Tips for Using Home Air Conditioning

These tips will help you use your air conditioner efficiently and in the end is a way of saving money since your electricity bill will be lower, and in some cases can prolong the life of your unit since you may be able to catch a problem that could worsen if you just keep running it without having it serviced. Please bear in mind that I’ve lived in Arizona all my life and this information is derived from my personal experience in using air conditioning. I am not a professional.

  1. Keep Your Filters Changed: I cannot emphasize enough how important this chore is.  This is THE NUMBER ONE thing you can do to increase the longevity of your unit. How often will depend heavily on where you live. For example, if you live in the desert of Arizona with dirt roads around your house, it’s going to be a lot more dusty and you may need to change filters as often as once a week (that’s how often we need to change ours). On the other hand, if you live in an area that is not as dusty you may be able to get by with the recommended once per month. Get into the habit of changing your filter each month when you pay your electricity bill.  Special considerations to landlords: Do not depend on your tenant to remember to change the filter. At the very least, remind your client each month when it is time to change the filter.
  2. Don’t Be Tempted To Use Thick Filters. Apparently the thick filters make it harder for the unit to run properly, hindering the flow of air, so it is best to just use the cheap, thin filters and replace as necessary.
  3. Run One System at a Time: Some homes have what is called a piggyback system, with both an air conditioning unit and an evaporative cooler. If you have one of these systems, do NOT run both
    at the same time. Evaporative coolers work by putting moisture into the air, while air conditioners pull the moisture FROM the air. You will ruin your air conditioner by running both units at the
    same time. It is much more economical to use an evaporative cooling system so use that by itself until the monsoon arrives. You’ll know when it’s become too humid when the air becomes muggy and warm. It is then time to seal the doors and windows, put the damper in place and crank up the air conditioning unit. There should be a damper in place to close the air vent to the evaporative cooler once you start to use the air conditioning unit.
  4. Keep Doors and Windows Closed. If you are accustomed to using the evaporative cooler (which does need to have a few windows cracked in order to work efficiently) you may not realize that you cannot do the same with an air conditioner.  Keep doors and windows closed and sealed properly when using an air conditioning unit.
  5. Test for Leaks: Check for leaks around doors and windows.  Close blinds in your house and turn out the lights and look around the cracks of the door to see if light is coming in, a sure sign you have
    air leaks.
  6. Lower Raise The Temperature When Away from Home: If you’re going to be gone for the day turn the thermostat up to 84 or 86 degrees.  If you’re going to be on vacation during the summer, don’t be tempted to leave the air off altogether.  If your home gets too hot you may find that your house is aging prematurely, for example cabinets can warp, glue can separate from veneer, etc.
  7. Be Aware That the Unit Isn’t Running Constantly: As it gets hotter and more humid the unit will run more often; however, it should not run constantly.  It should cycle on and off fairly regularly.  You can check the temperature split to make sure it is running properly. Take a ordinary kitchen thermometer and place it in between the grills of the register where the return is located.  The return is where your filter is located.  Once you have the temperature there, go to the register that is the farthest away from the return.  Stick the thermometer into the grills to get the temperature.  Once you have those two temperatures, compare the difference.  You should find a difference of 20 degrees.  For example, if the air at the return is 80°F, the air coming out of the register should be 60°F.  This indicates you are getting good air flow across the coil. Anything higher or lower there’s a problem.
  8. Abnormal Noises: Listen for any out of the ordinary noises when the motor starts, this can cue you to possible problems. If you hear abnormal noises, do not continue to run the unit. Call an air
    conditioning company for assistance.  When we had our old split system (one part of the unit in the house, the other outside) on occasion a rogue field mouse would get into the area where the blower was and when the unit would come on it would vibrate or make clunking sounds. Once we figured out what that noise was, we knew to turn the unit off and check.
  9. Air Won’t Cool Down Home.  One thing that can cause your unit to run constantly and produce warm air can be due to dirty coils (primarily caused by not changing your filter as needed) which
    have iced over.  In the split system units you may be able to see the coil behind where the filter resides.  It is very important to keep your air filters cleaned regularly; if you allow them to get dirty and clogged your coil will in turn get dirty and clogged. If you see that your coil is iced over, turn the unit off and call an air conditioning technician because your coils need to be cleaned. If you are handy, just do an Internet search for the following words: do it yourself clean air conditioner coils.
  10. Make Sure Vents Are Uncovered: This throws the air balance off. If you are trying to save money on electricity by not cooling the spare bedroom, then you will need to make sure the room is completely sealed, meaning the crack under the door, the register in the door or at the top of the door that allows air to pass through.  The system will pull hot air out of the room that is not being cooled thereby defeating your purpose of trying to not cool that room.

Let’s stay cool out there!

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10 comments to Tips for Using Home Air Conditioning in Arizona

  • My parents got me a Black & Decker thermal sensor for Christmas, and I love it! It’s awesome at detecting leaks. You click the button and it reads that as the baseline temperature. You then aim at around whatever area you’re looking for leaks, and the beam will change color when the temperature varies such that a leak is indicated. So far, I’ve found and repaired two significant leaks as a direct result of this handy tool. You can use it to detect leaks around windows and doors, and for a forced air system, to detect leaks in your ductwork which can be sealed with a cheap roll of aluminum tape (don’t use duct tape, despite the name, it will peel off within a few months).

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Money Beagle, thanks for telling me about the thermal sensor, I impulsively bought one today on your recommendation! I will do a review once I’ve been able to use it a bit. But it sounds like it is going to be very helpful in finding leaks in our house and Mr. A has been obsessed with that lately since it just seems like our air conditioner is running way too much. It sounds like a nifty little tool! I second your recommendation on the aluminum tape vs. duct tape. But just a warning for anyone not accustomed to using aluminum tape, that stuff can cut you so be extra cautious when using it.

    [Reply]

  • Great tips, and quite appropriate considering the summer we have been having. Did you intend for tip 6 to say “Lower the temperature”? Seems like you should say, “raise the thermostat setting” when away from home.

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Joe: Good catch! Thanks for pointing that out, I’ve made the correction. I understand the whole United States is having a heat wave, this is old hat for us in Arizona. ;-) Thanks for visiting and commenting!

    [Reply]

  • Hmm, good tip on not turning off the AC completely, even if you go on vacation. Letting your home heat up so much probably can’t be great for the materials.

    When I was using an AC, I’d often leave it in power-save mode with a trigger at 76 or 77 F. In my current apartment, I just need to open windows at both ends to turn the place into a natural wind tunnel. It’s pretty nice… except during the hottest heat waves where even the wind becomes unbearably hot ;)

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Invest It Wisely: I have one of the seven day programmable thermostats, I find it very handy as we keep the house at 80°F during the day but I cannot sleep at night unless it’s down to 77°F. You are so lucky with your wind tunnel apartment! We can open the front and back door for a cross breeze and we do that during the *winter* since it gets too warm in our place (and we’ve never turned on the heating part of our unit!). Thanks for visiting and commenting!

    [Reply]

  • These are some practical tips…. My electric bill shot through the roof because I use the ac too much, and you are right about the abnormal noises. I didn’t get it looked at right away because I was penny-pinching, but when the unit broke down it cost more to get it fixed.

    [Reply]

  • John Mauldin

    I agree with much of what you are saying in your article but I do want to point out some areas that are important to note:
    First, you state that you should not use a “thick filter”. Admittedly, thin filters, most often manufactured from fiberglass are less restrictive, HOWEVER, these filters were originally designed to protect the equipment from the accumulation of dust on the HVAC unit. But there are substantial drawbacks to these kinds of filters. First, fiberglass breaks down rapidly, esp. with the passage of air through the system. Consequently, the fiberglass becomes brittle in a few weeks and when it begins to degrade, it releases fiberglass particles into the air and the HVAC system distributes these particles throughout the home. This is very unhealthy. Second, HVAC manufacturers, as well as consumers, began to become aware that a more efficient filter can improve indoor air. The sealing up of the home to prevent intrusion of the outside air does, in fact, make the home more efficient, yet it also “seals” the pollutants that are introduced into the homes environment. These pollutants come as a result of dust mites that forage on dead skin and cannot be avoided, entirely. And it also comes from particulate that is suspended in the circulating air, like the fiberglass, as well as pollen, animal dander and all of the pollutants that are brought into the indoor environment as a result of people coming in and out. These pollutants can “ride” on clothing, in hair or on shoes. AC Furnace Filters that are pleated virtually double the surface area of the filtration but do not dramatically increase the thickness of the filter and they remove much more of the pollutants in the indoor air (Twice the filtration!). And a Pleated filter that is highly efficient will reduce the air flow through the system by less than one percent over any “thin” filter. Filters are rated by a universal rating system with the higher number MERV rating indicating a higher level of efficiency. Just ten years ago, the standard in the industry was a MERV8 filter. At that time, we introduced a MERV12 rated pleated filter that reduced the air flow by one-third of one-percent. And the industry said it would drive up costs of operation. Today, the industry has arrived where we were years ago, with the standard being MERV11 and MERV12. Only in apartments or other dwellings where cost is the important issue instead of health and improved indoor air do we still find a resistance to change from either the fiberglass filters of yesteryear or the MERV8 rated filters of ten years ago. While fiberglass filters may remove 60% of the pollutants and MERV8 filters remove 95% of the pollutants, a top quality MERV12 filter will remove at least 97.5% or more of the pollutants. And the most important part of the story is that the pollutants that are not removed from ANY filter are the smallest ones, the ones most likely to invade the body and cause problems. Additionally, many pleated filters use a “filter media” that is electrostatic. By that I mean that as air passes through the filter, it becomes “charged” resulting in an action much resembling a magnet where more of the pollutants passing through the hvac system are captured than would otherwise occur without the electrostatic charge. Now, we have perfected a MERV13 Filter that virtually eliminates the passage of pollutants into the homes atmosphere without a significant change in air flow.

    Finally, an efficient air purifier system can be used to enhance the quality of indoor air. And many of these systems are completely self-contained, cost virtually nothing to operate and provide purification for the entire home.

    One more important note! The reusable electrostatic filters currently on the market appear to offer a cost savings. While the fact that they are reusable seems to be a great way to save money, they are difficult and messy to clean but more importantly are VERY restrictive and significantly reduce the flow of air AND increase operating costs substantially. Overall, the pleated electrostatic filter is the only really good choice for any homeowner.
    All in all, your advice is sound, but I did want to point out some important points you missed. Thanks! John Mauldin, AC Filter Guy

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @John Mauldin, thanks for your lengthy comment. I did want to point out that you said that the fiberglass in the thin filters become brittle after “several weeks” but we rarely have our filters in that long. Several weeks to me says 5-6 weeks. We change ours at least once a month.

    [Reply]

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