One of the least understood things you own (not including computers!) is probably your air conditioner. Most everyone has a basic idea of how our cars run, how they send TV signals through the air, how the water heater works and the basics of the ideas behind plumbing, electricity, etc. The a/c is a different story. About the most that the average person knows about air conditioning in general, whether in their home or car, is that it uses a mysterious fluid called "freon", and it's expensive stuff. They also know that when the a/c doesn't work, "Mama ain't happy, and when Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy."
So let's start by dispelling a few myths:
#1. It's not really "freon" that's in there, it's a refrigerant gas. Freon is the brand name of a chemical refrigerant gas manufactured by DuPont Chemicals. Much like Q-Tip, Jell-O, Crescent Wrench and Kleenex, we use this name to identify all similar products.
#2. You're right, I called it a gas. You know that oxygen is a gas and nitrogen is a gas. You also know that both of these gases can be compressed into liquids. Refrigerants are the same way. They are actually gaseous chemical compounds that have been compressed into a liquid. Their ability to be compressed into a liquid easily is one of the things that make them good refrigerants.
#3. An air conditioner doesn't put cold air into the house, it removes the heat from the air in the house. It does this by a very simple process we all know as evaporation. See this.
#4. Refrigerant gases (freon) don't wear out. As long as it doesn't leak out or get destroyed by some other problem in the system, you shouldn't have to replace the gas in your a/c system.
#5. The more "freon" you put in my air conditioner, the colder I will be able to get it in my house. Not so! Too much refrigerant causes a myriad of problems in your air conditioning system. It could even ruin it. See this.
#6. The bigger the air conditioner, the better. No! See this.
#7. No matter how low I set my thermostat, my a/c should be able to get it that cold. Air conditioners that are sized correctly for this part of the United States should be able to keep it 20 or 25 degrees below the outdoor temperature. So if it's 100 degrees outdoors and it can keep it at 75 degrees in the house it's usually doing very good. We don't have very many 100 degree days in this part of the country and if your a/c can get it down to 68 degrees in that kind of weather it's probably wasting electricity the rest of the time.
Take Care of It.
The secret to a trouble free air conditioning season is really no secret at all. Maintenance is the key. Your a/c system is not like your TV or your microwave. You don't just plug it in and use it until it quits. Think of your air conditioner and furnace as being more like your car or your lawn mower. To keep them working right and to make them last they need regular care. You wouldn't think of driving your car year after year without changing the oil, checking the tire pressure, etc. And every so often it needs a new muffler or a set of tires, doesn't it?
Here are the things you can do to keep your a/c working good.
#1. Keep the coil on the unit outdoors clean. Keep leaves, grass and dust off of it. A garden hose works just fine for this. Shut the electricity off first.
#2. Keep a clean air filter in the system.
#3. Have it serviced on a regular basis by a reputable heating and cooling company.
You're probably wondering why you should spend your hard earned money and pay someone to look at your air conditioner in the spring when it seemed to be working fine last year. Well, wiring needs checked, some things might need oiled, a lot of things need cleaned out (like the drain) and most important of all the amount of refrigerant, or freon as we call it, in the system needs to be confirmed. If your air conditioner is 10% low on freon it will lose 20% of it's efficiency! That means your electricity bill will be 20% higher than it should be! Over charged systems do the same thing. Also the compressor (the thing that pumps the freon around) relies on the correct amount of freon in the system to keep it from overheating and to keep it lubricated. (Oil circulates with the freon.) Back up.
Money spent on routine maintenance is money well spent! It will save you cash in the long run and will help keep you from having that unexpected breakdown on that hot 4th of July.
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