain and blower. The blower pulls warm airflow into the return ducts and across the cold evaporator coil. The nature of heat energy is to move from a warmer to cooler location, so the cold evaporator absorbs heat from the air, which cools the airflow as it’s blown back to your home.

Heat is released by the outdoor half of the system at the condenser coil. A compressor, which is also in the outdoor cabinet, pumps the refrigerant responsible for heat exchange between the evaporator and condenser.

Air Conditioner Maintenance

All of this heat exchange and air movement requires regular professional maintenance and simple homeowner tasks for efficient cooling. As a homeowner, you want to be vigilant about checking the air filter each month and replacing it every one to three months. A device as simple as an air filter can increase energy usage 10 to 15 percent if it becomes clogged with dirt.

Professional maintenance entails a complete system diagnostics. The condensate system and evaporator are checked for water and airflow blockages, respectively, which may be caused by mold and accumulated debris. Electronic components are inspected, the compressor is checked for leaks and dozens more checks are performed.

Lighten the Cooling Load

If you really want to do your air conditioning system a favor, reduce the cooling load of your home. An air conditioner’s capacity is specific to its BTUs. If your home is leaky or lacking insulation, the extra load taxes the air conditioner and your pocketbook.

Air leaks commonly occur around window framing, the attic hatch, door trim and punctures through the envelope from pipes and wiring. Caulk, weatherstripping and a can of expanding spray-in foam can seal up your home nicely.

Check the insulation in the attic. If you use fiberglass, it should be about 15 to 20 inches deep. Don’t forget to insulate the back of the attic door. You can check wall insulation by removing outlet plates on each exterior wall. You won’t be able to check R-value, as with an energy audit, but you can at least see if insulation is present. If it’s not, spray-in foam is a practical solution for insulating walls.

Check the Air Ducts

Please remember to check the air ducts — the unsung heroes of the HVAC system. No matter the efficiency of your air conditioning system, if the ducts are of poor design, leaky and damaged, your comfort and energy budget are going to suffer.

Look for dirt streaks at duct connections. You’re also looking for fallen ducts, damaged or tangled flex ducts and dirty diffusers and grilles. Duct leaks can be wrapped with heat-resistant metal tape. An HVAC professional is going to use duct mastic, which is a gooey paste sealant, and sheet metal screws, in addition to metal tape. Use your resources the best you can, and call your technician for assistance if necessary.

Ducts outside the living spaces should be insulated. Some metal ducts have insulation on the inside walls. You can check this by shining a flashlight into a diffuser. If the ducts aren’t insulated, wrap them with fiberglass rolls. Ducts transmit heat energy, and they can increase your cooling and heating costs by 20 percent if insulation is missing.

For more information about air conditioning your Columbia home, turn to Griffith Energy Services, Inc.’s air conditioning services, or call 888-474-3391888-474-3391 FREE to speak with an HVAC professional.

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