1. Change your filter.
It’s the easiest thing you can do to ensure your system keeps you cool, says Bobby DiFulgenitz, director of product management at Lennox. “A clogged filter forces your system to work harder, using more energy,” he says. He suggests changing the filter on central air systems every other month -- or more if you have pets that shed. Not only will you save money on your energy bill, you’ll be breathing cleaner air.
"Just make sure it’s the right filter for your model, but also the correct type of filter,” adds Terry Frisenda, regional account manager for LG Electronics USA Commercial Air Conditioning. He cautions that too fine a filter will make it harder for the unit to push air through. If you have a window unit, Frisenda says, “Simply wash and replace the filter -- but be sure it’s completely dry before you put it back.”
2. Clean the coils.
Like a clogged filter, blocked fins and coils on the outside unit can cause your system to work harder and subsequently break down, according to Frisenda. Use a nylon brush or broom and your garden hose -- never a pressure washer -- to rinse leaves, grass and other debris from the fins, he says. If you have a window unit, do this in the spring, before you install the unit for the season, and again in the fall, before you put it away.
3. Remove obstructions.
Make sure there is nothing blocking the flow of air around your outdoor unit: Any plantings, hedges or fencing you might have to hide your outdoor unit need to be at least 12 to 15 inches away, according to Frisenda. Inside, don’t cover your window unit with drapes or curtains when it’s on.
4. Program your thermostat.
For a central system, set your thermostat to a slightly higher temperature during the day, when you leave the house, and a lower temperature when you get home from work, says DiFulgenitz. The newest thermostats are designed to be more user-friendly, and some even work via WiFi or your smartphone, so you can raise the setting when you leave to run errands, and then remotely turn it back down when you are on your way home. This lowers energy bills as well as reduces strain on the system.
Shut window units off when you are gone. “Window units are designed to cool a room quickly, and they also use a lot more energy, so it’s more efficient to turn it off,” says Frisenda.
5. Get a tune-up.
The best way to keep your whole-house cooling system trouble free is to have an HVAC pro give it a tune-up once a year -- in the spring, before you need your A/C is best. “It’s like changing your oil in your car,” says DiFulgenitz, “and it helps everything run better and last longer.” As part of the tune-up, the contractor will check and clean filters, test the internal mechanisms and charge the unit with refrigerant. Howeverer, window units don’t need this. “And if anyone tells you they want to top off the coolant in your window unit, they are ripping you off,” says Frisenda.
More easy checks and fixes:
• Examine the cord on your window unit for frayed or worn spots. It may need to be replaced.
• Use drapes and blinds to block the sun from warming rooms so your A/C doesn't need to work as hard.
• Protect outdoor units from corrosion -- especially if you live near salt water -- with paste wax. Just apply and buff it in, says Frisenda.
• Look for and seal air leaks around windows and doors with a caulk gun. “When cool air escapes, or hot air can find its way into your home, your air conditioner has to work harder to keep the temperature where you like it,” says DiFulgenitz.
Photo: Corbis Images