Pros advise AC tuneup before summer heats up

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Now’s the time to get your air-conditioning unit tuned up, before you start relying on it daily to get you through the summer heat.
The annual tuneup prolongs the life of your unit and may lower your utility bills, air conditioning business owners say.
“If the unit is functioning properly, it should be able to maintain a 25-degree difference in the house or better,” said Scott Mattox, co-owner of M&M Heating and Cooling in Tupelo.
As the summer heat arrives, Mattox said it’s important to remember that your AC can do only so much. If it’s 100 degrees outside, an AC unit that is ideal for your house will be able to get the inside temperature only to 75 degrees.
It also will help dehumidify your home, if it is working correctly.
The AC unit and the various components should be checked annually to make sure everything is in working order. It’s a good time to make sure everything is working now so you won’t get caught without a cool breeze this summer.
“I always see people get concerned when their heat goes out,” Mattox said. “They get really mad when their air goes out – and impatient.”
Home and business owners can tackle some of the actions, like changing the air filter monthly. Other items, such as adding freon, need to be done by a professional.
The price varies for professional tuneups. Most start around $70 or $80 for the basic service call and increase if freon or parts are needed. Expect to pay about $120 to $150 for a typical tuneup.
“The sooner you get your unit checked out in milder temperatures, the better you’ll be because you won’t have to wait as long,” said Chris Allred, vice president and manager of Donald Allred Heating & Air Conditioning.
Allred had a three-day wait during the peak summer months last year. He’s already getting calls for tuneups, but the wait is much shorter.
A professional tuneup varies according to the company and the technician. Owners of M&M Heating and Cooling, Donald Allred Heating & Air Conditioning and Comfort Engineering Co. made the following recommendations about what to ask for in a tuneup.Change your air filter.
The air filter needs to be changed monthly.
“If you have a dirty filter, it will restrict airflow,” Mattox said.
Clean filters improve air quality, lower electric bills and reduce maintenance issues, he said.
Air filters are rated by the minimum efficiency reporting value on a scale of 1 (least efficient) to 16 (most efficient) – the higher the MERV rating, the more particles it removes. The price usually is related to the MERV factor.
Some filters are advertised as permanent solutions that can be washed out monthly. Mattox still recommends that the permanent filters be replaced every two years because they accumulate particles after time.

Check your attic insulation and ventilation.
You want to keep your attic at 100 degrees or less in the summer. Check to make sure you have the recommended amount of insulation to keep cold air from escaping into your attic.
Also make sure your attic ventilation is not blocked and allows heat to escape.
If you don’t have a vapor barrier, think about getting one, Mattox said.Check the caulk in your windows and the weatherstripping on your doors.
You are losing money when your cold air escapes outside in the summer. If your window caulk is more than seven years old, consider recaulking the windows, Allred said.

Program your thermostat for summer.
Mattox recommends a temperature setting of 72 degrees for the summer. For homeowners with programmable thermostats, make sure the units are set for the summer and are programmed for your schedule.
The digital programmable thermostats allow you to program the unit to make the building cooler when you are home. The temperature increases a few degrees when you are gone and is programmed to cool down again before you return home.
“Don’t vary it more than 4 or 5 degrees at max,” Allred said.
The allowable variance depends on the size of your house and how efficient your unit is at making up the difference.
“The main thing is don’t turn your thermostat below 70,” said Bob Wiley, president of Comfort Engineering Co. in Tupelo. “It could have a tendency to ice up.”
The unit could ice up if it is low on freon or if the house is hot and it’s cool outside at night.
“It won’t cool and you could damage your unit,” Wiley said.
Many AC companies will help you program your unit if you ask for it during the tuneup.

Calibrate your thermostat.
The professionals have tools that will make sure your room temperature is the same as the temperature shown on your thermostat. They’ll be able to calibrate the thermostat if there’s a difference.
They also can check the temperature of the air coming out of the vents into the building to make sure it is the right temperature.

Make sure your outside unit is free of grass, shrubs and other plants.
“Cottonwood trees are awful for an outside unit,” Mattox said.
Blow grass clippings away from your unit when you’re mowing. Trim shrubs back so your unit has plenty of room for air intake. Keep the area around the unit neatly mowed and free of weeds.
“Believe it or not, ants cause a lot of problems,” Mattox said, recommending that homeowners kill ant mounds as soon as they are spotted around the unit.Wash your unit’s outside coils.
Outside units need to be cleaned at least once a year.
“Power off the unit and wash it with a garden hose but not a pressure washer,” Wiley said.

Get a professional to check the freon levels.
The professionals will be able to see if you have a freon leak. They can top off the freon levels and repair leaks if they are found.
The companies charge an additional fee based on how much freon is required for your unit.

Check the drain pain.
The drains on inside and outside units need to be checked, cleaned and purged. A clogged drain on an inside unit can lead to flooding inside your house or in your attic.

Check your duct work.
Make sure you don’t have any leaks in the attic or under your house. If your ductwork is insulated, make sure the insulation is still secure.

Check the amp draw.
Older units are especially susceptible to overuse of amps. The professionals have a meter that will check how much power the unit is using to see if there is a problem.

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@journalinc.com.