How to Tell If Your Air Conditioner Needs a Check-Up

Have you ever had your air conditioner give out, on what seems like the hottest day of the year? It’s all too common and results in a frustratingly hot wait while the repairs are being completed. However, you can avoid major breaks in your system by catching smaller issues early and keeping up with air conditioner check-ups. 

In general, your air conditioner needs a check-up once a year, just before you turn it on. However, there are some warning signs that your air conditioner needs a check-up sooner, to prevent a more serious problem from cropping up. Here are the signs to look out for.

Unusual Noises   

Unusual noises are never good from anything mechanical and your air conditioner is no exception. Sometimes we miss the noises our air conditioner makes, because it’s the outdoor unit with the problem, and we tend not to spend much time near that. It might be wise to stand near your outdoor unit while your air conditioner is running and see if it’s making any sounds. Although, the air conditioner can make noises on the inside too.  

  • Rattling: Any sound that you think might have been made by parts knocking off each other is probably just that. Loose fan components, even the case on the outdoor unit, may be improperly secured and creating the noise. This will become a more serious problem over time as the two parts knocking against each other may break each other.
  • Squeaking: Squeaking can also be the sound of a part moving in a way that it shouldn’t.
  • Clicking: Clocking is commonly a cycling problem, where the air conditioner is turning itself off early, or turning itself on frequently. Either is a waste of energy
  • Gurgling/hissing: These sounds often indicate a problem with the refrigerant, potentially a leak. Refrigerant leaks are safety hazards and they will slowly render your air conditioner useless.

Performance Issues 

Of course, if your air conditioner just plain won’t turn on, then you know it needs some work. What are some more subtle performance issues that signal that your air conditioner is headed towards a break if it doesn’t get some professional attention? Here are a few things to check: 

  • Air no longer feels as cool: Your air conditioner doesn’t change how cold the air is that it outputs. It just stops running when your home doesn’t need any more cool air. So, if the air actually feels less cool than it used it, this is usually a performance or refrigerant problem.
  • Air no longer reaches as far: Does it seem like the cool air from your air conditioner doesn’t get to the other side of the house anymore? It’s possible your fan isn’t running properly anymore, or that your filter needs to be cleaned or replaced.
  • Utility bills rising: When your air conditioner has a problem, it functions less efficiently and costs you more in utility bills, even if there are no other obvious signs of an issue. Unfortunately, few people will catch this sign, as utility bills tend to creep up slowly over time. It’s best to compare your bill to the same month last year, or the year before, rather than compare month to month.

Moisture and Air Quality Issues 

Your air conditioner may also develop moisture or air quality issues that not only indicate something is wrong with it, but that may also undermine your comfort in your home. 

  • Leaks: Any puddles or droplets near the air conditioner may have been caused by it. The air conditioner condenser uses moisture as a way to move heat out of your home, so leaks and humidity are a potential problem. This excess moisture may damage the air conditioner, your drywall, and contribute to high humidity in your home. Usually, this is a condenser issue that needs to be resolved by a professional.
  • Air quality: With that high humidity may come smells, mold, fungus, and other air quality issues. Or, your air conditioner may develop these problems due to a dirty filter. Either way, a professional can refresh your air conditioner and make the air it blows out much more comfortable.

Best Practices for Air Conditioner Maintenance   

You should check on your air conditioner periodically, but not just early in the season. Just before summer hits its peak, you should check in on it, as your air conditioner will start to work significantly harder in the high heat. This is when it is most likely to suffer complete failure. So, if you and your HVAC professional can catch errors before this, you’ll save yourself the trouble of having to arrange for emergency repairs.

5 DIY Tips to Maintain Your Home Air Conditioner

Maintaining your air conditioning unit can not only extend the life of your unit, but it can also improve the health of your family & pets, and help you avoid costly repairs down the line that could’ve easily been avoided. We’ll walk through 5 tips that can help you maintain your air units.

Parts of an AC Unit and What They Do

Air conditioner (AC) units monitor and regulate air temperature inside your home, but have you ever wondered how? Although an AC is a comprehensive system of components, it’s not too complex. We’ll break down the major components for you.

Evaporator Coils

Evaporator coils are used to deliver cool air into your home during hot summer months. The process by which air is cooled by the evaporator coils is as follows:

  • Air from inside your home is forced over the evaporator coils
  • Since heat flows naturally from hot to cold, the heat from the air inside your home is absorbed by the refrigerant inside the coils
  • The refrigerant changes state from liquid to vapor or gas
  • Cooler air is forced back into your home

The efficiency of the evaporator coil relies on how much refrigerant is available. Too little refrigerant results in operation failure. When too much refrigerant is available, it results in a parched evaporator and causes more liquid to transfer into the compressor.

Compressors

In order for heat to transfer back to the outdoors, the temperature of the refrigerant must be higher than the outdoor temperature. The main purpose of the compressor is to pressurize the refrigerant gas or vapor, thereby bringing it back to its liquid form. In order to disperse heat from the system, the air outside your home then cools the refrigerant.

The compressor runs on a motor and is therefore susceptible to mechanical problems if not properly maintained. It can stutter, overheat, and eventually burn out. If there are unusual sounds coming from the compressor, or if the AC isn’t keeping your home as cool as you’re used to, it could be because of a failed compressor.

Condenser Coils

A condenser coil is the opposite of an evaporator coil, as it contains hot liquid for heat transfer. Located outside of your home, it receives the high pressure, high-temperature refrigerant from the compressor.

The refrigerant inside the condenser coil releases heat energy with the aid of the condenser fan, which blows air over the coils. As the heat energy leaves the refrigerant, the cooler liquid then flows to the expansion valve.

Since the condenser coil is located outside of your home, it’s important to keep it clear of falling leaves, branches, or other debris. Ignoring regular maintenance could result in poor AC performance or electrical failure.

Expansion Valves

Located between the condenser coil and evaporator coil, the expansion valve removes the pressure from the condensed liquid refrigerant. As the pressure is removed, the temperature is decreased and the refrigerant changes from a liquid to a vapor form.

Keeping your expansion valve in good working order will ensure that your system stays efficient. A faulty expansion valve can result in your AC blowing warm air or frost, or it may keep your compressor working too hard.

Refrigerant

Refrigerant is a special fluid that changes states from liquid to vapor at convenient temperatures for the AC cycle. As it moves through the AC’s cooling tubes and copper coils, it absorbs heat from the inside of your home and transfers the heat energy outside.

One of the most common problems that can happen in the AC system is leaking refrigerant. Signs that refrigerant is leaking include:

  • Water puddles form around the compressor, evaporator coils, or condenser coils
  • Lower than usual airflow from the vents
  • The air inside your home feels warmer
  • It takes longer to cool down the house

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to call a certified AC technician. At Briggs HVAC, we can fix small problems caused by leaking refrigerant in order to save your AC system from much bigger problems down the road.

Putting it All Together

The return vents inside your home force hot air into the AC system. As the hot air flows over the evaporator coils, the cold refrigerant absorbs the heat energy from the air.

After moving through the evaporator coil, the refrigerant discharges to the compressor. By pressurizing the refrigerant, the vapor inside the compressor is heated up even further. The hot vapor then flows through the condenser coils to facilitate heat transfer to the outdoors.

The refrigerant then cycles back over the expansion valve, depressurizing and cooling down. The AC system then performs the same heat absorption process over and over again.

Briggs HVAC: The Heating and Cooling Company

For professional residential HVAC sales and repair, contact us today. We service, maintain, and install heating and cooling systems to keep your home comfortable all year long.

Prepare for Winter with a Fall Maintenance Check

When the warm days of summer give way to the crisper weather of fall, it’s a sign you should be getting ready for winter. Winter proofing your home keeps things running smoothly reduces energy waste and keeps your family toasty warm even on the coldest days. Here are our helpful tips to help prepare for winter with a fall maintenance check.

Air Leak Check 

Over the years, your home starts to show its age. This often means it can develop many sneaky ways for warm air to escape. Some of the most common places for air leaks are your windows and doors, as well as your attic. With the first signs of fall, perform an air leak check to look for spots that might interfere with your home’s heating:

  • Look at each of your windows for potential air leaks particularly around the frames and sill. These areas can be caulked inside and out with the proper seal for interior and exterior use.
  • Open and close your windows and see if they look like they could use some new weather stripping to help improve the seal. You will notice issues in any areas that pull away from the frame when the window opens and closes. A good test is to slide a dollar bill or piece of paper into the window and shut it. If you can pull it out, time for new weather stripping.
  • Do the same tests and inspection for any exterior doors. You can caulk gaps and add weather stripping to improve the seal.
  • If you have vines on your home overlapping siding, look for gaps. Pull the vines away and seal the gaps to prevent moisture and cold air from entering the walls.
  • Check your attic for signs of gaps along the roofline as well as dampness. Seal any obvious gaps using the appropriate caulking.

Look for Mold

Mold is a very dangerous, unhealthy intruder in your home. Because your home tends to remain closed up for the winter months, you really want to avoid sealing yourself in with mold. Look for mold in common areas where moisture occurs such as your bathrooms, sinks and windows. Use a strong mold spray to remove it and prevent further mold from growing.

Roof and Gutters

Make sure your gutters are debris free to ensure melting snow and ice have somewhere to go. Clogged gutters can lead to serious issues including giant icicles that can cause harm to your home not to mention put your family at risk for falling ice. As well, ice that builds up in the gutters can cause ice dams, which are very risky for causing roof damage and ultimately leaks. You’ll also be better prepared for thaws that occur in the spring to avoid water damage.  

It’s always a good idea to have a roof inspection. If you are comfortable on a ladder and with heights, you can do a once over of your roof to look for issues such as damaged or missing shingles. Otherwise, you can call in a roofing expert to look for areas in need of repair.

Furnace Maintenance Call 

The last thing you need is a furnace breakdown in the frigid winter. Set up a maintenance call with your HVAC specialist so they can do a complete check to make sure it is in top shape. You can do some preliminary checks by turning on your furnace to make sure it works, and that the thermostat allows you to turn the heat up and down. You can also do a quick clean up around your heater like vacuuming up dust. This is also a good time to change your filters to allow your furnace to run more efficiently. Your HVAC pro will handle the rest making sure all parts are in working order and letting you know if repairs or a replacement are required. Remember, if you want to reduce your energy bills, you need to make sure your heater is humming!

Inspect Duct Work

Your ductwork can also experience leaks that can lead to energy challenges. Wherever you have exposed ducts look for signs of issues such as loose screws, missing or loose duct tape and ducts that appear to be disconnected. Check your duct returns and supply ducts for debris and give them a quick vacuum to keep them free of obstructions.

Water Heater Check

If you want to improve energy efficiency, you can also add a water heater blanket and foam pipe insulator to help you save on water heating.

These fall maintenance tips will get your home winter ready so you and your family will avoid issues when winter makes its first appearance.

If you would like more information on fall maintenance for your HVAC system, contact our team of experts today. 

Determining When It Is Time To Replace Your A/C Unit

Your air conditioner is often an important, unsung hero during the summer season. It’s easy to forget, when you’re inside during the day, living your life, or sleeping comfortably at night, that the AC is working away in the background, keeping you and your family comfortable.

However, your air conditioner, like every other part of your home, is a fallible piece of equipment that may, one day, outlive its usefulness. When that happens, it’s time to retire it, and replace your AC with a new unit. But when will you know that that day has finally arrived? Keep an eye out for these signs.

You Require Frequently Repairs

During the optimal operational lifespan of an AC, there’s no reason to replace it when a repair job would be the more cost-effective option and add more years of reliable operation to your unit. However, while an occasional, rare repair to address an issue is acceptable, calling an HVAC expert regularly to address a new problem is not.

Frequent breakdowns are a sign that an AC unit is no longer able to keep up with the performance that is required of it. If you’re finding that your AC is demanding more and more attention from something else going wrong, it’s better to replace your AC with a new unit that will provide many years of reliable operation.

Your AC Is Old

You may have lived in your home an entire generation, raising a family, or you may find yourself having just purchased a home where something similar took place. In either case, one thing you should look at is the age of the AC unit there. Beyond a certain point, old technology should be replaced with a more efficient solution, or it should be replaced before the age starts to show and you end up dealing with more repairs.

In general, an air conditioner that is 10-15 years old should be replaced with a newer model. Over a decade of reliable operation means that such a unit is already behind newer models in terms of efficiency. If the AC is even older than that—some homes have been using the same unit for 20-30 years!—it’s definitely time to upgrade to a modern replacement.

Your Bills Are Going Up

An AC unit uses electricity to power itself, so you will usually see a bump in your electrical bill during the summer months as you rely on the AC more. But that increase should be nominal. What you shouldn’t see, is a sizable increase in your bills, especially if you aren’t using it any more than previous years.

A chronic increase in your electrical bills due to AC usage can mean only one thing; the efficiency is going down, and your AC is struggling to keep the home at the same temperature and is drawing on more resources to do so. A drop in efficiency may also coincide with a chronic repair problem, so this would be a good time to think about upgrading. Stop paying more on your cooling bills than you have to.

Your Square Footage Changed

Your AC was installed to provide you with the most efficient cooling for your home after careful measurement of the square footage of that space. Homes of different sizes require different AC capacities to properly cool the entire structure. It’s always important to fit an AC unit to the approximate size of the home for the sake of efficiency.

This means that if you’ve undertaken a major renovation, such as adding an addition to your home, or something even more drastic like adding a second floor, the AC you currently have will not be up to the task. If you’ve expanded the size of your home, you’ll need to reinforce the cooling with an entirely new AC unit to tackle the increased space. Alternatively, you may consider additional units, such as a window or ductless unit if you’re reclaiming space like an attic, where you may not want to build in extra ventilation ducts to get HVAC processed air into the new area.

If you’re in a situation where you think it may be time to replace your AC with a modern, more energy-efficient unit, contact us today. We’re ready to look at your current AC and home configuration and determine what kind of upgrade would best meet your needs.

Air Conditioner Power Consumption How Much Are You Using

Summer is here, and that means longer days with hotter temperatures. Whether you’re staying at home or going to work, the air conditioner is going to be cooling the environment. An air conditioner is a necessity, especially for children, the elderly, and delicate electronic equipment, which all suffer in extreme heat.

With more reliance on your air conditioner, you may be doing things that are causing more AC and power usage than necessary. Here are a few of the ways you can decrease that power consumption.

Change Your Filter

The easiest way to ensure more efficient power use is also the easiest to forget. If you’re using a central HVAC system, all the air that is processed still runs to your furnace before being piped through the vents. So, the air is pushed through and cleaned by the filter.

The filter should be replaced with every change of season. Waiting four or more months means allowing the filter to become so clogged with dirt that air is no longer smoothly passing through. If that happens, your air conditioner must now work longer to produce more air to get through the filter and into your home. That adds up to higher electricity bills. Make sure to replace your filter, and you’ll maintain power efficiency.

Furniture Placement

A centralized HVAC system uses vents that push heated or chilled air out of grates or registers in the floor. The placement of registers in rooms is optimized to distribute that air as efficiently as possible, but sometimes, HVAC efficiency interferes with decor needs.

If you have a sofa, recliner, or bed that is positioned directly over one of these registers this is a significant hit to your air conditioner—and furnace—efficiency. That air is not spreading throughout the room the way it should, which causes HVAC systems to work longer than they need to. If possible, try to arrange furniture so that it doesn’t block the air flow from these registers. It makes a difference to your power consumption.

Run It Hot During Vacancies

The air conditioner is meant to keep you and other residents comfortable. But if no one is home, there’s no need to keep running the AC at these lower temperatures. If you know that people won’t be in the space for hours at a time, such as during work or school hours or for vacations, then it’s better to set the temperature to 85°F. This is still cool enough that electronics won’t be affected.

If you have a smart thermostat, you can do this remotely through an app on your phone, which then allows you to reset the temperature to a comfortable level a few minutes before you return to your home.

Run the Air Conditioner at 78°F

This depends entirely on willingness and personal sensitivity. However, if you can do so, keeping the temperature of a home at 78°F is the air conditioner equivalent of running a car on “cruise control.”

The heat tolerance of you and your family is critical here, so always prioritize the safety and health of family members. However, if no one has any issues, then for every degree above 78° you are willing to go, you can save 3% on bills. Conversely, you experience that same increase in your bills with every degree you go below 78°F.

Dress for Comfort

In the tropics, people dress for the weather, and the same should be true here when summer hits Virginia. If you’re at home, there’s no need to dress in jeans and a sweater. Dress lightly, with thinner materials, and in shorter sleeves and pants.

You will be comfortable at much higher temperatures in your home and can set the thermostat to more efficient settings.

Use Your Fans

If you have ceiling fans or any other type of fan, these use less electricity than your air conditioner. At the same time, they can help you to lower your usage of the air conditioner since the movement of air provides a cooling effect.

Combining ceiling or room fan action with your air conditioner allows you to leave your thermostat at higher settings while remaining comfortable. Try this in any room that you’re using. If you have any additional questions or need assistance with your air conditioner, contact us today, and we’ll be happy to help.