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What’s the Condition of your Air Condition?

Two-thirds of American homes have some form of air conditioning system, and collectively air conditioning systems use 5% (or $11 billion worth) of electricity annually, according to the US Department of Energy. For optimum performance and to avoid wasting energy, it’s important to learn about yours and how to care for it.

There are three major types of air conditioners, according to the Department of Energy: central air conditioners, ductless or mini-split air conditioners, and window unit or room air conditioners. The first two types can circulate cool air throughout an entire home or section of home, while window units are designed to cool only one room. Both central and ductless/mini-split systems feature an outdoor unit which compresses or condenses air linked by a conduit to an indoor unit which distributes air. Central air conditioners employ a system of supply (or incoming) and return (or outgoing) ducts and registers, bringing cool air into a home and pushing warm air out. Ductless or mini-split conditioners are more common in commercial buildings but may also appear in multi-family dwellings or a home’s addition.

Room air conditioners can conserve energy if used strategically, cooling one heavily-used room at a time rather than circulating air throughout an entire house or condominium. Instead of featuring two separate components for indoor and outdoor air processing, a room air conditioner is a single unit mounted in a window. A window unit juts out into the outdoor air, with its condenser on the outermost side. Behind the condenser, a condenser fan blows to remove heat. The “inside” portion of the unit includes an evaporator and fan which send cool air into the room through a filter.

A well-maintained air conditioning system or unit can last up to 15 years, according to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). Whether you opt to maintain your own system or hire experts to do that for you, ACCA recommends the following measures:

– Check hose connections for leaks       
– Make sure condensation tubes drain correctly
– Keep filters and home ducts clean so that the air conditioning system doesn’t circulate unclean air 
– Clean the outdoor compressor periodically by spraying it off with a hose
– Keep plants at least one foot from compressor  
– Cover compressor in winter and remove window units from windows in winter

While you’re working around your air conditioner, be sure to shut off the power at the service panel before you start.

Professionals recommend annual air conditioning check-ups by a trained technician in the spring and furnace check-ups every fall. Although regular checkups will not absolutely guarantee that a unit will continue to work perfectly throughout the season, they will reveal most small issues that can lead to major, far more expensive problems if left unattended.
For more information on different types of air conditioning systems and questions to ask when repairing or replacing them, visit the Department of Energy’s site