Stay Cool Without Burning Cash

The hot weather of summer has finally taken hold on many parts of the country. And that means people are using their air conditioners a lot more often.

But what if the air conditioner is not working properly or there isn't one in the house? Danny Lipford, host of "Today's Homeowner," provided some tips and helpful information on The Early Show for AC upkeep and purchases.

Lipford says by performing regular maintenance on your air conditioner, you will not only extend the life of the unit, but your home will remain at a comfortable temperature - without an uncomfortably high energy bill.

If you have window units, Lipford says, the most important maintenance step is to change the air filter regularly. Lipford suggests cleaning the filter once a month during cooling season and replacing it when it has any holes or appears worn. Lipford also says to vacuum around the filter to remove dust and dirt that will clog up the unit — preventing it from not working properly.

During the off-season, Lipford recommends taking it out of the window and storing it in a dry location.

To maintain your air conditioner, Lipford suggests having your unit serviced by a trained professional. He explains that a professional will take care of the many items related to maintaining the unit and be able to perform any necessary repairs or "tune-ups." It is also recommended that the unit is kept free from leaves and debris and that filters are changed several times per season.

It may be time to replace an air conditioner older than 12 to 15 years old that has ceased to operate properly.

Lipford says there are many choices in buying air conditioners.

He recommends that potential buyers do a little homework, because it can save headaches in the long run, and ensure that you will get the best unit for your needs and keep your energy costs to a minimum.

Lipford examined the various AC units on The Early Show:

Window Air Conditioner
Product Displayed: LG LW1200 PR, made by LG Electronics
Cost: approx. $350

When choosing a window air conditioner, Lipford says, examine the size of the room you wish to cool and the number of BTUs of the unit you choose. To determine the size of the unit you need, follow the guide below.

  • 12 feet by 12 feet room choose a 5,000 BTU unit
  • 16 feet by 16 feet room choose a 7,000 BTU unit
  • 20 feet by 20 feet room choose a 10,000 BTU unit
  • 24 feet by 24 feet room choose a 14,000 BTU unit

    For a more comprehensive approach visit Consumer Reports' Web site and use the worksheet.

    In addition to the BTU's, Lipford says, make sure the unit has an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of at least 11, an EnergyStar label and consider additional features such as noise (or lack thereof) air flow, permanent or reusable air filters, timers, various speeds and remote controls.

    Mobile Units
    Product Displayed: Sunpentown WA12000H
    Cost: approx. $500-$600

    Basically a window unit on wheels; portable air conditioners are one of the newest types of AC on the market. The unit requires no permanent installation, and a tube vents out the exhaust. Lipford says when choosing a mobile unit, consider many of the same factors you would with a window unit. The mobile units are ideal for an area in your home that needs either additional cooling or is not usually occupied, he says.

    Through-The-Wall Units
    Product Displayed: Friedrich WE15A33
    Cost: $700-$800.00

    These units are excellent for an extra large room, apartment with an open plan or a remodeled garage, says Lipford. They can offer the benefit of both heating and cooling function primarily as an extremely large window unit. Lipford says to consider the size (if any) of the existing sleeve. Look for though-the-wall units in standard sizes to fit previous openings.

    A split-duct air conditioning system
    Product Displayed: Mr. Slim split-ductless indoor unit
    Cost: approx. $2,200 installed (It has to be installed by a professional.)

    This is designed to be quieter than a traditional window air conditioning unit because the condenser unit is outside. It will provide air conditioning for 2-4 rooms and it's controlled with a hand-held remote.

    This unit is good for small apartments, an addition to a home that you may want to "spot cool," an enclosed garage or any room that may be more isolated from the house, like a home office. It is also good for older houses often found in the Northeast that were built to be heated with a radiator or with steam. Those houses don't usually have ducts. A three-inch hole has to be cut into the wall to install it.

    Central Air Conditioners
    Product Displayed: American Standard
    Cost varies: approx. $5,000 and up installed.

    Lipford says when choosing a central air conditioning unit, there are many factors involved, such as the size of your home, the amount of windows and insulation contained your home. The single best choice you can make, he says, is to choose a reputable air conditioning contractor who will in turn determine the correct system for your home. As with any contractor, check references, ask questions about warranties (limited vs. extended) and get several comparable bids.

    Once you have selected a contractor, they will determine the correct size and type of unit for your home by conducting a "manual J". This evaluation ensures that they don't choose a central air conditioner that is either too large or too small.

    The rating used to choose a central air unit is called SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating). Lipford says the higher the SEER, the better. The current national efficiency standards for SEER is 10, but that is the absolute minimum. Look for anything over 10 and keep in mind that the higher the SEER rating, the more efficient your unit. Bottom line - purchase an air conditioner with the highest SEER your money can buy.

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