Air Conditioning FAQs

Air Conditioning FAQs

How does an air conditioner work?

An air conditioner transfers heat from the inside of a building, where it is not wanted, to the outside. Refrigerant in the system absorbs the excess heat and is pumped through a closed system of piping to an outside coil. A fan blows outside air over the hot coil, transferring heat from the refrigerant to the outdoor air. Because the heat is removed from the indoor air, the indoor area is cooled.

Is central air conditioning better than window units?

This depends largely on individual circumstances for example, how large is the area to be air conditioned, how large is the family, what temperatures are required, how well the house is insulated, where the house is located, etc. Central systems require internal ducting; window units take up valuable window space. In many cases, if more than three large rooms need air conditioning, it is best to consider central air conditioning. Your contractor can advise you

Should I augment my central air conditioning system with other air conditioners or ceiling fans?

If you need to use other air conditioners with a central air conditioning system, your central system probably is undersized or the air distribution system is unbalanced. Window air conditioners or split ductless systems may be used in rooms that lack air ducts. Ceiling fans can be a good idea with some indoor comfort systems because they circulate air that tends to stagnate at the top of rooms with high ceilings.

What is the average life of a central air conditioning system?

It can vary, depending on how much the system is used and how regularly it is checked or serviced. Generally, the average life of cooling units built in the 1970s and 1980s is about 15 years, but individual units may vary and last much longer, depending on use and how well they are maintained. Heat pumps have about the same life span, an ARI survey showed average heat pump life to be about 14 years when recommended maintenance procedures were followed. Newer units are expected to last even longer.

What should I do in advance to make sure that my air conditioning system will work efficiently this summer?

The main thing is to have the system checked each year before the peak cooling season by a qualified contractor or service technician. Then, remember to keep the air filter clean and the outdoor unit free of leaves and debris.

If my air conditioner is no longer cooling properly, what is the most likely problem?

It could be as simple as replacing a fuse, resetting a circuit breaker or checking to see if the thermostat is set properly. If an electrical problem isn’t the cause, the refrigerant may be low if the system still runs but does not cool properly. This can be corrected by having an EPA certified technician add necessary refrigerant. Most likely, if the problem involves any major part, such as the compressor, you would hear strange noises similar to those of any mechanical equipment not running correctly, or the unit might not run at all.

Can homeowners repair their own air conditioners?

In most cases, definitely not. Cooling systems today are more complicated to service and usually require expert attention in order to comply with federal regulations, such as the Clean Air Act which prohibits releasing refrigerants into the atmosphere. An EPA certified air conditioning contractor or service technician should be called at the first sign of trouble.

When do I know it’s time to replace my system?

When the system starts giving you more problems than seem cost effective to fix, particularly when major components such as the compressor start making unusual noises or otherwise indicating need for a service call. When faced with major repairs, consult several contractors for their recommendations. Replacing a compressor is somewhat less expensive than replacing the entire unit, but new units may give you greater efficiency and lower operating costs in the long run.

Which is better… letting a central cooling system wear out before replacing it, or replacing it at some point before it wears out?

Because newer equipment usually is more energy efficient than older central air conditioning or heat pump systems, you might actually save money by replacing your old system before it completely wears out. Contact local contractors and ask for their estimates. In some cases, the money you save in reduced utility costs might pay back your purchase price of a new system years earlier than you might think.