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Homeowners know summers can be long and hot — but that doesn't mean your home can't be a sanctuary from the heat with a properly functioning air conditioner.

"Heating and cooling accounts for more than half of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes," Energy.gov estimates

Here are five steps to get the most of your central air system and keep it running efficiently and strong all summer long.

1. Before you turn it on

Walk outside. Take a look at your condenser unit. If you covered the condenser over the winter, remove the cover before you turn it on. Remove any objects or vegetation within 18 inches. It's not a bad idea to take a hose with a nozzle and spray off the coils at a 45 degree angle to remove debris between the fins.

The inside part of your central air system is often overlooked by homeowners and this is where many problems begin. A regularly changed filter is the best thing you can do for your system.

"A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool," according to the energy efficiency website energystar.gov.

Change it once a month in the summer with a pleated filter. Before you turn on your central air system for the first time make sure you have a new filter in place and that there are no gaps where the air can pass unfiltered.

Consider closing all the basement vents — to force cool air where it's needed most, upstairs.

2. Fire it up

Now that you've prepared your central air, it’s time to flip the switch. Turn your thermostat to “cool” and turn the fan to “auto." Turn the setting down to 68 degrees or so for the purpose of these next steps. Once you hear the system come on, go back outside to the condenser and make sure the fan is spinning. You should also hear the hum of the compressor. Walk back inside and listen for anything abnormal with the furnace blower. Should you see or hear anything unusual turn the system off immediately.

3. It’s running, but is it working?

There are a few basic checks a homeowner can do to see if your central air is operating like it should. One of the first things to look at is the copper refrigerant pipes. The large one, which is usually insulated, should be cold. While the system is running, go outside to the condenser and push up the insulation a bit to expose the pipe. Touch it. It should feel like a soda can fresh out of the refrigerator. You'll often see condensation on this refrigerant line and that's a good sign the refrigerant level is where it should be.

If you have a digital or laser thermometer, you can check the temperature at your vents to determine if your central air system is working properly. The temperature should be around 20 degrees cooler than the air going in at the return-air vent.

4. What to watch for

As temperatures rise, your central air will be running longer and working overtime. Watch for water on the top or under your furnace. Condensation is normal but it should run through the condensate drain only. Damage caused by improper drainage is common and usually expensive to repair. Look for any signs of freezing on the large copper line. If you see ice or frost, it may be a sign that you have low refrigerant or improper air flow.

If your central air system runs all the time and rarely shuts off, or you can’t get the temperature below 75 degrees you may have a problem. High power bills can also be an indication something is wrong. You may need a professional to take a look at your system.

5. If you need to call a professional

It's miserable in your home and you have decided it is time to make that dreaded phone call to have a technician come and look at your air conditioner. You will want to make sure to have a qualified technician diagnose your problem.

Before you call anyone make sure to do some research. Choose a company that has been in business for a while. Make sure technicians are licensed and insured. Look for online reviews, but keep in mind that some reviews may not be genuine. Check the Better Business Bureau website to see if the company has a large number of complaints.

If you do need a major repair, it's best to get a second opinion. Most companies will do this at no charge.



Chad Humphrey, owner of Humphrey Heating and Air, has more than 15 years experience in the industry and is a licensed HVAC contractor. Contact him at callhumphrey@live.com or utahhvac.net
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