Anyone who lives in Florida knows they need air conditioning for much of the year in order to stay comfortable. Central air conditioning is the most common way people cool their homes in the Sunshine State, and the systems must be equipped for prolonged operation in the hot, humid, salty climate. An air-conditioning outage or failure can be downright dangerous.
When you think of air conditioning in terms of how it relates to your comfort and safety as well as that of your family, friends and other visitors, the importance of a sound-running system gains priority. Regular maintenance and good service practices pay off not only in peace of mind and uninterrupted physical comfort, but also in savings from a system that runs as efficiently as possible and does not generate big, emergency repairs.
After decades in Florida-specific business, Del-Air Heating and Air Conditioning knows the answers to people’s frequently asked questions about all facets of air conditioning and heating. We are glad to share knowledge and air-conditioning maintenance tips that help people avoid problems and maintain their comfort no matter how long summer lasts or how high temperatures go.
Let’s take a look at 15 questions you can ask to make sure your AC unit keeps operating at peak levels:
- What is HVAC?
HVAC is an acronym that stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It’s a short way of describing everything associated with the entire system that processes air, from the compressor, fan and motor of your air conditioning unit to the vents, thermostat and filters. Of course most Floridians are most concerned with the AC part, but most heating and cooling systems have some components in common, for example the ducts in which the air travels.
2. How does an air conditioner work?
A typical central air-conditioning system draws in outside air and forces it through or over super-cooled evaporator coils containing refrigerant that changes from a liquid to a gas as it works. The process both cools the air and extracts humidity from it, and then the cool air is blown through vents to the rooms of your home.
Your central air conditioning unit outside contains a motor, compressor, fans, condenser coil, wires, coolant and other parts. A motor powers the unit’s movement and runs the compressor. The compressor pushes refrigerant between the inside evaporator coil and the outdoor condenser coil. As the coolant travels back to and through the condenser coil, it changes back to a liquid state and gets pumped, filtered and cooled before re-entering the indoor coil to repeat the process.
The air in a central AC system moves through a series of ducts that run through the ceiling and/or walls. The duct work is usually made of tin or lightweight stainless steel, and the AC system in general also includes the air vents and a thermostat control on the wall.
3. Why does my AC system need regular maintenance?
On a scale of importance that runs 1-10, regular maintenance ranks as a 10 because it directly relates to your comfort. Air-conditioning systems in the Sunshine State run for more of the year and for more time each day than units in most other states, plus Florida has higher humidity than nearly anywhere else. These factors make it crucial to perform AC inspection and service consistently.
The key is to check the system often enough to spot any small issues before they turn into an expensive repair and failed unit that leave you hot and sticky until they’re repaired. Another answer to this question is efficiency. The more efficiently your system functions, the cooler you will feel and the more money you will save. There are a number of ways to perform central-air preventative maintenance and help keep your system running smoothly.
4. What kind of things can happen without regular maintenance?
The worst enemy to your entire system is dirt, debris and particulate matter of all sizes because dirt build-up inhibits air flow and reduces your comfort as well as the system’s effectiveness and efficiency. It not only wastes money, but it can also lead to failure and reduced capacity. Rodents can chew through wires, and other pests can decide to nest within the unit outside. Ducts can sustain damage in a number of ways such as a defective seam or accidental hole, and then they might start to leak.
Consider the numerical differences between a clean and dirty system:
- A 3-ton unit with a moderately dirty filter and coil would use about 10,670 kilowatts and cost around $928 per season. The same unit with clean parts would reduce kilowatt usage to 7,675 kilowatts and $615 per season.
- A 5-ton unit with a moderately dirty filter and coil would use approximately 15,165 kilowatts and cost about $1,213 per season. The same unit with clean parts would reduce kilowatt usage to 10,302 kilowatts and $824 per season.
5. What kind of regular maintenance does my air conditioner need?
Too many people tend to turn the unit on and see if anything sounds funny and then cross their fingers that everything holds through the heat. That approach is a gamble because there are multiple parts on the air conditioner that need inspection and service regularly.
For example, Del-Air’s 20-point tune-up includes all the recommended points of annual maintenance, which generally includes inspection and cleaning:
- Compressor and fan amps
- Condenser coil
- Contactor points
- Electrical cabinet
- Seal and fit of caps and valves
- Blower amps
- Heat-strip amps, circuit components and safeties
- Evaporator coil
- Blower wheel
- Electrical connections and wires
- Temperature splits
- Lubrication of moving parts
- Vacuum drain line drainage
- Float switch operation
- Air grills and exterior
- General performance
In addition, you can check and clean air ducts and vent openings, visually inspect the unit anytime you walk past and be sure to keep it clear of debris like leaves, branches and dirt. All of these actions qualify as air-conditioning preventative maintenance.
6. How often should I service my AC system in Florida?
Experts usually advise a check of the system at least once per year, and during spring is the best time to do it so your system is ready before the temperatures rise to their highest points of the season. It is always a good idea to check the system again if and when you transition to heat, when it’s been off for many weeks or when you run it year round. Some high-usage applications may demand system maintenance more often than annually.
7. Why is it important to change the filter, and how often should I do it?
The filter allows air to flow through, but it catches dust, hair, dirt, allergens and germs to enhance indoor air quality and protect the mechanical parts of your system. Change a disposable filter or clean a washable filter at least once a month and more often if you have tough conditions such as heavy dust, high traffic or lots of pet hair.
There are many different kinds of filters capable of improving the indoor air quality of your home, and the type of AC system you have may dictate what kind of filter you need. Personal preference will also help decide how vigilant you want to be about air quality.
Generally, the filter sits inside the home next to or within the air-exchange system, which might be in a utility closet, the attic or another concealed spot. The filter is usually somewhere near the point where cooled or heated air enters the duct system.
Typically, the most common type of AC air filter is a big rectangle or square bordered in cardboard or plastic, and they range in thickness from one inch to four inches. The filter is easy to pull out, but before you get it all the way out, make note of the way it slides out of the slot so you can insert the new one the same way. Sometimes it helps to use a permanent marker and draw guide arrows onto the filter frame. You’ll also want to know the filter size in order to buy the correct replacements. You can purchase the filters in bulk to save money and make sure they’re on hand for the monthly changes.
Some people may not worry that much about indoor air quality, but the other strong reason to keep the filter clean is system performance. As the filter fills with unwanted material, air has a harder time getting through it, so the system works harder to maintain the temperature. When the system works harder than it should, there tends to be a ripple effect of more cost to run the system, increased wear on parts and possibly decreased comfort. The U.S. Department of Energy states that a clean AC air filter can mean a 5%-15% decrease in your AC’s energy consumption over a dirty, clogged filter.
8. How can I troubleshoot before calling for emergency AC repair?
If your system is not working properly, start with the simple things before calling for repair:
- Check the thermostat setting for on/off/temperature status
- Set central AC units to “auto” and “cool”
- Change batteries in the thermostat if needed
- Visually inspect the exterior unit for obvious signs of trouble such as frayed wires or disconnections
- Change the filter
- Look/test to see if a breaker tripped and if so, flip it to off and then back on again
- Recall recent hours and days and see if anything unusual comes to mind
- Make note of any noises or smells
- Check any overflow reservoirs, which are usually near the air handler, to make sure it hasn’t overflowed and tripped a safety switch that must be in place and not in water for proper operation
- Empty any full or overflowing reservoirs
- Check the bottom of the air handler to see if it is very cold and sweating, which could indicate it has frozen and you should turn off the system.
If all of these elements are operating as they should but your system is still not doing what it should, give us a call.
9. What are the signs that my AC might need maintenance?
Different AC systems and problems may exhibit different symptoms, so it is good to be generally aware of the AC-system function somewhat regularly. See if it is cooling each room sufficiently or if there are hot spots in the house. See if the on-off frequency seems normal and listen for any noises at the inside and outside parts of the system. Inspect around the base of units with a bright flashlight to see any signs of trouble.
Analyze your electric bill to see if kilowatt usage and dollars remain at about the same rate, allowing of course for normal variance that follows Florida’s temperature fluctuations. If either seems excessive, you might need a deeper analysis of your system. It will benefit you to know the different tasks involved with maintenance for air-conditioning systems and know which ones you are comfortable doing yourself and which ones you’ll need a professional. You can also make it easy on yourself and set up an AC preventative-maintenance schedule.
10. How do I know my AC system is sized properly?
Basically, calculations and good judgment are what determine how big of a system you need. AC capacity is expressed in terms of BTUs and tonnage. BTU stands for British thermal unit, and tonnage refers to an old standard of how many tons of ice a refrigeration unit could freeze in a day.
The BTUs represent how much energy your air conditioner uses to reduce the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. The electricity your system uses to generate those BTUs is expressed in kilowatts per hour (kWh). One ton is equal to 12,000 BTUs, so for example, a 3-ton unit would generate 36,000 BTUs of cooling power and a 5-ton unit would generate 60,000 BTUs.
Though you will find sizing guides given by square footage, the best way to know the size of system you need is to have a licensed professional assess the spaces you are cooling because there are other factors besides square footage that affect sizing needs. Many people are tempted to just buy the biggest unit available, but neither an undersized nor oversized system will produce cool air and maximum comfort efficiently.
Several examples of variables that affect the sizing of a system for home cooling include these:
- Configuration of your home such as rooms and ceiling height
- How the house is oriented to the sun
- The part of Florida in which it’s located
- The amount of shade around it
- Temperature setting of the thermostat
- What kind of duct system it has
- Utility components
11. How can I prevent my AC from needing costly repairs?
Maintenance is the best way to avoid expensive service, prolong the life of your system and achieve maximum efficiency and comfort. Filter changes, cleaning of the coil and fins and inspection are all things to do regularly, as well as be aware of how they system performs.
The outdoor condenser coils and evaporator coils of any air conditioning system will naturally accumulate dirt, even when you keep the filter clean and changed. These essential and hard-working parts of the air conditioning system also need to be cleaned at least as often as annual maintenance and more if dirt build-up warrants it.
You can use several techniques around your home to ease the burden on your AC unit:
- Install or improve window shades, screens and drapes
- Provide adequate insulation throughout attic and walls
- Seal cracks around windows and doors
- Keep dirt and debris away from indoor and outdoor units and with the unit turned off, gently spray clean periodically with water
- Trim or remove foliage that limits access to the unit or inhibits its ventilation
- Clean ducts, vents and air-exchange system regularly
- Do not shut vents in empty rooms as this hinders, not helps, your system
Proper and regular maintenance also leads to lower operating costs and prevents major problems and repairs.
12. How long does an AC system last?
Depending on the brand, a typical central-air system will last about 15-20 years, and it isn’t hard to find advice that says to replace them sooner. Many people decide to upgrade for greater capacity, efficiency, advanced technology and money savings.
13. How much does AC maintenance cost in Florida?
It’s hard to put a number on exactly how much you will or should pay in maintenance each year, simply because each person’s system and filter will be a little different, as well as the size of their system, temperature preferences and individual-site conditions. Also, if you notice a frayed wire or have a breakdown in spite of good maintenance, you might end up paying for a replacement part such as a motor, fan, coil or wiring.
It is wise to keep some money in a household-emergency account for unexpected repairs, but you can also figure out what typical annual maintenance will cost. For example, the 20-point Del-Air tune-up described above costs $69.95, and AC-unit filters cost in a range from $2 apiece up to $50 each depending on the types of allergens you want the filter to remove.
Presume you’ll have the unit serviced by a professional at least once a year at $69.95 and then buy 12 filters at a mid-range price of about $5 each. That maintenance plan amounts to about $130 per year. For Florida’s harsh conditions, it would help ensure your comfort and avoid expensive breakdowns to budget $200 per year to do the tune-up twice and catch any issues early.
Ultimately, the cost of this annual maintenance and inspection amounts to a lot less than paying for new parts or perhaps a new unit that runs into the thousands of dollars. Consistent maintenance on your air conditioner system is about the best insurance you can get to safeguard it and ultimately your comfort.
14. What are my options for a new unit?
Del-Air is Florida’s premier dealer of Carrier, Lennox and Trane, all brands known for dependable performance in the southern heat, and we service and sell all, other, major brands. You should know that a high-efficiency model can save you 30%-50% in energy costs over a model that is 12 years old or older. Central air conditioners have a rating that corresponds to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), and the higher the number, the better the unit’s efficiency. For example, new air-conditioner units have a SEER of at least 13 in order to earn the federal-standard ENERGY STAR designation.
Call Upon a Staff of Expert Professionals
Del-Air Heating and Air Conditioning provides a full range of HVAC services and can help with troubleshooting, maintenance, inspection, upgrades or new systems, efficiency improvements and the 20-point AC Tune-Up. When you’re ready to improve, make greener, inspect, service or repair any kind of air-conditioning or cooling system, you have access to Florida’s premier HVAC experts.
We sell and service every major, HVAC system produced and have expert technicians ready to deliver prompt, courteous service at competitive prices. If energy-saving options interest you, Del-Air has expert solutions certified by the Environmental Protection Agency. If you’d like the best insurance available against an AC-unit breakdown, Del-Air can work with you on a preventative-maintenance schedule that takes worry off your mind and ensures your system gets well-timed and proper service.
Our customers enjoy peace of mind through our $500 low-price guarantee, rebate-application service and financing options. For example, we can provide a quote in as little as 10 minutes and next-day installation of the quoted system. We respond to Florida’s specialized heat with the specialized resources including the people, the equipment, a fleet of over 400 service trucks, the training and a business plan that has fostered growth for many years. Please don’t hesitate to connect with us today if you have other AC-related questions.