The cold hard facts about air conditioning - South Lake Press: Community

The cold hard facts about air conditioning

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Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 6:00 am

An air conditioner breaking down in the midst of summer is the worst time for a homeowner not to know anything about their cooling and heating system.

Unscrupulous air conditioning repair companies prey upon the ignorance and panic of homeowners in a sweltering home. A homeowner who has some basic knowledge of their home’s air conditioning system could save a lot of money.

When asked how an air conditioning system works, Charlie Thompson, service manager at Munn’s Air Conditioning and Heating, explains it this way: “Refrigerant in the system acts like a sponge. It soaks up the extra heat in your house, flows to the outdoor unit, then with a little magic, squeezes the heat out.”

According to Thompson, most homes have a two-part system, which includes an air handler or furnace on the inside, with a condenser or heat pump on the outside. Within those two pieces are an evaporator coil, condenser coil, fan motors and compressor — all of which pump refrigerant through the system. The most important thing to remember is that the failure of one of these pieces does not necessarily mean the complete system has to be replaced.

Thompson says the most common type of problem his company finds when an air conditioning system is not properly working is “... some sort of electrical problem like a motor failure or the unit being low on refrigerant due to a refrigerant leak.” A properly trained technician can typically diagnose these types of problems and offer specific lower-cost fixes. However, a poorly trained technician is usually unable to properly diagnose problems within the unit. As a result, they tend to go for a full unit replacement.

Before hiring an air conditioning repair company, homeowners should always verify their license with the state, verify the company is insured and ask if any of their service people have North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certifications.

Two terms that get tossed around a lot when it comes to air conditioning are “SEER” and “tonnage.” Thompson says, “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is the efficiency rating for air conditioners. In other words, how much electricity the unit uses to keep you cool.” Currently, federal law requires a minimal SEER rating of 13, which is well above the standards offered just a decade ago.

The tonnage in air conditioning refers to the unit’s capacity. Thompson explains, “One ton is 12,000 BTUs.” Typical residential units range from 1.5 to 5 tons. Properly sizing the air conditioning system to the home is the purpose of an energy calculation for new homes and remodels. Thompson points out that an oversized air conditioning unit fo r a home can be just as problematic as one that is not large enough.

When the lights in a house flicker as the air conditioning unit turns on, many homeowners are told by some air conditioning service people they need to get a new system. While older units may not have the technology to prevent such surges, according to Thompson, it could be “... low wattage incandescent light bulbs, particularly clear bulbs versus frosted.” A flickering light is not evidence that a system needs to be replaced. Just like all components in a home, the more a homeowner understands them, the better decisions they can make.

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