Need A Better Understanding Of Your A/C? Here Are The Top 12 Things Everyone Should Know

People don’t tend to think much about their air conditioning system until something goes wrong. But, as with most things, preventative attention can go a long way. Of course, our Airmaxx technicians are happy to think about this stuff for you. We’re available 24 hours a day for emergency repairs if anything goes wrong with your HVAC systems. Still, a little basic knowledge can save you a lot of time and money.

The Top 12 Things Everyone Should Know About A/C:

1. A/C History 101

Man With Block Of IceFor many years, humans have been developing ways to avoid being hot and stuffy. Ancient Egyptians used to cool their indoor air by hanging wet mats on their doorways. Romans figured out how to run fresh water through their indoor pipes to cool their homes. Even Benjamin Franklin – the inventor whose kite experiment revealed much of what we now know about the nature of electricity – dabbled in the air conditioning world, working with colleagues to figure out how to manipulate liquids that have refrigerating properties. Despite these, and other, contributions, the invention of the first modern air conditioner in 1902 is credited by most to Willis Carrier, an American engineer.

If we fast forward over 100 years since Carrier’s invention, humans are more conscious of their comfort than ever.

2. A/C Anatomy

AC AnatomyIt’s helpful to know how the air conditioner works in the first place. This will help all other information to make sense, and will give you an enormous appreciation for the professionals whose job it is to keep you’re A/C in working order. The little things make a huge difference.

  • Inside your A/C, there is a set of pipes filled with refrigerant, which (just as it sounds) refrigerates – or cools – the air around it. The set of pipes is also called an evaporator coil.
  • Hot air from outside is pumped into your air conditioner by a blower (or fan), running the air over the cooling coils, and blowing it into your home.
  • The refrigerant in the evaporator coil changes from a liquid into a gas while absorbing heat from the air.
  • At the same time, the hot air inside your home is being pushed outside with another fan.
  • The refrigerant is pumped outside the house to another coil (called a condenser), releasing its heat and changing back (condensing) into a liquid.
  • The refrigerant is moved back and forth within the air conditioner by a pump called a compressor, which regulates the rate of movement so that the refrigeration and condensation happens within the right coil.
  • Your A/C also has a motor, which runs the compressor.

3. Set The Right Temperature

ThermostatAs a general rule, your air conditioner can keep indoor temperatures about 20 degrees cooler than outdoors. This means that on a 100-degree day, your A/C may struggle to cool your home below 80 degrees. Setting the thermostat any lower than that will strain your unit unnecessarily, and will probably result in it constantly running in a noble attempt to reach the cooler temperature. If the heat is unbearable, try using a ceiling, table, or other type of fan to keep the air moving.

If you have a central unit, you can purchase a thermostat with a timer that can be programmed to adjust to higher temperatures when you’re gone, and cooler temperature when you’re home. It’s not a good idea to turn your unit off completely unless you’re going on vacation. Turning it off will result in the unit needing to work extra hard to cool the home at a later time.

4. Change Your Filters

If you have a central or window unit, you need to change your filters about once a month during the cooling season. In-home filters have a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV), which is a number between 1 and 12. A higher MERV ranking means greater filtration, and it is generally recommended that you use filters of a 6 or higher.

Change Your FiltersIf you’re wondering why the filters are important, here’s a quick explanation. They have a dual purpose: 1) they keep particles from accumulating on the evaporator coil, which could eventually stop the unit from working, and 2) they prevent particles from being released into the air inside your home.

The longer you keep a filter, the more particles it catches. So if you wait too long to change it, then the filter itself becomes a pollutant because it can no longer hold the new dirt being blown around. Homes located around construction or dirt roads tend to need filter changes more frequently, as well as those with pets. Filter gunk (not a scientific term) will prevent the air from flowing freely, which will prevent you from maximizing your comfort. Change your filters to keep the breeze… and keep the peace.

5. Clean Your Outdoor Condenser

Your condenser has to survive a lot being exposed to the elements throughout the year. If you notice that your unit is not cooling as well, it may be because the condenser needs cleaning. Leaves, twigs, grass, and other debris can get caught in its fins, and this will obstruct its cooling ability.

Clean Your Outdoor CondenserBefore you get started with the cleaning, be sure to turn the condenser off. This can be done by pulling out a fuse block connecting the unit to your home, or moving the switch to the “off” position. Be sure that the temperature is at least 60 degrees outside so that you can test the air conditioner to be sure that it works.

Clean the fins by first using a soft brush attachment on your vacuum. Be careful, as the fins can bend easily if you’re too rough. If you discover that they are bent, try using a butter knife from your kitchen to push them back into shape. After vacuuming, use a hose to rinse the remainder of the debris. Remember to refer to your owner’s manual for instructions that are specific to your unit.

That takes care of the outside. Now let’s talk about the condenser’s insides.

 6. Check Your Coolant Levels

Check Your CoolantThe amount of refrigerant in your A/C unit is called its “charge.” If there’s a leak and the refrigerant charge goes down, you will have problems. A leak will lower your unit’s ability to work properly, and your home won’t get the cooling it needs.

Because of global warming, finding the right cooling gases to use in residential and commercial properties has been a pretty big deal. Some have been determined to be ozone-depleting substances by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and are therefore banned from being used in new units. Here’s a run-down of what’s ok and what’s not:

  • HCFC-22: This gas was banned in new equipment in 2010 by the EPA. It is only available for older model A/C units.
  • R-410A: This is one alternative to HCFC-22, and is being used in the United States. Although it has a high global warming effect, it causes no ozone depletion.
  • R-32: This gas is being evaluated by the EPA, and is known for being mildly flammable. Its global warming effect is moderate, and it causes no ozone depletion.
  • Hydrocarbons: These are being used in commercial refrigeration, but not yet in homes, unless systems have been redesigned. The global warming effect is low and there is no ozone depletion.

It’s not a great idea to attempt handling any of these coolants on your own, so contact your HVAC professional if you suspect that something is amiss with your coolant levels.

7. Maximize Your A/C’s Effectiveness

Maximize Your AC’s EffectivenessYour A/C could use some help, so there are ways for you to maximize its effectiveness. Keep your blinds closed to trap cool air inside during the day. If you have a fan, run it when your A/C is on so that the cool air can circulate more freely. You should also keep all doors in the home open so that air can flow freely. If you need privacy, try to keep the door cracked.

If you have to make home repairs, such as replacing your windows or your roof, make decisions with the knowledge that insulation is everything. A home that is not well insulated will result in air leaks… which force your air conditioner to work harder than it would normally need to. Proper insulation may cost more on the front end, but over time, the savings will be significant.

Some other tricks to maximizing your air conditioner’s effectiveness include:

  • Using your washer/dryer during cooler times of the day.
  • On cooler nights, opening windows so that the outdoor air can fill the home.
  • Making sure your ducts are sealed to prevent air leakages. You can seal them yourself with mastic – the thick, white, waterproof sealant that can be painted over them. Small ducts leaks can be sealed with foil tape.
  • Keep the blinds on the west side of your home closed on hotter days.

8. Pay Attention To Efficiency Rating

Pay Attention To Efficiency RatingAlong the lines of effectiveness, efficiency matters as well. If you have a central A/C unit, check the seasonal energy-efficiency ratio, or the SEER. In a window unit, it is called the energy-efficiency ratio (EER). Your SEER should be at least a 13, and your EER should be no lower than 8. The higher the number, the less costly and more efficient the unit.

Also, purchase a unit that is a good match for your climate. If you live in a humid area, find an A/C that also dehumidifies. If you live in a dry climate, find one that will operate optimally in hot, dry temperatures. Taking the time to tailor your purchase to your specific needs will save you a lot of money and heartache in the future.

9. Get An Air Conditioning Check-Up Annually

Just like our bodies and cars need check-ups, air conditioners benefit from them as well. Be sure your professional looks at the following:Get An Air Conditioning Check-Up Annually

  • Inspecting and cleaning coils,
  • Replacing fan belts if needed,
  • Checking refrigerant charge and pressures,
  • Cleaning or replacing filters if you’re unable to do it,
  • Lubricating motors and bearings,
  • Cleaning and checking blowers and fans,
  • Inspecting controls and safeties, and
  • Checking temperature controls.

10. Humidity Matters More Than Heat

Inspecting a Home Air Vent for MaintenanceHumidity, if not regulated, can lead to some serious problems. Not only does it make you feel worse about the heat, but it can support the growth of mold and other bacteria that can affect the health of those living in the space. If you’ve ever noticed the condensation that can accumulate around air conditioning vents, you are aware of the dehumidifying properties that most A/C units have. They literally pull the moisture out of the air.

So that your A/C does not have to do all the work alone, be sure to use your exhaust fans when bathing, showering, and cooking. You can also use a fan to help blow some of the air outdoors. If these options aren’t working as they should, purchase a separate dehumidifier to help things along. Sticky skin is the least of your concerns when considering the dangers of mold and damp environments. It can lead to upper respiratory tract problems, coughing, wheezing and inflammation of asthma symptoms.

11. Pick A Unit That Makes Sense For You

Pick A Unit That Makes SenseThe size of your air conditioner should be proportionate to the size of the space you want to cool off. If your A/C is too big, it may cool the space quickly, but it won’t effectively dehumidify the area. Energy Star offers a chart that will help you decide how much cooling capacity, measured in British thermal units (BTU), you will need per hour. This cooling capacity is also called “tons” – One ton of cooling equals 12,000 BTU/hour.

Another thing to consider is the perks that come along with your purchase. When negotiating prices, pay attention to whether or not the price includes a service plan, discounts on repairs, or a labor warranty. Purchasing is only he first step… maintenance soon follows.

12. Choose The Right HVAC Professional

Choose The Right HVAC ProfessionalWe are proud to have world-class HVAC professionals at Airmaxx. Your contractor should be certified by an organization like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). When you call us, be sure to have information on hand about the brand of your A/C as well as the level of cooling and comfort you’re aiming for. Many of our customers have recommended us based on their own experiences, and we value the customer relationships we have been able to build through word-of-mouth testimonials.

Our qualified technicians will make sure you understand what’s going on, and they will patiently answer your questions to assure you that your A/C is in good hands.

A little insider knowledge can go a long way. Share what you learn, and give us a call at (619) 655-3010 if you need us. We’re available 24 hours a day.

Is the Air You Breathe Making You Sick?

Imagine you’re sitting in a crowded room. You glance around at the people sitting next to you, when you realize you’re all sitting in a room with no windows. You take a deep breath that quickly turns into a yawn. After a few minutes, you notice your face feels flushed, and you suddenly wish you could take a nap. The Indoor Air Quality of the home or office may be the reason why, see how it effects us everyday and how we don’t realize it.

Yawning In A Meeting, at Work

While you might not fall asleep, you probably are feeling some effects of poor air quality. The air we breathe indoors often has a negative effect on our ability to pay attention and our overall health. In fact, a range of health and environmental experts note that poor indoor air quality can make us sleepier, sicker, and even dumber. Considering that the average person spends around 90% of their time indoors, we clearly need a better understanding of what we’re actually breathing.

What is Indoor Air Quality?

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, indoor air quality describes “how inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort, and ability to work.” Many of us probably take for granted that our homes, schools, workplaces, and other buildings are properly ventilated, and the air we’re breathing isn’t hurting us. The reality is that indoor air quality presents us with some significant health risks, including asthma, impaired judgment, and even cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental health risks in the United States. This leads us to two key questions. What are these risks and where do they come from?

There are two primary sources that contribute to poor indoor air quality – air pollution and improper ventilation. When it comes to air pollution, what we’re usually talking about are the harmful particles that are introduced into the air through smoke, dust, pollen, gases, and other chemicals. On the other hand, improper ventilation generally refers to the features of a room, home, or other building that limit good air circulation.

Sick at work

The term “pollution” tends to conjure images of giant smoke stacks with clouds of smoke billowing from the top, but some of the most common pollutants we encounter are in our own homes, schools, and workplaces. Indoor air pollution usually comes from sources like mold and pollen, tobacco smoke, household cleaning products, and building materials like asbestos. In the short term, common symptoms of exposure to these pollutants include itchy eyes, runny nose, and dizziness or fatigue at first, followed by other allergic reactions and asthma shortly after. When we look at the long term, the health risks become more severe, including respiratory diseases, heart disease, and in some cases cancer.

Most people must deal with indoor air pollution because buildings or homes either have not been properly maintained or properly upgraded. For example, poor maintenance of roofs and windows can prompt mold growth and water problems, just as cracks in a home’s foundation can lead to problems with radon. Also, as more and more buildings are designed and upgraded to be more energy efficient, air pollutants are sometimes trapped inside. Energy-efficient homes and buildings can be a tradeoff for those that allow more fresh air to circulate and structures to breathe. This means we must consider not only air pollution, but also improper ventilation.

AirMaxx Infographic

Many of us might wrongfully assume that the air we breathe indoors is fairly similar to the air we breathe outdoors. In some cases, however, indoor air quality is far worse than outdoor air. For example, office buildings in urban areas risk higher carbon monoxide rates, because their air intake also takes in fumes from car emissions. The differences when we walk through the door are sometimes so subtle, it’s no surprise we hardly notice. But improper ventilation can present some serious health concerns, especially when it comes to air circulation and carbon dioxide concentrations.

As far back as 1970, researchers and building designers have been tracking sick building syndrome, which often results from poor indoor air quality, circulation, and ventilation. Symptoms are tough to pin down, but they include everything from itchy and watery eyes, nose, and throat to headaches, nausea, dizziness, problems concentrating, and cold and flu-like symptoms. Sick building syndrome remains a bit controversial, in that it’s difficult to track down the specific causes and symptoms that can be attributed to it. At the same time, researchers have begun to pinpoint the sources and symptoms of other ventilation problems, like high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Think back to the crowded room scenario at the beginning of the article. Your flushed face and fatigue were most likely the result of improper ventilation and high concentrations of CO2. Gases like CO2 are measured in parts per million PPM. The typical measure of CO2 for outdoor air is 380 PPM, although some reports note that number is starting to climb toward 500. When we move indoors, that number is often much closer to 1000 PMM and can sometimes exceed 3000 PPM. The following table helps make sense of the important numbers on CO2:

 

What Should You Do About Indoor Air Quality?

Despite the increasing risks associated with both indoor air pollution and improper ventilation, consumers have many options when it comes to managing the effects of poor indoor air quality. The first and perhaps most obvious option is to develop a plan to improve the ventilation within your home. Homeowners should ensure that their heating and air conditioning system is properly maintained and that rooms are appropriately ventilated. Building managers and facilities operators should also measure particle levels and CO2 concentrations in workplaces and other spaces where people gather frequently, to keep those levels within an acceptable range.

Additionally, homeowners and building managers can also test for both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels. While carbon monoxide is often treated as the bigger danger, which for the most part it is, CO2 also poses its fair share of health risks. Consumers can Monitor both CO and CO2 levels as part of their strategy for improving indoor air.

Building designers and architects also have a part to play in the future of ensuring good indoor air quality. Right now, energy efficiency and air quality are sometimes seen as a trade-off. A home can either be “tight” and keep the heat/AC trapped inside, or it can allow more fresh air to circulate while letting energy escape. Green building techniques allow for innovation when it comes to perceived trade-offs like this. There is room for develop new technologies and techniques for managing energy while improving indoor air quality, and designers and contractors would be well served to engage in that conversation.

New AirConditioning Unit

Finally, if you’re not able to upgrade your HVAC unit or improve your indoor ventilation system, you still have some options for reducing your health risks. The EPA maintains that air filters and other air cleaners serve as an option for helping to remove harmful materials in the air. Additionally, new research has provided some early support for the idea that multivitamins can help reduce the negative health effects associated with poor indoor air quality. Your best option is to remove the pollutants from the air before you breathe it, but you can also help manage the negative health effects should you experience them.

The next time you’re sitting in that crowded room, remember not to take for granted the quality of the air you’re breathing. Bodies release a lot of CO2 when we breathe, which can make the rest of us tired and unfocused when we’re not getting enough oxygen. And you never know what sorts of pollutants are lurking in the air ducts. With some careful monitoring and a few simple solutions, however, most of us should be able to breathe a bit more easily.

 

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