How to Keep Your Air Conditioner in Tip-Top Shape: A Guide to Maintaining Your AC

Maintaining your air conditioner is essential for keeping your home comfortable and your energy bills low. Cleaning or replacing the filter or filters in your air conditioning system every one to two months during the cooling season is a must. Filters may need more frequent care if the air conditioner is used constantly, is exposed to dusty conditions, or if you have furry pets in the house. Look for the minimum filter efficiency value, or MERV, which ranges from 1 to 12 for domestic air conditioning units; the higher the number, the better the filtration (and the more energy it will take to extract air through the filter, so balance air quality issues with energy costs).Ducts can lose up to 30 percent of airflow due to leaks, and window air conditioning units are notoriously difficult to seal properly.

To detect any leaks, you can use the old “smoke trick”. The air compressor and condenser in a central air conditioning system are usually outside the house, close to the foundation. It works best when there's around 24 inches of free space in all directions, so make sure to keep nearby shrubs, tall grass, leaves, and hanging branches away from it. Federal laws require air conditioning units to be much more efficient than they were just 10 years ago. For central air conditioning, look for the seasonal energy efficiency index, or SEER; for window units, the measurement is simply called the energy efficiency index, or EER.

The standards require a SEER of 13 and an EER of 8, but devices with higher numbers will cost less to operate. Air conditioners aren't designed to last forever. Like all appliances, air conditioning units need routine maintenance and cleaning to perform at their best and provide you with the highest return on your investment. With proper maintenance, your air conditioner can provide your home with exceptional comfort for up to 15 years. Removing accumulated dust, dirt, and other debris from the air conditioner regularly will help you and your family breathe better, feel healthier, and stay comfortable during the summer. Maintenance requires removing these materials from the air conditioner regularly. Unless you're going on vacation, don't turn off the system; otherwise, the air compressor will have to work harder to cool the house later on.

If maintenance needs are ignored, the air conditioning unit can lose 5% of its operating efficiency each year due to the accumulation of unwanted debris in the system. We asked Richard Trethewey, plumbing and heating expert at This Old House, for his tips on air conditioning maintenance for central air and window units. While these simple do-it-yourself maintenance tips can help manage system efficiency and performance, homeowners shouldn't rely solely on themselves for their air conditioner maintenance needs. Consider running the air conditioner along with floor or ceiling fans to circulate the cooled air more effectively. Preferred Home Services provides high-quality AC maintenance services available to help your system run smoothly all summer long. Charleston homeowners must be diligent in maintaining their air conditioners to be able to get the most out of their units for years to come. In addition to keeping monthly cooling costs low, regular AC maintenance can also help you avoid expensive repairs or premature replacement services.

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