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How Air Conditioner Units Work

Central AC SEER Ratings, SEER Rating,Cooling System Maintenance,Energy Efficiency, and the Energy Star label

© 2009 by Kelly Smith all rights reserved

Central Air Conditioner Condenser

The energy efficiency of a central air conditioner is the SEER rating. Maintain it with periodic condenser and evaporator maintenance, and cleaning and calibrating your analog or digital thermostat.

The home AC system is a crucial component of your home’s environmental temperature and humidity control system. Depending on where you live, it may be operated for half of the year, and in some areas, much longer.

Proactive homeowners use a professional HVAC service company for some of their air conditioner repairs and maintenance because you must be licensed to purchase or recover refrigerant.

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But there are many routine maintenance jobs the typical DIY homeowner can handle. To begin with, it’s informative to understand just how air conditioner units and the cooling cycle functions. Chalk it up to DIY geekiness.

Types of AC Refrigerants: R-22 and R-410A

Window-mount, portable, and central air conditioners all employ refrigerants to cool, or more correctly, to remove heat from the air.

R-22 is the most common refrigerant you’re likely to encounter in older units. You’ve heard it referred to by its brand name, Freon.

However, because it’s thought to contribute to global climate change by depleting the atmosphere’s ozone hole, a federal mandate has it being being phased out in the US. It’s still readily available in Mexico.

Freon is being replaced with the refrigerant R-410A. This formulation is also called Puron (you’ll notice the clever marketing slight of hand, alluding to the word "pure"), which is its Carrier/Bryant brand name.

The final date for Freon R-22 production to cease is 2010. Just now, it’s a great idea not to change out your existing AC unit with a Freon-charged one. Environmental pundits tell us that the newer refrigerant should help stop climate change (previously global warming).

Appliance Model Number A-1 Appliance Parts

What is SEER Rating?

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. The SEER rating is just about the most important things to consider when you go looking for a new more energy efficient unit. Your average air conditioner in the early 90s was rated at 6.

In January 2006 the minimum was increased to 13 (but must be 14 for the Energy Star label) but some units being produced go as high as 20 or above! Just be ready to pony up the extra money for them.

This begs the question, “Is it worth spending the extra money for a more efficient unit?” The answer of course, depends on several things; the primary one being how long you plan to stay in your home.

Central AC System Anatomy 101

Your central air conditioner system is generally part of a forced-air home heating system. The two systems share a duct system (typically rigid trunk and flex) and a blower They work together to distribute heated or cooled air to your home at the temperature you’ve set on your thermostat.

Your condenser is typically located outside your home. Its function is to cool the liquid refrigerant (Freon or Puron) in your condenser coils.

It next pumps the cooled refrigerant to your evaporator coils. These are located in your home; usually in the attic, although the basement is used in some locales. Next, the furnace blower circulates your home’s warmer air over the cooler coils.

Two things occur because of this: the first thing is that the evaporator coils function as a heat exchanger. They do this by absorbing heat from the warm air (unscientifically thought of as “cooling” the air).

Secondly, the warmed liquid refrigerant reverts back into a gaseous state. Then it is pumped back out to your condenser coils and begins the process all over again.

DIY Homeowner Air Conditioner Tasks

Even though an air conditioner contractor is required by building code to install new units and complete services such as refrigerant recovery, there are a number of springtime maintenance jobs that you as the homeowner can do.

Tip: Be sure to turn off the AC electrical supply prior to starting any maintenance-related chores!

  1. First clean your outdoor condenser coils. To do this, use a soft brush with soapy water, and then rinse it down completely.
  2. Now straighten the cooling fins located on the sides of your condenser unit. You can use a fin comb to do this. Make sure you’re wearing a pair of work gloves. These fins are very thin and sharp; they’ll cut you deep.
  3. Check your unit for level in all directions with a four foot level. The refrigerant needs to flow in and out of the house as engineered and a level unit allows this.
  4. Finally, lubricate your condenser fan motor using non-detergent machine oil. You’ll find plastic oil port plugs in the motor’s housing.
  5. Now, it’s time to pay some attention to the evaporator coils. Clean your evaporator coil drip pan, and drop in an anti-fungal tablet. You can find them at Home Depot. Fungus and other growths will foul your drain line.
  6. One thing left to do: clean and calibrate your thermostat. A simple analog or 7-day programmable digital thermostat tune-up only takes a few minutes and is well worth your time.

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© 2007-2009 Kelly Smith All rights reserved.