Maintaining your air conditioning

Maintaining your air conditioning
File photo

By Tom Fannon

Our recent weather, with its wild temperature fluctuations, could not be crazier. Homeowners don’t know whether to turn on the air conditioning and shut down the furnace, or simply turn everything off. One day it is 70 degrees and the next day there is a wintery mix. Regardless of the weather outside, April and May are great months to have home air conditioners checked out before the heat and humidity become oppressive, though providers are managing a delicate balance between maintenance checks and the urgent no-cooling requests.

Every year TJ Fannon and Sons, and our fellow Alexandria heating and cooling service companies, are inundated with calls and questions about how to efficiently and cost effectively cool homes in our often hot and humid city. For almost 140 years, Fannon has been helping residents heat and more recently cool off their homes, and so I am delighted to pass along some advice and points to consider during this time of year so your abode stays comfortable year round.

First, change the filter on your A.C. regularly. The HVAC or furnace/air conditioner is a critical feature of your home, and regular care and upkeep are critical for peak performance. We see air conditioners choked with leaves, dirt, dog hair and even wasp or spider nests inside control panels, and we meet customers who claim they didn’t know that their system requires a filter. Standard cardboard A.C. filters need to be changed once a month in the summer and metal framed filters need to be cleaned with water once a month. Ask your A.C. service provider for guidance on filter maintenance.

For many homes, especially those with older duct systems, we recommend running the blower continuously. Hot air naturally rises to the upper floors, and older homes have limited return ducts upstairs. Keep the air in motion. Motors sustain more wear and more amperage draw, starting and stopping over one hundred times a day rather than running all season. Air in motion is sensibly cool, so keep it moving.

Simple housekeeping, then, is the first step in HVAC maintenance, but with today’s high-efficiency models, proper calibration of refrigerant and checking of airflow, exhaust vents and drains are all more important than ever. A reliable contractor can maintain, repair and, if necessary, replace your equipment, whether you need the latest of inverter heat pumps or repairs for that massive boiler that has been working steadily since the 1930s.

Many systems are available now with efficiency ratings previously unheard of, for both forced-air applications and boilers. Supplemental systems in small packages, known as ducted or ductless mini-splits, can discretely address problem areas like top floors that don’t cool properly, basements that need heating and dehumidification, garages and outdoor sheds. Most heating and air conditioning companies can provide no-obligation assessments of your existing equipment and solutions for imbalances.

Just like with annual furnace or HVAC servicing, we recommend you should always get three bids and ask questions of each bidder. The low-cost provider is not necessarily the best and that company may have left items off their estimate that you will need to deal with later.

In the end, select an HVAC service and sale provider that is well established in the business and does not aggressively upsell systems and accessories. As my grandfather, Francis H. Fannon, said with respect to our coal and oil business, “Give the buyer with spirit and enthusiasm what the buyer needs when he needs it.”

Alexandria has a number of top-notch heating and cooling service and sales providers, and while I can’t speak for all of them, our goal is always to try to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer by providing what people need in timely affordable fashion.

The writer is president of TJ Fannon and Sons Cooling & Heating.