Another summer is fast approaching, and with it, you’ll want an air conditioner that works effectively, efficiently and reliably throughout the season. Efficient air conditioning means that your home cooling system will keep your indoor living environment as cool as possible with minimal energy consumption. The following is a brief introduction to efficient air conditioning and what it means to you, along with how you can keep your air conditioner working at its best for the current season and for many seasons to come.
The Basics of Efficient Air Conditioning
Air conditioner efficiency means that your cooling equipment uses as little energy as possible to produce the cooling that makes your home comfortable. This affects how much you spend each month on the electrical power required to operate your air conditioning system. Higher-efficiency cooling systems use less energy to produce good amounts of cooling, which means they cost much less to operate on a month-to-month basis. In general, a high-efficiency air conditioner might cost 20 to 40 percent less to operate each month than an equivalent lower-efficiency model.
The efficiency of an air conditioning system is measured by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER. This number applies to central air conditioners, as well as the cooling functions of heat pumps. Many older air conditioners may have relatively low SEER numbers, which indicate low efficiency. However, since January 23, 2006, A/Cs manufactured in the United States have had to carry a SEER rating of at least 13. You can currently find cooling systems with SEER numbers in the mid-20s or higher. A typical mid-range high-efficiency system will have a SEER around 18.
Remember that air conditioning systems are designed to last for many years. It’s not unusual to get 15 or more years of service out of an air conditioner, and even longer if the equipment is well maintained and repaired promptly when needed. This type of longevity means that it pays to keep the equipment in good shape and working at its highest possible level of efficiency over its functional life span. Two of the most important ways of sustaining efficient air conditioning involve working with the equipment itself and working with the household environment.
Equipment Necessary for Efficient Air Conditioning
To maintain efficient air conditioning in your home this summer and for summers to come, start with keeping the cooling system itself in the best possible condition. Maintaining the equipment will pay off in better performance, reduced costs, and extended service life.
- Schedule preventive maintenance – Contact your local trusted HVAC service provider to schedule a preventive maintenance inspection and tune-up. This important series of checks and adjustments should be done at least once a year — usually in the weeks running up to the beginning of cooling season or when outdoor temperatures are expected to require consistent operation of the A/C system.
Preventive maintenance gives a well-trained and qualified expert the chance to check out your cooling system from end to end. He can find minor problems and fix them before they turn into major issues later, as well as make adjustments, small repairs and calibrations that ensure the equipment works at the highest level of efficiency possible.
Ask your HVAC service provider about a service contract that will ensure the company tracks and schedules needed maintenance appointments, relieving you of the need to remember to call for maintenance.
- Change the air filters – As part of regular maintenance, the air filters in the air conditioner should be changed to ensure they stay clean and free of clogs. Ideally, filters should be checked at least every month and changed when they get dirty. In many cases, however, filters are changed only during annual maintenance.
To improve air conditioner performance and efficiency, get in the habit of making this check every month. Filters are responsible for removing particulates such as dust, dirt, pollen, hair, fibers and other material from your indoor air. This helps improve indoor air quality and keeps these contaminants out of your living environment. When filters get too clogged for air to flow through them, the system can be damaged from the lack of airflow. Keep clean filters in your air conditioner to ensure the best operation and efficiency.
- Clean the equipment – The indoor and outdoor units of the A/C should be cleaned, especially the condenser and evaporator coils where heat transfer takes place. The outdoor cabinet should be kept free of accumulations of grass, mud, leaves, sticks and other debris that could impede airflow. Make sure trees, shrubs and other vegetation is trimmed away from the outdoor cabinet to provide plenty of clearance on all sides.
Efficient Air Conditioning and the Indoor Environment
After taking care of the air conditioning equipment, you can turn to the indoor environment to make further changes and adjustments that can improve A/C performance and support efficient air conditioning.
- Improve your home’s seal – Your home’s seal refers to how airtight the structure is, preventing air and energy leaks that can waste conditioned air and cause your HVAC system to work harder than necessary to make up for the loss. Locate any cracks, holes, gaps or other openings in your home’s structure that could account for air loss and seal them with caulking or other appropriate weatherstripping materials. Seal around doors, window frames and casings with latex caulking, and around window panes with clear silicone caulking. Add weatherstripping to doors and windows to seal off drafts and prevent air leaks around the windows and doors themselves. Make sure the windows and doors can still move properly with the weatherstripping in place. Pay particular attention to areas in the walls where wires, conduits, plumbing pipes or other items penetrate the wall.
- Seal the HVAC system’s ductwork – Along with improving the building’s seal, take the time to seal the ducts of the HVAC system. All of the cool air that your air conditioner produces will travel through this network of pipes, so if there are any air leaks in the ducts, substantial amounts of air and energy can be lost before it even gets to your home’s interior.
All sections of ductwork should fit tightly together; they can be fastened with mechanical fasteners such as sheet metal screws. Connections should be sealed with mastic — a type of rubbery sealant designed especially for use on ductwork. Since ductwork is made out of relatively thin metal that can also lose energy, the entire length of the duct system should be insulated with rigid fiberboard insulation or wrapped with standard fiberglass blanket insulation.
- Limit indoor heat gain – Heat gain is the accumulation of heat in your indoor environment from sources such as sunlight, appliances and cooking. As this heat increases, your air conditioner works harder to compensate for it, reducing both effectiveness and efficiency. Take steps to reduce excess heat gain wherever possible. Close drapes and curtains during the day to keep sunlight out of the interior of your home. Avoid using ovens and cooking stoves during the day. When cooking or cleaning, use ventilation fans to vent heat and moisture outdoors.
- Boost insulation – Insulation is important for stopping the flow of heat from a warm space to a cooler one. Without insulation, heat from the external environment will radiate into your home’s indoor spaces, adding heat and reducing A/C performance. Add more insulation to walls, floors, ceilings, foundations and the basement. Pay particular attention to the attic space in your home. This area can get extremely hot, and if it does, that heat will radiate downward and increase temperatures everywhere in your house. Insulate the attic thoroughly to prevent this from happening.
- Use a programmable thermostat – Install an electronic programmable thermostat to improve the level of control you have over A/C operation. Use the thermostat’s pre-programmed set points to reduce air conditioner operation to save money when it’s not needed, then automatically increase cooling to have your home comfortable when you return from work or school.
For more information on maintaining efficient air conditioning, check out Griffith Energy Services’ air conditioning efficiency solutions or call 888-474-3391.
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