08/01/12

Summer HVAC Maintenance Tips to Save Energy and Money

"Many people don't realize how quickly a dirty air filter can reduce performance and lead to energy waste in their system. Cleaning or replacing the air filter once per month will go a long way to keeping the system running well and efficiently." 

— S. Mullen, president of A/C Doc Heating and Cooling

The average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, and nearly half of that comes from heating and cooling costs. With the summer heat ready to peak, homeowners across the country are turning their air conditioning up to full blast. But you can save electricity and avoid hefty repair bills by giving your HVAC system an annual check-up.

The best time for HVAC maintenance is right before extreme temperatures hit, so try our energy-saving tune-up tips today.

DIY Maintenance

  • Clean/change the air filter. If you only make one tune-up this season, clean your air filter – doing so can lower your air conditioner's energy consumption by up to 15%. In the summertime, you should wash your reusable filter or replace your disposable one once per month. 
  • Clear the area around the outdoor unit. Keep vegetation at least two feet away from the unit so it is free to pull in air. This  includes raking up leaves in the fall.

Calling in a Professional

Some parts of a thorough annual check-up require disassembling an AC unit, so you'll have to call a service technician for a quick, professional check-up that usually costs around $50. The technician will:

  • Clear the drain. A clogged drain can waste nearly as much energy as a dirty filter because your unit has to work harder to send out even less cool air.
  • Clean the outdoor and indoor units. The technician will keep the outdoor condenser fan running efficiently by cleaning the fan blades, and will maintain the unit's ability to cool the air moving through it by removing dust and other buildup from the indoor evaporator coil.

Help Your HVAC Do Its Job

​To get the most bang from your HVAC buck, use these general energy-saving tips. They'll help you support your system and save energy around the house.

  • Get a programmable thermostat. It's easier to save energy with a programmable thermostat than a regular one because you don't have to think about it each time you want to change the temperature. You pre-program your settings so that the thermostat raises the temperature while you're at work and asleep, and kicks on the air conditioning when you're at home and awake. With "smart"  programmable thermostats, you can even control the temperature from your smartphone.
  • Seal your heating/cooling ducts and any open spaces. Make sure doors, windows, and nooks and crannies are shut and properly sealed. The less cool air that escapes your home, the less energy you'll waste, and more comfortable you'll be.
  • Set your thermostat to your ideal temperature (not any colder). Setting the air conditioner to a colder-than-desired temperature doesn't cool down your house any quicker – it just keeps the unit working longer than necessary. So, set it to where you want it. And remember: You save up to 1% on your yearly cooling bill every time you raise the temperature by one degree for a period of eight hours. So, set it to around 78° - after all, it is summer!

Buying a New HVAC system?

“Ultimately, it comes down to dollars and cents when we’re talking about HVAC units.”

— Director of Product Marketing for Climate, Controls and Security at United Technologies Corporation Mead Russert. 

If you have an older central air conditioner, you might choose to replace the outdoor compressor with a high-efficiency unit, or replace the entire system. Today's air conditioners use up to 40% less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as those made just 10 years ago. Look for an ENERGY STAR rating and a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or "SEER" that is above 13 (the higher, the better).

If possible, install your new unit in the shade, which can allow it to run 10% more efficiently.

More on Home Energy Savings

Alliance Intern Lizzie Horne contributed greatly to this article.