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Angie’s List: Air Conditioner Maintenance

jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Have the recent warm temperatures led you to turn on your AC?

Well, before the hot air is hear to stay, it’s a good idea to make sure your unit is ready to beat the heat this summer.

In this week’s Angie’s List report, Jim Donovan shows you what you need to know to make sure you keep your cool.

Your heating and cooling system uses over 50 percent of your energy costs in your home and proper maintenance can impact your budget.

“Changing the filter on your furnace or air conditioner is one of the simplest things you can do. Just remember to check it every month when you pay your utility bill. It’s something that anyone can do themselves and it can save you up to 15 percent on your energy bills if you get them well maintained,” said Angie’s List founder, Angie Hicks.

Your unit might also need a tune up. So how can you tell? Well it should really be done once a year.

“Also, if the outdoor coils are dirty, if the cooling capacity is not up to par and they are not getting air flow out, things like that can show that the air conditioner needs to be tuned up,” said Service Technician Darren Scaggs.

A typical tune up should cost between $70 and $100.

“But also keep in mind, many companies do offer maintenance plans that might offer it at a little lower price by signing up for a whole year,” said Hicks.

More from Angie:

Signs that your A/C is due for service:
• Is your AC unit not cooling your house as effectively as it should?
• Has the humidity in your home increased?
• However, not all problems are immediately recognizable, reinforcing the importance of having an annual inspection.

Items checked during a tune-up may include:
• Safety controls are inspected.
• Refrigerant levels to ensure there are no Freon leaks.
• Compressor and electrical components are cleaned and checked for proper operation and life expectancy.
• Filters checked and changed, if necessary.
• Outdoor coil is cleaned.
• Check temperature and proper air flow.
• Calibrate thermostats.

Call a professional: Each central air conditioning unit should be inspected, cleaned and tuned by a professional before the summer season. Ask about annual maintenance plans. More HVAC are offering these plans that will insure visits twice per calendar year.

Keep the filter clean: Clean and replace the air conditioner filter frequently (check the filter once a month). This is • especially important during the summer when dust and allergens circulate. If the filter becomes clogged, your system will have to work harder to supply the same amount of cool air. Check with your provider on the right type of filters to use with your system.

Made in the shade: Air conditioners with proper shading can be more efficient. Air in a shaded space is cooler than the surrounding air, meaning the A/C will have an easier time cooling the air, but keep plants, shrubs, and other landscaping about two to four feet away from your outdoor unit to ensure adequate airflow.

Dial for dollars: Remember that each degree you dial below 78 increases your energy consumption by about 8 percent. If your monthly electric bill is about $100, you’ll save $8 a month with EACH degree you can stand above 78.

Set and go: If it’s hard to remember to tweak your thermostat before you leave for work, consider investing in a programmable thermostat or a timer for your window unit.

Time to replace? If your unit is more than 10 years old and you have substantial repair costs, it’s probably time to consider a replacing your unit with a new, energy-efficient model. When replacing your A/C, look for a properly sized unit. If you install a unit that is too large, it will cycle on and off – reducing the efficiency of the system.

Angie’s List tips for hiring a HVAC company:
• Check that they are properly licensed and insured. Some companies hire maintenance technicians to do their tune-ups as an entry level position. Make sure they have certification that shows they have met the minimum standards for knowledge of their trade.

• A typical service call should range between $70 and $100. Be wary of companies that offer significantly lower prices. Emergency or weekend repair calls often carry extra fees of $50-$150 above the time and materials needed for repair.

• Get multiple estimates, even in an emergency situation.