Weekend Project: Tune up your air conditioning

Consumer Reports News: June 17, 2009 02:20 PM

If you haven't done it already, now's the time to get your air conditioning tuned up and installed for summer. Use these tips from Consumer Reports and RepairClinic.com to ensure peak air-conditioning performance when the mercury rises. And if you're in the market for new air conditioning, read "Financial Incentives Could Make Air Conditioners a Hot Buy."

Window, Portable, and Through-the-Wall Air Conditioners
Clean or replace filter(s). Remove the filter(s) and vacuum off debris. You can wash a dirty filter in warm, soapy water; be sure it's completely dry before you reinstall it. (Some filters are washable but check the user manual for care recommendations.) If a filter is damaged or deteriorated, replace it. (Take an old one with you to the store to ensure you buy the right model and size.) If you can't find the specific replacement filter you need, buy filter material and cut it to fit. Clean the filter once a month during cooling season.

Vacuum the coils. Vacuum any debris from the indoor and outdoor coils with an upholstery-brush attachment before you install a room air conditioner. Take care not to damage or deform the soft fins. Specially designed fin combs work much better than screwdrivers at straightening out bent fins.

Then remove the unit's cover and use soft brush or a can of compressed air to remove dirt from the inside of the coils and the bottom of the air conditioner.

Install and seal the unit(s). Air conditioners installed in a shady spot could run up to 10 percent more efficiently, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Seal the perimeter of the installed unit with new weather stripping, if needed. Also, secure the unit so that a burglar can't push it in and, more important,  so that it can’t fall out of the window and injure someone.

Avoid "short cycling." Wait 10 minutes after shutting off the unit to restart it. This allows the pressure in the refrigeration system to equalize and will prolong the life of your air conditioner.

Central Air Conditioning
Call in a pro. Have a licensed professional perform key maintenance tasks, including changing all filters, cleaning and flushing the coils, draining the pan and drainage system, and vacuuming the blower compartments. The contractor should also check that the system is properly charged with refrigerant, that there are no leaks, and that all mechanical components are working properly. As with a room air conditioner, replace disposable filters regularly. Check them monthly and replace if dust and debris have completely coated the filter.

Insulate ductwork. Ensure that ducts throughout the system are sealed and insulated—up to 30 to 40 percent of your cooling energy can be lost through leaks or heat when uninsulated ducts pass through uncooled spaces like attics and garages.

Perform seasonal checks. During the season, keep vegetation at least two feet away from the unit. Clean the grills and filter(s) monthly and replace the latter as needed. Clear debris and dirt from condenser coils and check for blockages in the pipe that drains condensed water from the indoor unit.

Use a programmable thermostat. Proper use of a programmable thermostat can reduce your cooling costs by up to 20 percent. Also consider adding a ceiling fan, which will allow you to set your thermostat to a higher temperature. And find more ways to cut your cooling costs.—Gian Trotta | | Twitter | Forums | Facebook Essential information:

Essential information: Our latest report on air conditioning (story and ratings available to subscribers) covers split-ductless systems and portable air conditioners and includes reliability information on brands of central air conditioning.

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