After this long, cold winter, there probably aren’t many people complaining about hot weather. But as the saying goes, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. That is one benefit of air conditioning. It not only cools the air, but can eliminate the dampness, too. Members of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the areas leading home improvement and remodeling resource for 52 years, offer tips for homeowners to keep their homes cool and dry with air conditioning maintenance and unit replacement tips.
“The first thing a consumer needs to understand is that when buying a new air conditioner, bigger is not always better,” said Duane LeBlanc, Dave Droegkamp Heating and Air Conditioning, Hartland.
“Customers tell me that they want a big unit because they want the house to cool faster. But air conditioning doesn’t work that way. There is nothing more critical in air conditioning than sizing it properly. If an air conditioner is improperly sized, there will be tremendous cooling capability, but not dehumidification. Improper sizing will result in short cycling, which means it won’t run long enough to dehumidify. A reputable, quality contractor won’t oversell for what you need,” he said.
The newest air conditioners are two-stage, meaning the compressor has two levels of operation: high for hot summer days and low for milder days. Since the low setting is adequate to meet household-cooling demands 80 percent of the time, a two-stage unit runs for longer periods and produces more even temperatures. Compared to a single-stage unit, a two-stage air conditioner can remove twice as much moisture from the air.
“Air conditioning has aligned with furnace technology, where they can run a low cool and a high cool,” said LeBlanc. “If you are running it on low, you are running more efficiently with less power consumption and you are maximizing dehumidification and spending less money.”
LeBlanc advises to check any new purchase for its warranty, especially for coils and compressors. “Coils and compressors make up the lion’s share of the cost of the equipment, so you want to get a warranty that is going to cover the cost of those components at the 10-year mark,” he said. “If a compressor isn’t under warranty, I would never recommend replacement because by the time you pay for a compressor, its installation, and bringing that unit back on line, you’ve spent two-thirds of the cost of a new one.
“If your air conditioner is 12 or 15 years or old, that usually that means the cost of the repair will be dictating that the money is better served on a new piece of equipment.”
“Most homeowners are concerned about their brand of air conditioner, but they really should be more focused on the dealer,” said Doug Erdmann, Burkhardt Heating & Air Conditioning, Brown Deer.
When choosing a contractor to buy and install your air conditioner, choose one that is reputable, licensed, NATE-certified (North American Technician Excellence, a program that qualifies technicians as experts in residential HVAC) and a member of a professional organization such as Milwaukee/NARI.
When having an air conditioner installed, the contractor should also pull the permits for the homeowners.
“A lot of homeowners don’t know they need permits,” Erdmann said. “If a contractor says he won’t pull the permit or asks the homeowner to do it, that’s a hint that it is not a reputable company and they may not be licensed. When they say that you can save $100 by not pulling permits, that tells you the contractor is not on the up and up. There is no statute of limitations on permits and your municipality has the authority to check permits, even if your unit was installed 10 or 15 years ago. You will be paying for the cost of a permit and then some.”
“Maintenance should be done on an annual basis as recommended by manufacturers,” said Wayne Abendschein, 1st Choice Heating & Cooling, Waukesha. “Air conditioners last between 17 and 22 years, but their life span can be shortened by not having the proper maintenance done.”
Abendschein explains that a technician will check the refrigerant levels, make sure the contactors are clean, and the furnace filter is clean.
“The furnace filter is more important for air conditioning than for heat,” he said. “With air conditioning you need the proper amount of air flow and with a clogged filter, you are not getting the right amount of air to allow the cool air to go through.”
According to Abendschein, there are signs you need a replacement unit. “The unit is not cooling as well as it used to, there is a build-up of one service call a summer for the past couple of summers, and there is a need to add refrigerant,” Abendschein said.
“Air conditioners are a sealed system and you should never have to add refrigerant, but anytime you do, it’s telling us that you have some sort of leak and something is starting to go wrong,” he said. “If you are adding a pound of refrigerant every three years, I don’t think I’d be too concerned, but if you have to add three or four pounds once a summer, it’s time to replace.”
The EPA has mandated that the refrigerant used in air conditioners, R22, be phased out due to its ozone damaging properties. The phase-out has been going on for about 10 years and by 2020, R22 will no longer be available.
Consumers find that when they have an older unit of air conditioner that needs the R22, it is very expensive to obtain, which makes purchasing a new unit more desirable. Consumers also should be aware that refrigerants cannot be mixed and matched.
“When buying, make sure you get an air conditioner that is made for the new refrigerant,” Abendschein said. “There are still some units on the market that use the R22, so make ensure that your unit that is made for new refrigerant, R410-A.”
For more information, visit www.milwaukeenari.org.
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