Air Conditioner Maintenance Saves Energy

Air Conditioner Maintenance Saves Energy

It's time to think about getting the most from your air conditioner (AC) this summer. A combination of professional and homeowner maintenance for the AC unit will keep costs and energy use down.

Professional Maintenance

All air conditioners and heat pumps require regular maintenance to perform at peak efficiency. Each central air conditioning unit should be inspected, cleaned and tuned by a professional once every two years. A professional tune-up should cost around $125.

The Technician Should

Measure the refrigerant to see if it needs recharging. An undercharged unit lowers the efficiency of the system.

Measure the airflow over the air conditioner's cooling coils. Inadequate airflow is a common problem and correcting airflow rates can increase efficiency 5 to 10 percent.

Clean and inspect the motor, compressor, air handler, ducts, coils and air filter.
What a Homeowner Can Do

Clean or replace the AC filters monthly. Dirty air filters cause the AC unit to work harder than necessary. The energy bill can act as a monthly reminder to do this°™change the air filter before sending out the bill.

Keep the grass around the AC trimmed, being careful not to blow debris or grass clippings into the AC. Make sure landscaping does not block the outdoor air conditioner components. Four to five feet of open air between any shrubs or trees and the AC unit will ensure proper airflow. Blocked AC units have a harder time taking in air to cool the home, which means higher energy costs.

Shade the outdoor AC unit. Air in a shaded space is typically five to six degrees cooler than the surrounding air, which means the AC will have an easier time cooling the air before pumping it into the home. Air conditioners with proper shading can be up to 10 percent more efficient over a cooling season, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Insulate ducts. Sealing ducts will save energy and money year round. First, seal the duct joints and leaks with mastic tape or sealer. Plain duct tape is not recommended because it will dry out and peel off over time. Wrap the ducts with low-cost, foil-faced R08 rated fiberglass insulation (recommended for cold climates like Iowa), and seal the insulation seams with regular duct tape. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, insulating ducts in the typical American home costs about $250, but the improvement will pay for itself in energy savings in two and a half years. Even the added cost of hiring a professional to install the insulation will be repaid with the energy savings.

Clean off dirt buildup on the indoor and outdoor coils of the central AC system. These heat exchangers between the refrigerant and the surrounding air can quickly build up impurities will hinder the coil's performance by as much as 8 percent. Both indoor and outdoor coils can be cleaned with warm, soapy water, but need to be treated gently. Before performing any maintenance, be sure to consult the manufacturer's recommendations to answer any questions about an AC unit's care.

Recirculate air. It is far more economical to recirculate and cool the indoor air than to draw in hot air from outside, cool it down and remove the moisture in it.

Raise temperature settings. Each degree of temperature can represent up to 9% savings or added expense in cooling costs.

Keep the unit fan on "AUTO." IT is not necessary to run the fan constantly when the air conditioner is turned on.

Use ceiling fans. Moving air with ceiling fans can increase the comfort range.

More Information and Additional Resources

Some of this information was adapted from the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy's publication, Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, 7th Edition, Homemade Money by Richard Heede and staff of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Florida Power and Light,

For more information on cooling your home in the summer, consult the Iowa Energy Center's Home Series: Home Cooling booklet available on the Iowa Energy Center's Web site, or by calling (515) 294-8819.

The Iowa Energy Center is a nonprofit research, demonstration and education organization dedicated to increasing Iowa's energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. The Energy Center has established a number of programs to address energy-related issues and their associated economic and environmental benefits.