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Simple steps keep homes cooler in summer

Jason Thompson, a technician at Knoechel Heating in Zelienople, inspects an air conditioning unit. Getting a home's air conditioning unit inspected and cleaned each spring is critical for a problem-free summer.

Despite the snowfall on March 28, summer is on its way.

It’s poised to bring sunny days, outdoor recreation and a vacation from school for children.

Along with summer comes heat, and with the heat comes the need to turn on a home’s air conditioning. And, according to Jason Thompson, president of Zelienople’s Knoechel Heating Co., there are ways to turn a home’s temperature down without running an electric bill up.

Modern units

The first step, according to Thompson, is making sure the air conditioner is up-to-date. Most older units are rated at or below a 10 seasonal energy efficiency ratio — or SEER — while the minimum standard for new air conditioners is a 13 SEER.

In 2023, the minimum SEER will be 14, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. SEER is the ratio of the heat removed from a living area divided by the number of watts going to the air conditioner. Essentially, Knoechel said, a higher SEER means more cooling per dollar.

Another reason to update air conditioners is that they use older refrigerants, according to Knoechel. More modern conditioners use the R-410A refrigerant, which Knoechel said can be obtained readily and for about $60 per pound. Older units are more likely to use R-22 refrigerant.

“Some places have it (R-22) around $160 a pound but it's not easy to find,” Thompson said. “They're not actually making it anymore.”

Outdoor maintenance

If the unit is modern, or if the older unit still fits a homeowner’s needs, Thompson said there are some steps to take outside to ensure proper operation.

A first key point, according to Thompson, is to remove the cover from the air conditioner. Keeping the cover on, he said, can damage the unit.

“You won't believe how many people forget to remove the cover outside,” he said.

After removing the cover, it’s rather basic. An air conditioner should be properly charged — keep in mind it can be harder to find refrigerant for older units — and the coils should be kept clean and clear of debris.

Even if everything looks good, according to Thompson, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to call a professional.

“If the systems haven't been serviced or maintained in a while, it's always a good idea to have them checked out to make sure they're working to their best performance,” he said.

Indoor steps

Although furnace filters should be replaced according to the package instructions during the winter, these filters are important for the air conditioner, too.

Thompson recommended replacing the air filter, which actually filters the air returning to both the furnace and the air conditioning unit.

Going upstairs from the basement, Thompson said, it’s also important to check the layout of a home’s living spaces.

“Making sure all the vents are open with no obstructions” is a great way to make sure an air conditioner’s cold air can permeate a hot room, he said.

If a house has air return registers near both the floor and the ceiling, it’s time to check which ones are open, according to Thompson, due to the different densities of hot and cold air.

“During the cooling season, you always want to make sure that your lower returns are closed. That's a big thing that people often miss,” he said. “When you close the low return it draws the hot air off the ceiling and back to the furnace.”