Ultimate Guide to Cooling Systems and How to Keep Cool as Summer Approaches
Here’s everything you need to know about how your cooling system works, how to keep it running smoothly, and things you can do to keep your house cool
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It may only be May, but most of us are already thinking about summer and the warmer weather that’s sure to come. Sometimes it seems we just don’t have enough time to enjoy the slowly warming months of April and May-- and we’re just thrown into the hot summer months at full throttle. Hopefully you have an air conditioning unit to keep you cool when those sticky summer months of June, July, and August do arrive!
But many of us don’t know how the units that cool our homes even work-- much less know how to service them. That’s ok, because in this article we’re going to discuss how these fantastic machines work, how you can keep them running in peak condition, and some additional tips for keeping your home cool all summer long.
Everything You Wanted to Know about Air Conditioners
Depending on the size of your house or apartment-- and how hot your summers are-- chances are you have used an air conditioning unit before. There are a couple of different types available depending on your cooling needs-- and some are more efficient than others.
- Ductless mini split system. This type of air conditioner unit is also a heating unit and is perfect to cool smaller spaces where ductwork is not already present, or not an option. This is great for individual control of the temperatures of rooms.
- Geothermal. This type of unit relies on a geothermal pump, and while they might be more costly to install-- they require very little maintenance, operate without fossil fuels, and have 25-20 year lifetimes.
- Window unit. Most people are familiar with these air conditioners that sit in a window and use the air from outside to cool a room. They are inexpensive, but are not that efficient.
- Portable air conditioner. This type of unit is a temporary fix and can be set up in rooms as needed. They have an exhaust duct that requires emptying to the outside and require no permanent modifications to a room.
- Basic ducted split system. This is the type of unit that most residential houses use. They require installation of ductwork and have the operating fan outside in a separate location.
As you can see, there a couple of choices for you to consider when looking at air conditioner units. Depending on your situation-- and the size of the area you need to cool-- there are different models available to meet your needs.
How they work
Since most houses with central air conditioners use the ducted system, we’re going to examine how those systems cool your home. All systems that operate like this consist of an evaporator coil, condensing unit, and refrigerant lines. Depending on what you set your temperature to in the summer, when the thermostat picks up that the ambient air in the home has exceeded it, this will start the air conditioning cycle.
The furnace control board sends notice to the outdoor part of the system-- the condensing unit-- and the contractor on that piece of equipment closes its contacts. The fan is then started as well as a pump. This is why when you’re outside near the unit you will hear it kick on and see the fan start to spin.
The pump starts to work to raise the temperature of the refrigerant and causes it to pass through the outdoor coil. The compressor then works to squeeze the molecules of this refrigerant as close as they can together-- which causes the higher the temperature and increase in energy.
The next stop is the condenser, where the heated refrigerant is cooled and condenses from a gas into a liquid. But it’s not done there, the liquid continues to travel on to the evaporator-- which sometimes consists of small copper tubes, specialized flow restricting devices, or a thermostatic expansion valve. This all depends on the age and the level of efficiency that your unit has.
As the refrigerant pressure decreases, air is circulated over the evaporator coil by the furnace and heat from the home causes the refrigerant liquid to convert back to a gas. This refrigerant gas is then pumped back to the condenser and the process repeats itself until your home is cooled the temperature you set on the thermostat. As the heat is removed from the air, it is cooled and blown throughout the house via vents.
Size and efficiency
Depending on the model you require to cool your house, apartment, or room, air conditioners not only come in a variety of types-- they also come with different levels of cooling ability. In order to determine what size you need, you’ll need to have a load calculation done-- this takes into account the house as a whole and what size of air conditioner it would take to effectively cool it.
The size of your air conditioner is very important-- if it’s too small, you’ll never have a cool home-- only a high energy bill. If it is too large it will not run long enough to remove all the latent heat in your home. Buying a system that’s too large will cost you more up front, and you’ll never need its high capacity cooling. Just because something is larger, doesn’t mean it will cool your home any better. Load calculations typically consider:
- Type of foundation and roof
- Window location and quantity
- Door location and quantity
- Desired cooling temperature
- Geographic location
- Size of the home
After considering these variables, an HVAC professional can provide an estimate on how many tonnes of cooling capacity you will require in your home.
Air conditioner efficiency is measured with a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating) ratio, and can range anywhere from 13-25 SEER. This number measures how efficient your system will run-- and how much money it will cost to keep your home cool. The higher the number, more efficient it should run. These units are often more costly to install, and you will be paying more upfront for the technology.
How to service them
It’s always a prudent idea to keep your air conditioning unit well maintained-- even if it appears to be running just fine. There are a couple of things you can do each year-- preferably before the summer months kick in-- to keep your machine in fantastic shape.
- Clean and replace air filters. This is one of the easiest things you can do to keep your machine running well. When filters become clogged with dirt and dust, the machine has to work harder to force air through. Make sure you regularly replace these filters and always have a couple extra on hand.
- Check wiring. After you turn off the power in your house, check out the access panel for wires that are in bad shape-- or any other signs of overheating. Be sure to check the other electrical connections to make sure they’re tight as well, and nothing looks out of the ordinary.
- Examine the thermostat. Make sure your thermostat is working right and you are taking advantage of the programmable features-- if it has it. Keeping the house warmer while you are away from home is a great way to reduce cooling costs.
- Check the condenser unit fan and unit. Check the fan blades on the top of your outdoor unit. Make sure they’re not rusted or cracked, and replace any blades that are broken or in disrepair. Make sure the unit is free of debris and clean it off with a hose.
- Professional service. It’s always a good idea to have your air conditioner company come over and do an expert maintenance once a year. They can do a more thorough check and diagnose any problems before they get too out of hand.
Easy tips for keeping your home cool this summer
Now that you know how your air conditioner is working to cool your house-- and how to maintain it-- it’s also a good idea to follow a couple of these easy tips to make sure your house stays cool even in the hottest summer months.
1. Lower the humidity
You can easily do this by purchasing a dehumidifier and running it when the weather gets sticky. A lot of newer air conditioning units have a built in humidity setting as well-- allowing you to turn down the humidity while your A/C unit is running. This will help you and the air in your house feel cooler, since it is not as wet.
2. Keep blinds and curtains closed
A lot of heat gets trapped inside your house through your windows-- and is very hard for A/C units to get rid of. It is the greenhouse effect, although on a smaller scale. Your house heats up when the sun shines through, and has no where else to go-- so it stays.
If you keep blinds and curtains closed during the hottest parts of the day, you can help eliminate some of this trapped heat. It also helps to have trees planted near your home to help with shade and cooling as well.
3. Cook outdoors
Summer is one of the best times to enjoy cooking outside. If you have a grill, consider doing that instead of using the oven or the stovetop. There are so many different recipes you can cook on either a propane or a charcoal grille-- fish, pizza, chicken, corn, and potatoes are just some ideas. When the oven isn’t on, your house will stay a lot cooler.
4. Set ceiling fans to rotate counterclockwise
A super easy way to get hot air out of a room is to change the rotation of your ceiling fans. By having them rotate in a counterclockwise direction, you are drawing heat up away from living space and up high next to the ceiling. Now the blades are pushing the heat away from you and keeping the room cool in the process.
5. Save some chores for after the sun goes down
When we run appliances, it creates heat. When trying to keep your house cool, consider doing laundry, using the dishwasher, or ironing until later in the evening. By saving these chores until after the the hottest part of the day-- you’re saving yourself extra heat build up that no one wants-- especially in the middle of summer!
Air conditioners are a great appliance to have during the hot summer months. They keep our houses cool and allow us some respite from the heat. Just make sure you keep yours well maintained and it will last for years to come. How do you keep your home cool during the summer? Let us know in the comments!