Dirty air conditioner filters can make you lose your cool

Consumer Reports News: July 16, 2012 02:08 PM

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As the summer heat continues unabated, it's a good time to make sure you're getting the most out of your air conditioner and dehumidifier. One easy way is to clean the filters. If you haven't done so since summer began, then this chore is long overdue. The improved performance of your appliances will make you glad you made the effort.

Dirty filters hamper the efficiency of your air conditioner and dehumidifier. And if they're working harder, it's costing you money without making your home more comfortable. If you have central air conditioning, have your contractor show you how to change the filters. During cooling season, Energy Star recommends that the filters be inspected, cleaned or changed every month. Alternatively, if you feel like your system is losing its oomph, have a licensed professional change all filters; clean and flush the coils, drain pan, and drainage system; vacuum the blower compartments; and check the refrigerant and mechanical components.

With window air conditioners, some filters are easier to change than others. Cleaning may be needed every few weeks during the hottest part of the summer. With that in mind, make sure you determine how easy it is to remove the filter when selecting a new unit. When cleaning it, remove debris with a vacuum then wash the filter in warm, soapy water; be sure filters are dry before you reinstall them and replace damaged filters.

When the filter is removed for cleaning, check the surface of the evaporator coil, which will now be visible. If there is dust or debris on the surface, gently remove it. Taking care not to deform the soft fins, use an upholstery-brush attachment to vacuum the coils.

Dirty filters can also inhibit the performance of your dehumidifier. Most can be easily removed and cleaned in just a few minutes. Don't neglect this task just because your unit is out of sight in the basement. Keeping the filters clean will improve the air quality and keep your machine working at its best. This is important when the humidity is high.

For more tips on how to maintain your equipment and save on your utility bill, check the Consumer Reports guide to summer cooling.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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