Air Conditioning: What You Need to Know

Air conditioning is a necessity in the desert, where temperatures can routinely top 100 degrees during the summer. Many homeowners and renters, though, know little about the AC units that cool their homes.

While it can be easy to take air conditioning for granted, maintenance, repair and sometimes replacement are necessary for keeping as comfortable as possible during the hottest Tucson months.

The first thing to know: What type of air conditioner do you have, and where is it located?

“Packaged system” air conditioners, where most of the components are housed in a single cabinet, usually are located on the roof. “Split system” air conditioners usually have two pieces of equipment – the first located outside either on the ground next to the house or on the roof, and the second in the garage, attic, hallway closet or mechanical room.

Regular maintenance is necessary for your air conditioner to perform efficiently over time and will also help extend the life of the unit.

“At least monthly, check your filter and replace it if necessary. Those who live with pets or in dusty areas may need to change their filters more often,” said Armando Ruiz, Senior Tech Specialist in TEP’s Residential Energy Efficiency Program. Use your electric bill as the monthly reminder, and purchase a value pack of replacement filters so they’re on hand when you need them, he said.

Calling a qualified company for seasonal tune-ups is also great idea.

“It’s very similar to changing the oil in your car. Tune-ups are part of basic maintenance, and maintenance is less expensive than repair or replacement,” Ruiz said.

Changes in the sound of the unit or its performance can indicate problems. “It’s no different than hearing a noise you haven’t heard before while driving. You want to get it looked at,” Ruiz said.

When it’s time to buy a new air conditioner, you should take into consideration the characteristics of your home and your budget. “This is not an area where one size fits all,” Ruiz said.

TEP’s Efficient Home Program can help you make the right choice and ensure quality installation.

First, call a participating contractor and request an air conditioner efficiency screening. Your contractor will screen your existing equipment and confirm in writing the TEP rebates for which you are eligible.

TEP offers rebates of up to $850 for ENERGY STAR® AC/heat pump quality installation with the early retirement of qualifying existing systems. ENERGY STAR® rated air conditioners meet strict energy efficiency standards set by the federal government.

“They’re made better, they last longer and they maintain their performance and efficiency better over time,” Ruiz said.

Rebates also are available for equipment downsizing, variable-speed units and duct sealing.

When you elect to replace your existing equipment with qualifying new equipment and have your ducts sealed, your participating contractor will use CheckMe! computer diagnostics to confirm proper installation with the correct refrigerant charge and air flow.

Proper installation is necessary for your new air conditioner to operate at its peak efficiency.

“Know and understand the benefit of going through our particular contractors,” Ruiz said. “You’ll get the right size unit, installed correctly, checked and verified.”

Often times, people are tempted to turn off the air conditioner when they’re not home to save money. But doing this day-to-day can actually cost more.

“Leaving for work, you shouldn’t turn your air conditioning off, just turn your thermostat up a few degrees,” Ruiz said. “If you’re going away for the weekend, turn your thermostat up a bit higher. If you’re going to be gone longer, then it may make sense to turn it off.”

Here are some tips to help keep your house cool without overheating your energy costs.

  • Set your thermostat at the highest comfortable temperature to minimize your cooling costs. The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, recommends a setting of 78 degrees in the summer, but individual preferences may vary.
  • You may be able to further reduce costs by turning up your thermostat when you’re away from home. DOE estimates you can cut your cooling costs by up to 10 percent by turning up your thermostat 10 to 15 percent for eight hours a day. Your results may vary, and some customers – including residents of energy efficient homes – might see little or no benefit from such temporary thermostat changes during the home cooling season.
  • A programmable thermostat will allow you to automatically turn up the temperature after you leave home and restore a comfortable climate before your scheduled return. But these devices must be used properly to achieve energy savings, and some customers may be better off with a simpler manual thermostat.
  • Keep exterior doors and windows closed when running the air conditioner.
  • Apply weather stripping and caulking around doors and windows to keep the chilled air inside.
  • Plant trees and shrubs to keep the house and the air conditioner’s outdoor component in the shade, yet still allow air to circulate.
  • Change your air filter each month. A simple reminder is to change your filter on the day you receive your monthly electric bill.