Air conditioners are vital to making summer more pleasant. But you could be preventing yours from functioning at its peak. Whether you have a window unit or an HVAC system, our expert-recommended air conditioner tips will help get your home cool and comfortable.

By Dan Nosowitz
July 11, 2019

It’s summer at last, which means you're grilling every meal, spending weekends at the local farmers markets, driving to the beach, and, yes, cranking the air conditioner because, wow, was it this hot last year? And while air conditioners are common to most households, there’s a good chance yours isn’t working quite as well as it could. 

If your air conditioner isn’t installed, maintained, and used properly, you could be wasting a lot of energy, money, and time. See what mistakes you could be making when it comes to your air conditioner, then follow our expert-vetted tips to get the most out of your air conditioner (and your summer). 

1. You're Neglecting the Air Filter

Air conditioners work by sucking in air and passing it over a continuous liquid-to-gas-to-liquid chemical reaction. That reaction forces the air around it to absorb its heat, thus lowering its temperature. With all that movement, it's inevitable that dust, dander, and allergens get stirred up. The filter is designed to catch any nasty stuff accumulated in the air.

However, as it grabs more and more particles, the filter can become clogged. That means the air conditioner has to work much harder to cool a room. It can also force dust into the room, which you definitely don’t want. “Clogged air filters can damage your air conditioner system’s parts and result in costly repairs,” says Lenny Cipolla, an owner of Florida-based HVAC service and repair company Southern Coast Services.

You should clean the filter on a central air conditioning unit about once a month. The filter location will vary based on your model, but be sure to turn off the power before you do so. A window unit likely has a warning light indicating when it’s time to clean the filter. And cleaning an air conditioner filter is pretty easy. Simply suck up any loose debris up with a vacuum, then soak the filter in a mixture of equal parts hot water and white vinegar. Give it a rinse, let it dry, and you should be good to go!

2. You Installed It in a Sunny Spot

For window units, location is everything. If your air conditioner is located in an especially sunny place, the unit will have to work much harder to cool the air, which could cost you money over time. If possible, install it in a shady spot.

Another common installation problem is not sealing the window properly. If there’s space around the air conditioner, you'll let in hot air. Make sure that the fold-out shield on a window unit blocks as much air as possible. Then you can look into weatherstripping to seal up any gaps.

For outdoor units, make sure the space around it is clear: no trees, shrubs, flowers, or structures should block their flow.

3. It's Surrounded with Appliances

Most air conditioners have sensors that let you pick a temperature and prompt the unit to cycle on and off to maintain that temperature. But these can be unintentionally tricked.

Make sure there are no appliances that give off heat near your air conditioner. This includes lamps, kitchen appliances like refrigerators, and home electronics like televisions. Those items will raise the temperature in their immediate area and fool the air conditioner into working harder—and thus less efficiently. Consider using blackout curtains in the room with your AC unit. 

“Close the blinds or drapes on the sunny side of your home during the hottest part of the day to naturally lower the inside temperature,” says Ted Noonan, owner of Noonan Energy in Massachusetts. “Avoid cooking meals that involve the oven, which can increase the temperature in your home and force your unit to work harder.”

4. You Use It On Mild Days

Frankly, we all probably use our air conditioners more than necessary. These units use a lot of energy, making them expensive to run; it could cost you as much as $25 per month per unit to run half of each day.

If it’s only mildly hot outside, or if you’re not in the same room as the air conditioner, turn it off. Fans, especially ceiling fans, are a good option, too as they do a great job of circulating air. Plus, a ceiling fan costs only $1.50 per month for the same usage. And the less you use it, the longer your air conditioner will last.

5. You Ignore Preventive Maintenance

For smaller window AC units, proper location and air filter cleaning will take you through the life of the system. But for large HVAC units, more maintenance might be needed. “At a minimum, air conditioning condenser coils should be cleaned at least twice a year,” says Richard Ciresi, owner of an Aire Serv heating and cooling franchise. “It is best to clean the condenser coils before starting the system for the season and again when the weather starts to get hot for prolonged periods of time.” The condenser coils are located on the exterior box of your HVAC system. To clean them, first turn off the power at the outdoor shutoff, then use a coil brush or vacuum to remove debris. Spray with a hose or wash with coil cleaner as needed.

There are few feelings of relief so perfect as coming in from a hot, humid summer’s day to a crisp, air-conditioned house. But it’s important to remember that these appliances won’t simply take care of themselves. Take care of them with our expert tips, and they’ll keep your family cool all season long.

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