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6 Tips to Help Homeowners Keep AC Costs in Check

Homeowners can play an active role in the preventive maintenance of their AC system, helping to avoid untimely breakdowns while keeping costs in check. To do that, it’s important to gain a general understanding of how an AC system works, along with what can be done to help ensure efficient operation throughout the summer.

Adams Power AC Unit

A home AC system starts with the outdoor unit where the system’s compressor is located. Inside the home, the key component is an evaporator coil that typically is positioned on top of the furnace. The indoor and outdoor units are connected by a refrigerant line set, which is composed of a high-pressure line and a suction line. Additionally, the AC system includes the blower motor and fan inside the furnace, which blows air across the evaporator coil.

“AC systems are designed for a specific amount of air to pass across that coil, preventing it from freezing,” says Peter Fiedler, Residential HVAC Sales at Adams Heating & Cooling. If the furnace’s air filter is too dirty, it restricts airflow increasing the potential of the coil freezing. Sometimes it will even freeze solid leading to damage to the outdoor unit. Water pooling around the bottom of the furnace is one sign that the coil is freezing.

Tip #1: Keep a clean filter

“The first maintenance item a homeowner can take control of is to change the furnace filter,” Fiedler advises. The frequency depends on several factors, such as how dirty the home gets, whether or not there are shedding pets, etc. The quality of the filter also plays a role. Some filters can last several months, while others may only provide a month of useful life. Pay attention to what the filter manufacturer recommends. Most importantly, visually inspect the filter at least once a month.

Tip #2: Cut back vegetation

Heading back outside, the first thing a homeowner can do is make sure the outdoor unit isn’t being obstructed by vegetation. Keep all grass, weeds and plants cut back from the unit. Also look for nearby vegetation that generates debris, and make a reasonable effort to cut it back to limit debris entering into the unit.

“An outdoor AC unit has these delicate fins that help transfer heat,” Fiedler says. “The unit’s fan pulls air through those fins to cool the refrigerant and blow the air out. This process might pull in some debris. Vegetation like cottonwood trees near the unit could drop a lot of debris, causing issues. Keep an eye on things like that.”

Tip #3: Hose it off

Homeowners can take charge of keeping their outdoor unit clean. When dirt and debris become visible on the sides, use a garden hose. Start at the top and work your way down and around the entire unit. Avoid using a pressure washer to prevent damaging the fins.

Tip #4: Maintain consistent temperature

Turning the thermostat up several degrees while you’re away doesn’t offer much benefit. A home can heat up quickly. When you turn the thermostat back down, the AC system has to work harder to cool and dehumidify. The perceived savings are lost, and then some.

Tip #5: Get an annual inspection

Homeowners can further take control of their AC maintenance by knowing when it’s time to call a qualified service technician. Early spring is a good time to do that. Adams Heating & Cooling offers a targeted spring inspection of both outdoor and indoor AC components.

“On an outdoor unit, a technician uses specialized tools to check pressures, and to ensure that the refrigerant component is working properly, and the system is cooling correctly,” Fiedler explains. “A technician also thoroughly cleans the condenser coil, and inspects a part called a capacitor. The capacitor helps an air conditioner start up. If the capacitor rating is changing, it’s a sign of impending failure and should be replaced.

Inside the home, an Adams technician examines the evaporator coil, along with the furnace components that work in conjunction with the AC system: motor, fan and filter.

“We ensure every component works at peak performance,” Fiedler adds.

Tip #6: Don’t put off replacing an old system

Sometimes the best preventive maintenance is to invest in a new system. There are a few warning signs that an AC system is starting to wear down:

  • Longer run times

  • Increased noise

  • Exhibiting signs of vibration

As a general rule, anything 15 to 18 years old is nearing the end of its useful life.

Older systems have numerous costly components that can fail, including the fan and compressor. They also run the risk of springing a refrigerant leak, which can be very difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

“It often costs less to purchase a new AC system than it does to diagnose a leak, repair it, and get the system back up and running,” Fiedler notes. This is especially true for systems using the old R-22 refrigerant, which is much more expensive than the R-410a refrigerant used on units over the past 10 to 20 years.

A new AC system improves efficiency, lowering energy costs. In the near future, however, those efficiency gains will result in increased air conditioner prices.

“New federal standards on AC efficiency are going into effect in 2024,” Fiedler points out. “The new systems are going to be even more efficient than what’s available now, but also considerably more expensive. So now (late 2023) might be a really good time to invest in a new system, especially if you’re thinking the system you have is starting to wear down.”

For AC maintenance control or if you want to explore a new system, contact the professionals at Adams a call at 262-723-6565 or fill out the brief contact form on their website.

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