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Keeping Your Air Conditioner Cool

When my central air conditioner conks out, it is always on one of the hottest days.  What is the best way to pick a good repair contractor? Is there any preseason maintenance  I can do myself?—Barb H.

An old central air conditioner or heat pump often does conk out on the hottest days because it is running almost nonstop to keep the house cool. As it gets hotter outdoors, the efficiency and cooling output of the unit drop, putting even more strain on the old compressor, especially the bearings and valves.

The refrigeration system in an air conditioner is a complicated piece of equipment. You have no way to determine if things are set properly, so you have to trust that the contractor you select will do the work correctly.

For a list of reputable contractors in your area, first check with your electric co-op, then ask relatives and friends for contractors who did good work. 

Another good place to check is with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). Reputable contractors will belong to one or both of these organizations, which can give you a list of members in your area. Take time to check references. 

Simple do-it-yourself maintenance
In between professional annual service calls, you can do a lot to keep your air-conditioning system running effectively.

Outdoors, keep grasses, flowers, and shrubs trimmed back about two feet from the compressor housing. Don’t stack things like garden tools against the outdoor unit.

Inspect the heat transfer fins on the coils for any that are bent over and touching each other, blocking the airflow.  Separate them gently with the tip of a scraper. Make sure all the screws on the housing are tight so that air is being drawn through the coils and fins correctly.

Indoors, change the filter regularly. Switch off the electricity to the unit and remove the cover over the indoor blower unit. Clean dust off the blower and any evaporator coils you can reach with your vacuum’s brush attachment. Seal any leaking duct joints with aluminum or duct tape. Don’t forget to close the bypass damper for the heating system’s humidifier. 

Repair, replace, or start over?

Don’t rush when comparing repair estimates to replacement options. Consider your existing equipment’s age, previous repairs, and any rooms that are often too hot or too cold. Buying a replacement system just like the old one might be a costly mistake with higher utility bills, poor comfort levels, and more breakdowns. What you may need is a larger unit, and additional ducts and return air registers. 

Mail requests and questions to JAMES DULLEYKentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit


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