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Fri, Dec. 06

Here Comes Summer... Is Your A/C Ready?

There are those who say you don't need air conditioning in the quad-city area.

Then there are the rest of us.

Many people don't do much with or for their air conditioning unit until it breaks down, simply ignoring it all winter and then cranking it up when the thermometer climbs.

But that can be an expensive way to cool your home, and breakdowns can be avoided in many cases, Chino Heating and Cooling's Abraham Verduzco said. Besides, improved efficiency saves money in between repairs.

"If you can catch a problem early, it can save trouble later," because some problems can escalate and cause worse internal electrical disasters, he said.

He said having an a/c unit checked at the beginning of the season can prevent major problem later.

Start with the condenser and evaporator coils. Dirty coils put more strain on the system and cost you more money because they make the unit less efficient. Clean them before you turn on the system.

Change air filters once a month: same thing applies here. Clogged air filters cost you money and reduce the life of the unit. Clean filters can improve efficiency 15 percent.

Insulate ductwork. If it runs through a hot attic, that heat - which can rise to well over 100 degrees - will warm up your nice cool air. Insulation prevents that. Also, sealing leaks keeps cool air in and dust, pollen and other allergens out of your home. Arizona Public Service recommends you hire a qualified air conditioning contractor to do an analysis of your system and pinpoint problems.

Verduzco said refrigerant leaks are one of the nasty surprises people get when they first try to cool their house after months of the unit sitting idle.

A technician will need to find those leaks and repair them or tighten fittings. Older units will need to be refilled with R-22 refrigerant, which runs about $60 a pound; newer ones use less expensive refrigerant.

And air conditioners do get too old for the job, Verduzco said. They typically have a lifespan of about 10 years, meaning that, even though it still runs, the unit will never be as efficient as it once was.

Here are some operation tips that can save money:

Make sure you don't have a lamp or other heat source near the thermostat. It'll fool the thermostat into thinking the room is warm and make the a/c run longer.

Most experts agree that 78 degrees is the optimum setting for that thermostat, balancing cost vs. comfort. If you don't have a programmable model (and you should - they can pay for themselves), turning it way down when you get home and the house is warm will not make it cool any faster, but it will make the a/c work harder, so don't bother.

Check the condensation drain to make sure it isn't plugged.

Don't close off vents in unused rooms. It sounds logical and we've all done it for years, but it actually leads to inefficiency. It puts backpressure on the fan, which forces it to work harder, use more power, and, ultimately, wear out faster.

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