The ABCs of AC

Uneven Cooling?

All winter long, we dream about warm days ahead — right up to the point when sweltering summer nights keep us tossing and turning, wondering why the air conditioning isn’t cooling the bedrooms or, worse yet, how high the next utility bill will be.

Uneven cooling is a common problem. Because hot air rises, it makes sense that the second floor will always be a bit warmer. But stifling upper stories can stem from several issues. Either the cooled air is not getting there, or it’s escaping through poor insulation or construction gaps. Check to see that you’ve closed basement air vents and several main-floor vents. Then ask a professional the following:

1. Is the air handler large enough to move air through the house?
2. Are there leaks/gaps in air vents servicing the second floor?
3. Is the roof/attic adequately insulated, or is heat entering through the roof?
4. Is the cool air escaping through old windows or insulation gaps?

Solutions include rezoning the air flow, adding insulation, sealing/replacing windows, or, if all else fails, getting an additional AC unit for the upper floor.


Freon or Puron?

Most of us have heard of Freon. This refrigerant is now among the “outlaw” substances known as HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) being phased out in an effort to protect the ozone layer. Freon is not being banned exactly, but air-conditioning units that use Freon will no longer be sold in the United States as of 2010.

The replacement coolant, often called Puron (a brand name for R-410A), is a cleaner, more environmentally friendly type of Freon. Here’s what you should know about your Freon-based unit:

1. You will be able to continue using your current system.
2. Annual maintenance and prompt repairs are essential to keeping it running well and reducing the need to replace or refill the Freon. (Freon will become more expensive as supplies dwindle.)
3. When buying a new unit, look for one that uses approved coolants. Avoid the “good deals” on Freon systems.

Adam Helfman’s Advice for Keeping Cool

How important is maintenance? Should I get an annual AC checkup?

A poorly maintained air conditioner can consume 50-percent more energy. I recommend two checkups yearly: spring for air conditioning, fall for furnace. Also, investigate the newer high-efficiency units that can pay for themselves in just a few years and keep you more comfortable, as well.

How can we cut our energy bills and still stay comfortable?

Get a programmable digital thermostat, which allows you to set the temperature higher during the day when you’re not home. Consider the temperature you set. If you’re comfortable at 72, set it up 2 degrees higher and you’ll find you’re OK and using less energy. Keep the fan turned to “on,” not “auto,” to better distribute cool air and prevent warm air pockets.

What can I do myself to make sure my AC is running properly?

1. Hose off your outside AC unit, washing away debris that gets sucked into the screens.

2. Trim trees and bushes around your unit; anything within 2 feet can cause it to work harder than necessary.

3. Replace the air filter. I recommend a 4-inch media filter. If you have the 1-inch variety, replace it monthly.

4. Check for ice buildup on the condenser hose (copper line) running into the house; it can be a sign of a plugged air filter or a refrigerant leak that requires immediate attention.

5. Get that programmable digital thermostat and try setting it for 78 degrees when away from home and 72 degrees just before you usually return. Your AC unit will last longer while saving you money.

Information, recommendations, and experts: