FAQs – Home Air Conditioning Information
As professional HVAC contractors, we at Climate Master Mechanical Contractors, Inc. find ourselves fielding a lot of air conditioner questions. We hope our brief heating and air conditioning FAQ will help you to learn more about these essential devices and make informed decisions regarding your home comfort equipment.
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Should I Get the Biggest Air Conditioner Available?
As the old adage says, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, an air conditioner that is too big for your home will constantly cycle on and off, which leads to uncomfortable temperature changes and wastes electricity. Of course, getting an air conditioner that is too small won’t help you either; the unit will have to work very hard to keep your home cool, reducing its efficiency and its useful lifespan.
To know how much cooling power your home needs, ask your air conditioning contractor to performs a load calculation. By accounting for square footage, layout, insulation and other factors, a professional HVAC contractor can determine your home’s cooling load and recommend an air conditioner that is properly sized to meet those cooling needs. Remember to get a new load calculation every time you install a new unit, as changing circumstances may have made the old calculation obsolete.
What Do Ratings Like SEER and MERV Mean?
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, a measure of the cooling efficiency of an air conditioner. It is obtained by dividing the air conditioner’s cooling capacity in British thermal units by its power usage in watts; the higher the SEER, the less power the unit needs to cool the home. Typical SEER values range from about 10 to 20; Energy Star rated air conditioners have SEER ratings of at least 14.
HSPF stands for Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, which measures the energy efficiency of a heat pump’s heating cycle. As with SEER, a higher HSPF indicates that the heat pump is more energy efficient during the heating season.
The efficiency of a boiler or furnace is its Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE), expressed as a percentage. The higher the AFUE, the more fuel the unit converts into usable heat. For instance, a 90 AFUE furnace converts 90 percent of the fuel it burns into heat for the home; the remaining 10 percent is dispersed heat in the exhaust.
An air filter’s Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) describes the size of the particles it can filter from the air. The higher the MERV, the more particles a given filter can remove. MERV values generally range from 1 to 16.
What Does My HVAC System’s Warranty Cover?
Warranties vary somewhat from manufacturer to manufacturer and from product to product, of course, but the standard factory warranty usually covers parts, while the HVAC contractor who installed your unit covers labor. To find information specific to your warranty, look in the homeowner information packet that you should have received when your unit was installed. If you cannot find that packet, check the unit itself for a date of manufacture; machines built within the last five years are often still under warranty. Finally, our technicians can help you locate and understand your warranty information during a service visit.
Should I Replace Both Units Together?
As a rule, yes, the indoor unit and outdoor unit should be replaced at the same time. Some benefits of having both procedures done at once are:
- Matched System: Indoor and outdoor units are designed to work with specific other units. You may be able to get by with an unmatched system, but energy efficiency will suffer.
- Upgraded Technology: The HVAC industry is constantly working to improve air conditioner efficiency and performance. By replacing both units, you will be able to take full advantage of those improvements.
- New Warranty: If you replace both units at the same time, you can rest assured that the new warranty covers your entire cooling system. Otherwise, you could be stuck paying for future repairs out of pocket.
In general, if your indoor unit is more than a few years old, you should have it replaced when you replace your outdoor unit. Of course, your HVAC contractor will be able to offer more specific recommendations.
Should I Choose Central Air, Ductless or a Heat Pump?
Since every home has unique cooling needs and every homeowner has individual preferences, there is no one correct answer to this question. All of these machines have their advantages and disadvantages, so choosing the right one is a matter of understanding those upsides and downsides.
Central air conditioners are powerful machines that use forced air to quickly cool your home. They can dependably cool even the largest homes, but tend to be somewhat bulky and noisy when compared to other types of cooling equipment. Still, the HVAC industry is constantly finding new ways to streamline central air, and it tends to be an affordable and effective option for many homes.
Ductless air conditioners use new technology to cool your home without need for expensive ductwork. These units are compact, making them ideal for small homes and apartments, and their variable speed compressors improve comfort and efficiency by matching your home’s cooling needs in real time. Ductless systems do require specialized knowledge to set up, but after installation, they tend to run very smoothly.
Heat pumps are dual-use units that effectively function as reversible air conditioners. During the cooling season, the heat pump collects heat from inside and releases it outside; during the heating season, the cycle runs backward as the unit collects heat from the outdoor air. Because they combine heating and cooling in one package, heat pumps are great choices for homes where space is at a premium. However, they tend to require a fair amount of maintenance to keep running throughout the year.
How Long Will My AC Unit Last?
For the most part, air conditioners are designed to last about 10 years. That lifespan tends to change somewhat depending on the unit’s degree of use, however; in hot areas, air conditioners have to work very hard and endure a great deal of wear and tear as a result. Conversely, air conditioners tend to last a little longer in areas with mild climates.
To help your air conditioner last as long as possible, you will need to keep it properly maintained. Changing the air filter frequently will help, as will carrying out frequent checks for corrosion on the wires and other visible maintenance issues. The best way to make the most of your air conditioner is to invest in an annual service agreement; our technicians will come to your home and clear up any small issues before they can threaten your unit’s future.
How Can a Ventilation System Improve Indoor Air Quality?
Improving indoor air quality is particularly essential for people who suffer from asthma or allergies, but it is important for anyone. One of the most effective ways to promote good air quality in your home is to invest in a dedicated ventilator, which removes old, stale air from inside and replaces it with clean, fresh air from the outdoors. Ventilators are designed to work in concert with your existing air conditioner or heat pump, so you will notice an immediate difference in air quality without sacrificing any cooling power.
Where Should I Set My Air Conditioner’s Thermostat?
Remember, every degree makes a difference of 7 percent in your air conditioner’s power consumption, so the rule of thumb is to set your thermostat as high as you can comfortably stand. For most people, this is somewhere between 76 and 79 degrees. Note that using a ceiling fan, you can tolerate even higher indoor temperatures thanks to the artificial “wind chill” effect created by the moving blades.
The best setting for your thermostat varies somewhat throughout the day. If you are away from home for long stretches of time, for instance, it can be helpful to turn your thermostat up before leaving and turn it back down when you return. Most air conditioners can cool your home fairly quickly, so you won’t be uncomfortable for more than a few minutes. Likewise, you can stand higher temperatures while you are asleep, so try turning the thermostat up before bedtime and turning it back down in the morning.
A modern programmable thermostat can take all of the work out of these constant changes by automatically hitting target temperatures at particular times of day. Also consider investing in a zoned system, which can break up your home into separate climate control areas and let you set different temperatures in different rooms. For total control, some thermostats even offer remote access options that are perfect for on-the-go homeowners.
Why Does My AC Constantly Turn On and Off?
Any air conditioner will turn on and off occasionally during normal operation, but constant cycling may indicate a problem with your unit. One common issue is that the air conditioner is too big for the space it is cooling; in that situation, the air conditioner will quickly lower the temperature to the target point, then shut off, and then kick back in when the temperature rises in. All that unnecessary cycling wastes electricity and puts more wear and tear on your unit.
If your unit is properly sized for your home, an electrical issue is likely to blame for the cycling on and off. Check the wires going into the air conditioner for any rust, corrosion or other damage that could be interrupting the power supply. Another common cause is ice formation on the coils, which can in turn be caused by a dirty air filter or a refrigerant leak. Locate the refrigerant gauge to confirm that the refrigerant level is still in the recommended range, and don’t forget to change the filter every month.
Why Does My Air Conditioner Freeze Up?
If ice is forming on your air conditioner’s coils, three issues are likely to blame. The first is a dirty air filter, which slows the flow of cold air out of your unit and thus causes the interior temperature to drop. If your unit has a reusable filter, clean it in cold water, and remember to let it air dry completely before you put it back. If you need a replacement filter, check with a factory authorized dealer to find one that is properly sized for your unit.
Another common cause of freezing is a low outdoor temperature. Again, if the outdoor air is too cold, the interior temperature of your air conditioner may drop low enough to cause the moisture inside to freeze. Try shutting your unit off at night and turning it back on in the morning; the lower air temperature at night is often to blame.
Your air conditioner uses refrigerant to transfer heat out of your home, but the cooling cycle does not actually consume the refrigerant chemicals. A low refrigerant level, usually caused by a leak, can upset the internal balance of your air conditioner and cause ice to form. Check the refrigerant gauge to see whether the refrigerant level is still in the acceptable range; if you see evidence of a leak, call a professional HVAC contractor to have it repaired right away.
Do You Provide Refrigerant Replacement?
Because of EPA regulations, technicians need to be properly trained and certified to work with refrigerant chemicals. Our NATE-certified technicians are fully qualified to work with refrigerants and provide all refrigerant-related services, including recovery and recharging. If your air conditioner needs new refrigerant, we can come to your home and recharge it with refrigerant from our supply in short order. We will also be happy to safely reclaim used refrigerant from your system for service purposes.
Why Can’t I Get an Air Filter at My Hardware Store?
Hardware stores carry generic air filters that can be used with many different machines. Although these filters may work in a pinch, you need a filter specifically designed to fit your system to maximize efficiency and minimize the risk of filter-related issues. As a Bryant factory authorized dealer, we offer a full range of replacement filters for all models of Bryant air conditioners and heat pumps.
What Are the Benefits of Duct Cleaning?
If your home uses central air conditioning or a forced-air furnace, the ducts play an important role in maintaining a comfortable temperature. They carry hot or cold air throughout the house as needed, cooling things down in the summer and keeping it warm in the winter. Dust and debris clogging the ducts, then, can reduce the efficiency of your entire home heating and cooling system. The only solution is to have your ducts cleaned.
There are several good reasons to invest in duct cleaning for your home. If you notice visible dust coming out of access vents, the ducts clearly need to be cleaned out. Likewise, if your ducts are filled with mold or infested with vermin, they require immediate cleaning. Duct cleaning may also be in order if someone in your home suffers from asthma or environmental allergies.
Our technicians start the cleaning process itself by opening up access holes and disassembling the duct system so that every component can be properly cleaned. Next, we scrub away at the ducts with specially designed brushes that will dislodge dust and debris without damaging the ducts themselves, then use high-powered vacuum technology to blow all of the pollutants away. If necessary, we use chemical biocides to clear out bacteria and mold, then apply sealants to protect against future damage. Finally, we reassemble the system and quickly confirm that everything is working properly before we leave the home.
After your ducts are cleaned, you should notice a cleaner smell in the air almost immediately, and allergy and asthma sufferers in the home will likewise notice a decrease in symptoms. If the debris was sufficient to impact the efficiency of your forced-air systems, you will see a difference on your next utility bill.
Once your ducts are cleaned, they will likely stay clean for quite some time. On average, we recommend going three to 10 years between cleanings, depending on smoking, pets and general home cleanliness.