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Tips and Tricks

Tip 1. How often should you change the filters in your home?
A. As an a/c tech, I tell customers at least once a month. If you smoke in your house, have inside pets, or a large amount of traffic in the house, check the filter once a week. Out side environment should be considered as well, dust storms and high pollution areas do affect the filter as well.

Tip 2. If you are building a new home what factors should you consider to keep heating and cooling costs down?
A. The most important is heat gain and heat loss of the house, ie/ good windows and doors, along with plenty of insulation, it is also important to size your heating and cooling unit properly, oversized units can short cycle and run up costs. don’t go cheap on your hot water heater as hot water is also a high energy cost.

Tip 3. Will a programmable thermostat reduce your heating and cooling energy consumption?
A. Yes, programmable thermostats can reduce the energy used for air conditioning or heating by 5 to 30%. Programmable thermostats save money by turning the air conditioner to a higher setting (or heater to a lower setting) when no one is present in the house, or in the evenings when it is cooler.

Tip 4. Is there a way to reduce the amount of energy your central air conditioner uses?
A. The U.S. Department of Energy offers these tips: Set your thermostat at 78°F or higher. Each degree setting below 78°F will increase your energy consumption by approximately 8%. Use bath and kitchen fans sparingly when the air conditioner is operating. Check and clean both indoor and outdoor coils periodically. Dirt build-up on the indoor coil is the single most common cause of poor efficiency. Check the refrigerant charge. You may need a service contractor to check the fluid and adjust it appropriately. Shade east and west windows. When possible, delay heat-generating activities, such as dish washing, until the evening on hot days. Keep the house closed tight during the day. Don’t let in unwanted heat and humidity. If practical, ventilate at night either naturally or with fans. Try not to use a dehumidifier at the same time your air conditioner is operating. The dehumidifier will increase the cooling load and force the air conditioner to work harder.

Tip 5. What is the most important thing to consider when buying a new air conditioner?
A. From Sizing Residential Heating and Air Conditioning Systems at the U.S. Department of Energy Website: When it’s time for a new replacement, choosing one of the correct size (heating and/or cooling output) is critical to getting the best efficiency, comfort, and lowest maintenance and operating costs over the life of the new system.

The most common sizing mistake is in over sizing. This not only makes the new system cost more to install, but also forces it to operate inefficiently, break down more often, and cost more to operate. Oversized heating equipment also often creates uncomfortable and large temperature swings in the house. Oversized air conditioners (and heat pumps) do not run long enough to dehumidify the air, which results in the “clammy” feeling and unhealthy mold growth in many air-conditioned houses.

It is the installer/contractor’s job to perform the correct sizing calculation for the building. However, some national surveys have determined that well over half of all HVAC contractors do not size heating and cooling systems correctly.

Tip 6. How do you know if your cooling system can be repaired or if it is time to replace it?
A. provides a basic checklist to help you determine if it’s time to replace your existing heating/cooling system. Consider replacing if:

Your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 10 years old Your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old Your equipment needs frequent repairs and your energy bills are going up Some rooms in your home are too hot or too cold No one is home for long periods of the day and you do not have a programmable thermostat Your home has humidity problems Your home has excessive dust Your heating or cooling system is noisy

[ENERGY STAR a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency]

Tip 7. Is it necessary to have air conditioner maintained regularly?
A. Absolutely! Annual maintenance on your air conditioner can mean big savings on your cooling bills. Some studies have shown that proper annual maintenance can save you up to 30% on your energy bills. A well maintained unit will also last longer and break down less, saving you more money in the long run.

Tip 8. Tips to choose a contractor to perform the tune-up
A. Can the contractor service your entire system? Having one contractor for your heating and a one for your cooling system leads to confusion.

Make sure you get a written checklist of the work performed. A comprehensive tune-up should take an hour to perform, anything less and you may not be getting value for your money.

Ensure that your contractor is licensed to work with refrigerants. Most states and provinces now require that technicians take special refrigerant training.

In addition to professionally performed annual maintenance you also play an important part in keeping your system operating efficiently by making sure your furnace air filter is kept very clean. A dirty filter will affect the efficiency of a central air conditioning system much quicker than a furnace.

Tip 9. Why bother with a yearly Preventative Maintenance Service?
A. Yearly preventative maintenance is a wise thing to do. Properly maintaining your system will save you money on your energy bills and will help your system perform at peak efficiency. A properly maintained system also lasts longer which is important due to the expense of replacement.

During a preventive maintenance, certain parts that can cause trouble when dirty, are cleaned to keep the system running smoothly and efficiently. A maintenance service also includes inspection of your system so problems can be discovered before serious damage occurs and you find yourself without air conditioning in the middle of summer or winter when you need it the most.

Tip 10. There’s water spilling out of my inside unit, what can I do about this?
A. If you do not see ice build-up on the larger copper tubing (covered with a black, sponge insulation) when you run your system, then you probably have a clogged drain line. A clogged drain line is usually caused by algae build-up inside the drain line. And yes, there is something you can do to prevent this condition. Algae is a living plant and will grow in your drain line until it clogs the line. The air handler provides a cool, damp environment for development of molds and mildew and if left untreated these growths can spread into your ductwork. If only moderate to light buildup is present then there are chemical disinfectants specifically designed for use in air handlers that will kill the existing mold and mildew and control new growth. These disinfectants are safe and very effective and are applied by simply spraying into the filter intake and by placing “Algae Strips” directly in the drain pan. If the coil has mold or mildew present then it also should be treated. Make sure that the face of the cooling or evaporator coil is clean so that air can pass through freely.

Tip 11. The System will not run at all, what do you think?
A. The most common reason that a system will not run is because of a loss of power. In almost every situation an air conditioning system is protected electrically by a breaker or fuse which is located somewhere in the power supply lines upstream from both the air handler and condenser units. This breaker is designed to provide over current protection and prevent electrical damage to your equipment. Find this breaker, turn it completely “off” even if it appears to be “off”, then turn it back on again.

If it trips again, leave it alone and call your contractor. The second most common reason for a system not to respond when called for, is problems in the low voltage (24v) control circuit. This circuit is comprised of the controllers and relays that send signals to the components in your system to perform specific functions like heating, cooling and fan only. The most common problems are found in the DRAIN PAN FLOAT SWITCH, thermostat connections and with failure of the transformer.

Tip 12. How does the defrost mode on my heat pump work?
A. On a call for defrost, the reversing valve is energized, switching the system into the air conditioning mode. That is right – Air Conditioning. The outdoor evaporator becomes the condenser but at the same time the outdoor fan shuts off. This allows the high pressure refrigerant circulating through the outdoor coil to get very warm, melting the ice. At the same, the second stage heat [the back-up heat] is energized to offset or temper the cold air now blowing out the vents. When a sensor or thermostat in the outdoor unit reaches a certain temperature and/or a certain amount of time goes by, the system goes back to normal heating mode.

At this time a cloud of water vapor can usually be seen rising out of the outdoor unit and a “whoosh” sound can be heard as the refrigerant reverses direction. The entire process usually takes between 2 to 10 minutes depending on conditions.

Different heat pumps have different ways of determining when to go into defrost. Some use mechanical timers in conjunction with a defrost thermostat. If the thermostat is cold enough and enough time goes by, the unit will go into the defrost mode whether it is iced-up or not. When the thermostat heats up to a certain temperature, defrost is terminated.

Most of the newer equipment today uses solid-state control modules with temperature sensors. Even more sophisticated is the Demand Defrost system which makes calculations based on the outside air, the freon temperature in the coil and run time. This is the most efficient way to defrost.

If a heat pump is severely iced-up in the winter it is possible that it isn’t defrosting but there are many other causes. Below is a list of possible causes. Items in blue usually require a service call. Items in red however can be addressed, even fixed by the homeowner.

  • Bad defrost control or timer
  • Bad defrost thermostat or sensor
  • Bad defrost relay
  • Sticking reversing valve
  • Bad reversing valve solenoid coil
  • Bad outdoor fan motor
  • Low refrigerant charge

Outdoor coil blocked – possibly with leaves, dirt, debris or plants / shrubs Unit sunk in ground – nowhere for ice to melt and drain off Leaking gutter dripping water onto top of unit Freezing rain – causes top of unit to freeze over – once this happens the rest of the unit will also freeze over.

The bottom four causes are common problems and can be addressed by the homeowner. If the top of the unit is covered in ice, turn it off and remove the ice. If a gutter is dripping, repair the gutter. Keep snow and leaves away from unit including underneath it. If the unit has settled in the ground, it must be elevated. With the unit off, ice can be removed with a garden hose. If the unit ices-up again, it is time to schedule a service call.

Whatever you do, please, never pick the ice off with a sharp object. The refrigerant coils can be damaged very easily.

Remember – these are just rough guidelines and not all possible situations are covered. When in doubt, call a certified, qualified air conditioning service technician.

Tip 13. Steam coming from outdoor unit
A. We hear this complaint mostly from new heat pump owners at the beginning of each heating season. Sometimes they think it is smoke and that their outdoor fan motor burned-up because when this is happening the motor actually stops running.

Don’t worry, this is a good thing! This is your unit during the “Defrost Mode”. It happens regularly during the heating season. The outdoor coils tend to frost or ice-up during the winter. This causes the unit to loose efficiency. By regularly defrosting itself, the heat pump runs more efficiently.

When the unit goes into defrost, a couple of things happen. First, the outdoor fan motor stops running. This helps build-up more heat to melt the ice. Also the reversing valve shifts from the heating mode to the air conditioning mode. That’s right, you are actually running the air conditioner. By making the outdoor unit the condenser, the hot freon gas passing through the coils accomplishes the defrosting. Lastly, the supplemental heat is energized to offset the now, cold air blowing in the house.

Yes, it does sound a little bizarre to run the air conditioning and back-up heat at the same time during the winter. But it usually only happens for a few minutes at a time and only when needed.

Now, this should only happen periodically except for severe weather conditions (snow, rain, sleet). If your unit is constantly going into defrost, this indicates a problem.

Below is a list of possible causes. The first 4 items usually require a service call.

  • Bad defrost control
  • Bad defrost sensors or thermostats
  • Bad outdoor fan motor
  • Low charge or restriction

This item can normally be corrected by the homeowner.

  • Outdoor coil blocked – possibly with leaves

REMEMBER, when in doubt, call a certified, qualified air conditioning service technician.