Jun 22 2015

It is easy to take air conditioning for granted. You set the thermostat and nice cool air streams into your Sugar Land home. If only opening the power bill each month were as refreshing. Take a break from high cooling bills this summer and boost your comfort by using these tips to ensure efficient air conditioning.

Air Conditioning Basics

efficient air conditioningTo ensure efficient air conditioning, it helps to know the basics of how your air conditioner works. Air conditioners operate much the same as a refrigerator. Refrigerant is evaporated to a very cold gas inside the system’s evaporator coil. As warm return air is pulled across the coil, the cold refrigerant extracts heat, which cools the airflow. The cooled airflow is blown through the supply ducts back to the rooms of your home.

The heat energy removed from your home is given off at the condenser coil located in the cabinet outside the home. A large fan in the cabinet pulls outdoor air across the coil to release the heat. This process repeats until your home is cooled to the thermostat’s set point.

Homeowner Maintenance

Maintaining free airflow is the center point of homeowner air conditioning maintenance. Perform the following maintenance tasks to maximize efficiency and comfort:

  • Air filter – Check the air filter regularly. A clogged filter can damage vital air conditioning components and substantially increase energy consumption.
  • Vents – Use the vacuum brush extension to clean the registers and grilles each month.
  • Outside component – Check the outside cabinet once a week to make sure nothing is obstructing airflow, such as tall weeds, grass clippings and other debris.
  • Airflow – Free airflow through the home is important in maintaining balanced air pressure in the ductwork. Try to keep doors open in rooms that don’t have return grilles. Door transfers and undercuts help keep airflow moving for rooms with doors that are often closed.
  • Noises – Be mindful of unusual noises from the air conditioner. For example, rattling noises indicate loose ducts. Grinding indicates a problem with the blower. If you hear unusual noises, call your HVAC tech right away.

Professional Preventive Maintenance

In addition to the steps homeowners should take to care for their HVAC systems, there are some tasks better left to the pros. If you’re to enjoy efficient air conditioning, professional preventive maintenance should be on your to-do list. Following are some of the checks your HVAC tech performs:

  • Airflow – The coils are cleaned of debris, which can hinder heat exchange. The tech will also check the blower motor and oil as necessary.
  • Refrigerant – Refrigerant levels are checked. Too much or too little refrigerant disrupts function and increases energy bills.
  • Electrical – Relays, sensors, wiring and switches are inspected for wear, tightness and function.
  • Drainage – The condensate pan and drain line are inspected for algae and mold, and cleaned and treated as necessary. A clogged drainage system can cause water damage in the home.
  • Thermostat – Thermostat modes are verified.

Sealing and Insulation

The air conditioner’s job is to meet the cooling demand of your home. If your home is energy-efficient, it makes the air conditioner’s job easier and uses much less energy. You also enjoy better comfort with balanced temperatures room to room.

Sealing and insulating your home is a prerequisite for energy efficiency. Even newer homes that were constructed with energy efficiency in mind could have deficiencies in the envelope, such as air leaks and inadequate or displaced insulation. Your home may have air leaks and insulation problems if:

  • Room to room temperatures are uneven.
  • If the ceiling is consistently warmer.
  • Windows are rattling and whistling. A lack of window treatments invites heat gain.

A professional energy audit is recommended for learning the airtightness and insulation values of your home. An energy audit shows you where your home is wasting energy. You’ll receive practical recommendations to shore up efficiency where needed, and the projected savings for each upgrade.

Ductwork Inspection

The duct system is often overlooked and underappreciated when it comes to efficient air conditioning. Poorly designed or damaged ducts waste up to 30 percent of conditioned airflow, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). A duct inspection should be performed each spring and fall.

Take a few minutes to inspect your ductwork while your air conditioner is running. Fallen ducts should be sealed with mastic paste and heat-resistant metal tape. If any portions of ductwork lack insulation, you can tape fiberglass batts around these areas, being careful not to compress the insulation.

If you’re hiring a professional to inspect the ductwork, the inspection should include duct pressure and flow hood tests. A duct pressure test determines the leakage rate of the air ducts. The flow hood test measures airflow output at the supply registers to evaluate duct design flaws and ensure balanced airflow through the home.

Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats are designed to make energy savings more convenient for homeowners. If you’re still using a mercury-based manual thermostat, you may want to consider the following questions to see if upgrading to a programmable or WiFi thermostat makes sense for your home:

  • Do you sometimes forget to turn up the thermostat when you leave for work in the morning?
  • Do others in the household set the thermostat outside of your thermostat temperature rules?
  • Do you sometimes find yourself frequently adjusting the thermostat?
  • Do you want lower energy bills?

A programmable thermostat allows automatic temperature changeover for consistent temperature settings. Consistency in thermostat settings is important if you’re to enjoy efficient air conditioning operation and maximum comfort and savings.

Ceiling Fans

Those spinning blades on ceiling fans can help ease the burden on your air conditioner. Ceiling fans use the wind chill effect to make individuals in a room feel up to five degrees cooler. This means you can bump up the thermostat setting a few degrees and save energy with no loss in comfort.

During the cooling months, the ceiling fans should rotate counterclockwise and push air toward the floor for the proper wind chill effect. Since ceiling fans don’t actually affect room temperature, only run fans in occupied rooms.

Window Treatments

Windows can enhance the interior and exterior of your home, but they can also invite heat gain via solar, conduction, air leakage and convection. Whether your windows are new Energy Star-certified or older windows with charm and character, effective window treatments make efficient air conditioning possible with up to 25 percent savings on energy bills. Following are some suggestions for treating your windows right:

  • Sealing – The first thing to do before installing window treatments is to seal any air leaks with caulk and weatherstripping.
  • Awnings – Awnings can reduce heat gain on sun-struck windows 65 to 77 percent.
  • Shutters – Shutters are available in manual or rolling. They can be adjusted as needed to block sunlight and offer a level of home security.
  • Solar screens – Solar screens block direct sunlight and reduce glare without obstructing views.
  • Insulated curtains – Save energy year-round with insulated curtains. With a wide variety of colors and styles, you can enhance your home’s interior as well.
  • Blinds – Blinds are easy to install and easy to adjust the amount of sunlight streaming into your home.
  • Shades – Shades may be opaque to completely block sunlight, or you may select sheer shades to diffuse light. Honeycomb shades help reduce heat gain by trapping air and blocking solar heat gain.

Upgrade With Energy Star

If your air conditioner is 10 years old or more, consider upgrading to a model that’s Energy Star-qualified. You’ll enjoy more efficient air conditioning — up to 50 percent — and the peace of mind of a new warranty. Ask your HVAC contractor for a lifetime cost analysis of systems you’re considering.

To learn more on how to ensure efficient air conditioning in your Sugar Land home, check out Conditioned Air’s air conditioning solutions, or call 281-201-0356 for more information.

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