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Rising Heat Is A Good Reminder To Change Your AC Filter

With the temperatures on the rise, and summer finally here in Boston, air conditioner maintenance is on our minds. Now is a good time to change the air filter on your central air conditioning unit! Depending upon the kind of central air system you have, your air filter will be located either in your furnace or in your system’s air handler.

For systems that use the furnace as the air handler, replace the filter with a fresh one every month. Do this regularly to help keep your system operating cleanly and efficiently. In addition to reducing efficiency, clogged filters can trap (and eventually redistribute) a lot of nasty things like mold, pollen, pet dander, dust and other allergens that will make you less comfortable in your home.

If you need a reminder to change your air filter, try sending yourself an email reminder from your electronic calendar every month. Google and Outlook will both do this, and it’s an easy, free way to make sure you remember to change your AC filters!

If your system suddenly stops operating, check the breaker panel or fuse associated with your air conditioning system. Breakers sometimes trip because they’re weak. Resetting them should put your system back in working order. If the breaker trips regularly, however, it could be a sign that your compressor motor is drawing too much current when it starts up.

Motors do tend to draw a lot of current at startup; this is normal and all motors do this. Almost immediately after starting, however, the current flow to the motor should stabilize and the circuit should operate normally and safely. Sometimes, an aging compressor can draw too much power – a sign that something’s wrong with your system. Also, your system could be outfitted with a breaker that won’t tolerate a huge, brief current draw.

If your AC breaker trips consistently, give us a call at (617) 288-2911, and we’ll observe your system to diagnose and correct the problem.

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Cleaning Your Air Conditioner's Evaporator Coil

Last week, I covered the basics of cleaning your air conditioner’s condenser unit and performing some basic maintenance. This week, I will cover the inside maintenance you’ll want to perform to clean your air conditioner’s condenser unit.

The inside maintenance on your air conditioner is just as important as the outside maintenance. Keeping your evaporator clean and free of corrosion will ensure that your unit operates efficiently year round. It will also allow you to spot potential problems before they lead to a major repair.

The inside unit is the evaporator, and it will be located near your furnace (if you have a furnace) or in your air handler if you have a heat pump. For this post, I’m going to assume that the evaporator sits on/near a furnace, but the steps for cleaning the evaporator are the same if you have an air handler instead.

Access your evaporator coil by opening the metal case that encloses it. The coil is often designed as an “A-frame” device, which means it has two panels that appear to lean toward each other (like the letter “A”). The evaporator panels will have thin metal fins on the outside and a series of copper tubes on the ends of the unit. The entire set-up will rest on a plastic (or metal) frame of channels that catch water and shunt it to the drain. The bottom of the evaporator is open to allow air to circulate from the blower motor of your furnace. Check the plastic frame for cracks, or if your unit has metal channels, check them for corrosion or rust. If a channel is cracked or rusted through, you’ll need to replace it to avoid damaging the rest of the furnace.

The evaporator’s job is to remove water from the air. On a very hot, humid day, your evaporator might eliminate several gallons of water from the air in your home, so it’s important to keep the condensate drain free-flowing at all times. Even though you’re condensing out “clean” water, biological matter can accumulate in the drain tube for your system and cause a backup. If your air conditioner is pulling gallons of water out of your home’s air and the tube that leads to your floor drain is clogged, you’ll find very quickly that you have drain problem AND a big mess to clean up!

Before you do anything on the evaporator, make sure the condensate drain is clear and free-flowing by running a little water in the catch basins at the bottom of your evaporator unit. If the water you add doesn’t flow freely to the drain, you can use a little Bio-Clean to clear out any accumulated biological debris in the drain. You can also use a solution of bleach and water to clear out any biologically active organisms in the drain.

Once you know the drain is fully open, examine the evaporator coils. If they’ve never been cleaned, or haven’t been cleaned recently, they’ll be coated with dust and other “inside” debris, like pet hair and cobwebs. You’ll need to make a decision about how well you can manually clean debris from the unit using the access you have. If you can’t get the fins clean without damaging them or the debris is crusted on, you may want to have a professional perform the inside maintenance. A badly clogged evaporator may need to be removed for cleaning, and that’s outside the realm of a do-it-yourself task.

You can find spray-on condenser coil cleaner at your hardware store or a home-improvement store. Usually, these cleaners are foaming and will break down debris and any greenish deposits that accumulate on the copper without needing a rinse. Spray the cleaner on the copper tubing and on the fins of the evaporator. The foaming cleaner will clean debris, return to a liquid state, and drain into the condenser pan on its own. You can use this when the air conditioner is running to get a little “rinse” from the water the evaporator is removing from the air. The cleaner takes just a few minutes to work, and you should be good to go, once you close the unit back up.

Change the air filter as long as you have the unit open. Just as in the heating season, you’ll want to change your furnace filter monthly to ensure that your system isn’t working harder than it has to. If you have questions about cleaning your evaporator unit, or you would like professional assistance, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an appointment. Also, you can “like” Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook anytime!

Keeping Your Cool This Summer In Boston

Spring seems to have made an early appearance, so there’s no better time to get your annual air conditioner maintenance done. In the next few posts, I’ll be concentrating on air conditioning, and what you’ll want to do to be sure you can avoid an expensive air conditioner repair in Boston this summer.

As far as operation goes, one of the best, easiest and nicest things you can do for your air conditioner is change the filter regularly. Use pleated filters and change them no less often than 90 days. If you have pets in your home, change the filter more frequently. This will help protect the unit’s secondary heat exchanger and the evaporator coil, and it will keep dirt and other debris out of the blower wheel, which can cause your unit to malfunction.

Can’t find your AC filter? Check your furnace! (It’s usually the same filter you change during the heating season.) Some units have a filter located in a ceiling return air grille, but if you have central air conditioning that uses your furnace ductwork, your filter’s most likely in your furnace.

Changing the filter regularly has some other benefits, as well. Pushing air through a dirty, or clogged filter can decrease the efficiency of your air conditioner. It can also introduce dirt into other moving parts of the air conditioner, reducing their effectiveness and increasing the amount of electricity your air conditioner consumes.

Dirty air filters can also be a source of odor and airborne allergens in your home. Filters will collect contaminants like mold, mold spores, pollen and other irritants. If you inspect your air conditioner filter and notice that it has mold growth or has a funny smell, change it immediately.

Keep some clean filters on hand so you can perform a quick change whenever you need to. If you’re not certain how often to change the filter, inspect the filter periodically to note its condition. When you see a lot of dirt or debris collecting on the filter, change it.
If you’re thinking about skipping the filter altogether, don’t. Running your system without a filter will cause the evaporator coil the air handler to clog. This will lead to icing on the air conditioner – something you definitely don’t want.

If you have questions about your air conditioner, or would like to schedule pre-season maintenance, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We’ll be happy to schedule a seasonal maintenance check and show you how to maintain your system during the summer.

Don’t forget to like Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook, and if you make a platelet donation to the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center during the month of April, we’ll take $50 off of any Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating purchase or service call worth $100 or more!

High Efficiency Central Air Conditioners

Last week, I talked about air conditioner efficiency in terms of window air conditioners. In some situations, window air conditioners will work just fine. For some homeowners in Boston, central air conditioning is the preferred solution because it cools the entire house, instead of a single room or selected rooms.

As a brief refresher, the seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) compares the output of the air conditioner to the electricity it consumes. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the air conditioner is. A BTU (British thermal unit) is a measure of cooling output. The higher the BTU, the more powerful the air conditioner is.

For a “whole-house” solution, a central air conditioning unit with a BTU output of 60,000 and a SEER of 19.9 (very high efficiency) will consume about 3kW/hr. At $0.05 per kW/hr, assuming that your air conditioning is on for 8 hours daily, you’ll spend about $1.20 per day on electricity to cool your entire house. Over the course of a season (assuming 110 days), you’ll spend about $135 to keep your house cool.

If your central air conditioner had a BTU output of 60,000 but had a SEER of only 10.8 (the same as last week’s window air conditioner), the daily operating cost would be about $2.25 and the seasonal expense would be about $244.

Over the course of 10 to 15 years (the life expectancy of a well-maintained central air conditioner), you’d spend between $1,100 and $1,650 more on electricity to use the low-efficiency air conditioner. If you applied this expenditure to a higher-efficiency air conditioner instead, you’d save money over the life of the unit. You may also qualify for rebates or tax incentives by choosing a high-efficiency unit.

The lesson here is that if you want central air conditioning, install the highest possible efficiency system you can. The up-front expense may be larger, but your expenditure over the lifetime of the system will be lower and it will lower your total cost of ownership.

Also keep in mind that maintenance is a key part of extending the life of your central air conditioner and maintaining its rated efficiency. Without maintenance, an air conditioning system can lose between 5% and 10% efficiency each year. That would effectively transform our example 19.9 SEER unit into a 17.9 SEER unit and increase its electricity cost by $13 in the second season. That doesn’t sound like much, but after 5 years, the seasonal electricity cost would have increased by nearly $70. After 7 years, the high-efficiency unit would cost more to operate than a well-maintained 10.8 SEER unit!

If you have a central air conditioning unit that isn’t working as well as you think it can, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to service your central air conditioning unit and return it to peak efficiency.

R-22 Air Conditioners Gone? Not So Fast

Homeowners around the country may have been surprised to learn that new HCFC-22 air conditioners – that is, new air conditioning units that run on R-22 refrigerant – are no longer sold in the US. The change, which took effect on January 1, 2010, is part of the global effort to reduce harmful hydrochlorofluorocarbons emitted by the units. Manufacturers have found a way to skirt the regulation however, so R-22 air conditioners in Boston are still available.

How so? Under the law, no new R-22 air conditioning units can be sold, but new R-22 refrigerant is still available and will be until 2020. Manufacturers are selling “dry charged” units that run on R-22 refrigerant but aren’t charged by the manufacturer. Without the R-22 charge from the manufacturer, the units are considered “replacement” units. Once installed, a heating and cooling professional can “recharge” the unit with refrigerant, leaving the customer with a new R-22 air conditioner.

What is the alternative to R-22? The current alternative to R-22 is R-410A. R-410A is a CFC-free refrigerant, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely environmentally friendly, either. In fact, there’s already a phase-out plan for R-410A, but we’ll be using this refrigerant for awhile.

R-22 is still attractive to consumers because it’s less expensive and it performs very reliably. There are some questions about the performance of R-410A in very hot temperatures, but unless you use a roof air conditioner, your air conditioning unit isn’t likely to reach the point at which R-410A cannot cool efficiently.

Regardless of which refrigerant your air conditioning unit uses, an unmaintained unit can lose efficiency at the rate of about 5%-10% per season. If you have an existing R-22 air conditioning unit and it doesn’t seem to be performing properly, it may be in need of some maintenance.

The professionals at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can provide seasonal maintenance and repairs on both residential and commercial air conditioning systems. We can also add R-22 refrigerant to a new, dry-charged air conditioning unit. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime for all of your Boston heating and cooling needs.

It's Not Too Early To Think About Air Conditioning In Boston

Winter is coming to an end, and that means lower heating bills, but it also means that homeowners should be thinking about air conditioning in Boston homes. Maintenance is key to keeping your Boston air conditioning working as efficiently as possible throughout the summer cooling season.

Air conditioners require maintenance each season, even though it may not seem like it. An air conditioner can lose about 5% of its efficiency each season without routine maintenance. That drop in efficiency means a rise in your electric bill, and who needs that?

Studies show that with regular, effective maintenance, an air conditioning unit can retain about 95% of its original rated efficiency level. That’s a great bargain for a little extra time and effort at the beginning of each cooling season. Cleaning the unit is part of the equation, but there’s more involved in maintenance than that.

Effective maintenance includes cleaning up the condenser to remove debris and organic matter that may have accumulated in or near the housing. The fan motor(s) should be checked for proper operation and lubrication. If needed, the motors should be oiled.

The compressor should be checked for leaks and the amount of electricity it uses while operating should be measured. If a compressor is drawing too much electricity, it may be a sign that the compressor needs additional work, or should be replaced.

In belt-driven units, the belts should be checked for wear. Any belts that are frayed, cracked or have a shiny or polished appearance should be replaced. The belts should also be checked for proper tension.

The coolant level should be measured every year. Low coolant levels can increase your operating costs significantly and impact the efficiency of the unit in a major way.

The coolant in an air conditioner is sealed, so in theory, any reduction in coolant levels indicates a leak in the system. Coolant leaks may indicate a need for a more involved repair. Replacing or adding coolant can be tricky. The task requires special tools and training, so that is best done by a trained air conditioning repair technician. In addition, there are many different coolants on the market now, and not all coolants are interchangeable. This is another good reason to have a trained professional handle the refrigerant.

Finally, your maintenance routine should include replacing the filters on the unit with filters made for (or by) the manufacturer of your unit. Don’t cut corners here. Good filtration is key to keeping your air conditioner working near peak efficiency.

If you have questions about your air conditioner or want to schedule summer maintenance ahead of the season, call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an appointment.