Hottest July On Record

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that this past July was the hottest month on record.  The average temperature across the country for July was higher than any recorded since officials started keeping records in 1895.  The record heat is probably not news for those of us whose air conditioners have been running around the clock trying to keep up with the heat, but it’s one more reason why you should consider replacing that old central air conditioner with a new, energy efficient air conditioning system.

Central air conditioning systems use a lot of electricity to cool our homes.  However, manufacturers have made big gains in air conditioner efficiency in the past decade.  According to the Department of Energy, modern central air conditioning systems are 30% to 50% more energy efficient than those installed in the 1970’s and 20% to 40% than those sold just ten years ago.

These figures are based on the efficiency of the systems when they were new.  All central air conditioners lose some efficiency as they get older so your energy savings will probably be even greater!  Imagine keeping your home cool and comfortable using only half or two thirds of the electricity you are using today.  In this record heat, the savings can really add up quickly.

When you add in the savings on maintenance and repairs needed to keep that old system running, it won’t take long for a new central air conditioner to pay for itself.  After that, you will enjoy year after year of energy efficient cool comfort.  If beating the heat is putting a dent in your wallet, talk to your local heating and air conditioning contractor about installing a new energy efficiency system in your home today.

Change Your Air Filter For More Efficient Cooling

As we move into the dog days of summer, don’t forget to change the air filter on your central air conditioning or heat pump system.  If you have central air conditioner combined with a forced air furnace, it’s easy to forget about the filter in the summer because we often call it a “furnace filter”, but your central air conditioning system uses the same filter.  Likewise, a heat pump uses the same filter whether it’s in heating or cooling mode.

Changing or cleaning the air filter regularly can help your system work more efficiently, increase your comfort, and save you money on energy bills.  Your system was designed to operate efficiently with a  certain level of air flow across the coils.  When the air filter gets clogged with dust, dirt, pet hair, and other debris, it reduces the air flow which makes your system work harder to maintain the selected temperature.

According to EPA estimates, changing or cleaning a dirty air filter can reduce your energy usage for cooling by as much as 15%.  In addition, the air filter protects the coils from dirt and debris.  If dirt, dust, and debris are allowed to accumulate on the coils, it acts like an insulating blanket and prevents the coil from working efficiently.

Changing or cleaning your air filter monthly will not only lower your energy bills today, but it will also help extend the life of your heating and air conditioning system.  You can buy new air filters in a wide variety of sizes at your local home improvement store.  Be sure to write down the size of your old filter before you go so you can be sure to get the right size.  The size should be written on the edge of your old filter.

Cleaning the Evaporator Coil

Most residential central air conditioning systems are “split systems” that have the compressor and condenser coil housed in an outdoor unit which is connected to an evaporator coil inside the home by the coolant lines.  Most heat pumps have a similar set up.

A heat pump or central air conditioning system should be professionally serviced in the spring and fall by an experienced HVAC technician.  Most homeowners don’t have the tools and equipment necessary to perform a full service on a central air conditioning system.  Accordingly, most homeowners should call a professional for air conditioning service and repair.

However, between service calls a homeowner can help keep the system operating efficiently by regularly changing the air filter and by keeping the condenser and evaporator coils clean.  The evaporator coil is located in the ductwork (called the plenum chamber) above the furnace.  If you have a heat pump, the evaporator coil is located in the air handler downstream of the air filter.

If you religiously change your furnace filter (or air filter) and never use anything other than a pleated filter, your evaporator coil will stay clean and free of dust, lint, and other debris.  Unfortunately, most homeowners are a little lax in their furnace filter habits and the evaporator needs to be cleaned occasionally.

In some units, the evaporator cannot be accessed by a homeowner.  In others, you can reach the evaporator through an access panel on the front of the unit.  If your evaporator is easily accessible, clean it carefully with a brush or a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment.  Remember to turn the power to the unit off before starting and be very careful not to bend any of the soft aluminum fins.

Once your evaporator coil is clean, you can avoid future cleanings by using a high quality pleated air filter and changing it regularly.  Your HVAC technician can help select the right air filter for your system.

Installing Central Air Conditioning

Central air conditioning systems are much more efficient and provide better comfort than window air conditions.  However, installing a central air conditioning system in an existing home may present a challenge depending on how the home is currently configured.  If you have decided to take the plunge and replace your window air conditioners with a central air conditioning system, your HVAC contractor will likely offer you a choice of a traditional split system central air conditioner or a ductless mini split system.

A traditional split system central air conditioner is a good choice for a home that already has a duct system installed for the furnace.  With a traditional split system, the compressor unit sits outside the home and the evaporator coils are installed in the air handler near the furnace.

The existing distribution and return ducts are used to distribute the conditioned air and to circulate the air throughout the home.  One concern to using the existing duct system is that it may be improperly sized for the air conditioning system.  The duct system must be matched to the air conditioner in order to maximize efficiency.  Replacing existing ductwork can be very expensive, but in some cases your HVAC contractor may be able to improve the energy efficiency of the home which would allow the use of a smaller air conditioner that is better matched to the existing ductwork.

If the home does not have a duct system, installation of a duct system is usually cost prohibitive and a ductless mini split system is a good alternative.  These systems use an externally mounted compressor connected to separate air handlers mounted in each room.  With a mini split system there is no ductwork to run and each air handler can be sized appropriately.  A separate thermostat in each room provides excellent flexibility and efficiency.