With a fall season that is estimated to be one of our hottest yet, and temps climbing into the triple digits with startling regularity, we’ll soon hear the constant hum of our AC units running at full steam. Besides, AC units are meant to blow cold air—not suck up money. Recover from your summer of trips, restaurant splurges, and events by saving some money in your electricity bill.
“It’s amazing what people can do to not only lower their bill but do some cool home maintenance on their own and save a lot of money,” Sarah says. “Heights AC & heating has been servicing thousands of clients in the Heights and the Greater Houston area—and my husband and co-owner Thomas Perez has been in the business for 17 years—and we always share tips like these with our customers.”
“It’s amazing what people can do on their own to extend the life of their AC and lower their bill and environmental footprint.”
These five tips will help you keep your AC maintained properly and allow you to relax in comfort, even when it’s scorching outside:
1. Clean the Exterior Unit
Dirt, leaves and other debris can get trapped in your outside condensing unit (the big box outside your house) and cause it not to work effectively.
Use a regular garden hose (nothing high-pressure!) and rinse the unit from the top down. It’s like rinsing out a coffee pot – just rinse the unit from top to bottom until you see the water run clear. All of the junk and debris will rinse down with the water and a cleaner and more efficient unit will be exposed!
Despite what you may have read, do not unscrew the cage to clean out debris underneath. You have to actually have a license to do that! Most of the debris will actually flush out with the water. If it’s so clogged that the debris doesn’t flow out, it’s best to call your AC technician.
“Wait until the unit takes a break and isn’t running before washing it down,” Sarah of Heights AC & Heating says. “If you don’t, no worries, you won’t break it – but you may get an accidental shower out of the experience.”
Tip: Whatever you do, don’t use a pressure washer to clean your unit, as excessive force can damage or bend the fins. Regular pressure from your water hose (or a slight increase in water pressure using your thumb on the mouth of the hose or a simple attachment) is plenty!
2. Change Your Filters Regularly
Ah, the forgotten filter. The lone hero that collects all of the dust, dirt, dog hair, and everything else so that you can have refreshing, clean air. Once those filters fill up, though, your AC unit has to work harder to get the air through, could stress out, and give out altogether. So change out your AC’s filter monthly or quarterly, depending on the filter you buy. This will help battle allergens and asthma!
Tip: Buy your filters in packages of three—not only is it cheaper, but it will be easier to grab a new one next time you have to change them out. If you don’t change your filters, you could actually void your home warranty! If you never forget to filter your Insta posts, you should also never forget to filter your AC unit.
3. Set Your Thermostat Wisely
Okay. We get it. It’s 105 outside, and once you walk out there, it’s like you just stepped into a warm sauna. But if you consistently set your AC unit to 68, your system has to work incredibly hard to keep up. Stressing out your AC is expensive and can lead to the early death of your unit, so do your best to keep your temperature set at the highest at which you can be comfortable. This will also help reduce your environmental impact. According to Consumer Reports, 78 degrees is the ideal setting for your thermostat. Throw on your ceiling fans and move that chill air around, and you’ll be surprised at how comfortable you are. And you’ll feel a lot better about your bill, your environmental footprint, and your AC unit.
Sarah said that this works great if you can stay comfortable with fans and lighter clothes at home, but if you throw down your temperature to 70 when you walk in the door, this tip isn’t for you.
“It can take a few hours to cool down your unit. It isn’t useful to keep your AC at 78 during the day and throw it down to 70 at night to expect a cool night’s sleep,” Sarah said. “Depending on the age of your system, it could take a while to cool down the house—and make you think something is wrong with it, when it’s actually working just fine!”
Looking for a floor fan that isn’t super ugly? We absolutely love this fan from Williams-Sonoma. It will save you a lot of money in the long-run to use fans when you’re looking to cool down!
When you aren’t home, keep it within 2-4 degrees of your comfort zone. So that way, when you get home, you can throw it down a few more degrees and enjoy the cooler air faster. So be honest with yourself about your ideal temperature, or turn to ceiling fans to cool yourself in the afternoons instead of throwing your AC unit down 10 degrees and expecting immediate satisfaction.
“Remember, AC units don’t create cold air, they remove heat,” Sara adds. “So for every degree you turn it down, it’s going to take time for it to remove that heat!”
Tip: We love natural light as much as you do! But while you’re out for the day, close up your blinds. This will help reduce the amount of direct heat in your home and definitely keep the rooms cooler!
4. Bleach It!
Pour a cup of bleach or vinegar in the attic, into the evaporator coil. This helps slow the growth of algae and bacteria, that like to grow in a drain line. It’s a cold, dark, damp place, and living things love that perfect combo.
Tip: Have your HVAC professional point out the drain line near the evaporator coil that you can access, so you know exactly where to pour your bleach.
“This is a really DIY home maintenance project that you can do to really extend the life of your unit,” Sarah says. “Pour bleach in the evaporator coil is not only one of the easiest things you can do, but one of the most effective maintenance moves out there.”
5. Get a Professional Tune-up
There are some AC maintenance tasks that are beyond the scope of what most homeowners can or prefer to do themselves. Consider having an annual check-up performed by a local (and licensed) HVAC professional, who can examine and clean your condenser coils, remove mold or algae that may be growing in your drain lines, and charge your AC with Freon if it’s running low. Most HVAC companies offer low-cost maintenance visits, and as the saying goes- “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Tip: Make sure that you get a licensed professional. There has been an increase in layman handymen offering AC services but do not carry a professional license. Ensure your service provider has been certified by the EPA or is a licensed technician before paying them for services.
Within the Houston area, Heights AC & Heating does an AC check for $79 each system, which includes a full cleaning of the condenser unit, a check of the electronic components on the outside, the refrigerant pressures (“Freon,” which is actually a brand name!) on the outside unit, a coil check on the inside unit, a pan check to look for rust or water, and a full checklist review of the inside unit in your attic. Most companies charge $100 just for a condenser unit cleaning, so this is a great deal!
Let us know what you do around the house to keep your energy bill low during these hot summer (and fall… and winter…) Texas months!