R22: What Does This Mean For Your Old Air Conditioner?

Homeowners with older air conditioners may soon be facing a difficult choice: replace their cooling systems or continue to pursue increasingly costly and hard-to-find R22 refrigerant when their A/C unit needs a tune-up. Standards for types of refrigerants used in air conditioning system maintenance are changing, and this means that this most common and least expensive refrigerant will soon be phased out. When the phase-out is complete in 2020, R22 refrigerant will no longer be available.

R22 refrigerant, sometimes known as R22 Freon or HCFC-22 Freon, is an environmental danger because it contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. The U.S. government has placed restrictions on R22 and has issued the requirement that R22 refrigerant must be eliminated from use in cooling systems by the year 2020. At this point, R22 will no longer be manufactured and cannot be used as a refrigerant in new air conditioning systems. R22 is being replaced by R-410A, a safer material which is the current, compliant standard refrigerant in air conditioning equipment.

The refrigerant change means several things for homeowners with older A/C units:

  1. R22 refrigerant may still be used, but it will ONLY be available through after-market sales when it is recovered from old systems that have been salvaged.
  2. Prices for R22 refrigerant have been rising and are expected to continue to rise. 
  3. The availability of R22 will be limited because it cannot be purchased new. If you need a recharge of R22 in the future, there is no guarantee that it will be available.
  4. A complete A/C system replacement may be the most cost-effective solution.

Tips to help you lower your utility bills this summer

As temperatures rise – so can the electric bill! There are some simple energy saving techniques that can help you lower electricity bills in the summertime. For best results, implement more than one method.

1. Cut down on energy leaks. This includes turning off lights and other electronics. When you leave a room, shut off the light behind you. Unplug electronics that aren’t being used, such as cell phone chargers, small appliances like toasters, or power strips that provide power for many appliances.

·  Big-screen TVs, DVD players, digital photo frames, and other appliances use more energy than you realize.

·  Unplugging an appliance is best because certain appliances use energy even if they are turned off.

·  Consult with roommates or coworkers before unplugging a shared appliance.

2. Spend time outdoors. Spending a lot of time indoors will naturally lead to higher energy costs because you will be using lights, electronics, and air conditioning. Spending more time outdoors means you can turn off indoor electronics, and in the process, you will have fun going to the lake, the park, the movies, and so on. Turn off all electronics before leaving the house.

3. Close blinds, storm windows, or shades during the day. The sun can heat up a room very quickly. Keeping the sun from shining into windows will cut down on cooling costs, and many stores sell curtains specifically designed for this purpose.

4. Use fans instead of air conditioning. Circulation is important to using less air conditioning during the summer. Cool down the house early in the morning by placing a box fan in the window and opening up another window at the opposite end of the house, in addition to turning on ceiling fans. Box fans sit perfectly in most windows and help cool air come inside.

·  Most central air conditioners will also have internal fans to help circulate the air in your house while reducing your need to use the air conditioner. Turn the fan on “auto.”

·   Using fans at night will help a natural breeze cool down your house; this will only work if you live in an area that drops in temperature at night.

·   Turn a fan directly towards yourself or guests if the temperature is very hot.

5. Use air conditioning efficiently. Set the thermostat to 78, and don't lower it. You can also turn the air conditioning off at night and in the early morning. If you want to invest in an energy efficient air conditioner, these are 10-15% more efficient.

·   The smaller the difference between the outdoor and indoor temperatures, the smaller your bill.

·   Do not place appliances that give off heat, such as lamps or TVs, near an air conditioner’s thermostat.

6. Use electricity during off-peak hours. If you plan to use electronics like a washer and dryer, air conditioning, and computers or televisions, try to do so during off-peak hours like early in the morning or late at night. Electrical companies charge less for energy consumed during off-peak hours.

·   It is recommended you wait until after 6 pm to cook, do laundry, or wash dishes on days the temperature is over 90 degrees.

·   Contact your local electrical company for more information on local peak hours.

7. Use energy efficient appliances. Microwaves, pressure cookers, or outdoor grills use less electricity than stoves and ovens. You can also use a clothesline instead of a dryer. When purchasing new products, look for energy efficient options.

8. Plant shady trees on the west and south sides of your house. This is a more permanent solution to cutting down summer energy costs, and it is only possible if you are a homeowner or if you get permission from your landlord. The shady trees will cut down on cooling costs for your home.

Troubleshooting 8 Common Air Conditioner Problems

Your filter is dirty. A clogged filter restricts airflow through the unit decreasing its efficiency and reducing the ability to effectively cool the air. If you haven’t cleaned the filter in your room air conditioner recently, do it now. Filters on central AC units should be changed at least once a month, especially if your system is running constantly or you have pets.

Warm air is leaking in. Check the window seals around your unit to make sure hot air isn’t getting in or cold air seeping out. If so, reseal around your unit with pieces of weather stripping.

TV is too close to the AC. Avoid placing lamps or TV sets near the thermostat that controls your central air or near your window unit. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

Registers are dirty or blocked. If you have a forced air heating and cooling system, regularly vacuum the registers to remove any dust buildup. Make sure that furniture and other objects are not blocking the airflow through your registers.

Thermostat is on the wrong setting. If you have a programmable thermostat, make sure you programmed it so your home is at a comfortable temperature when you’re there and a bit higher when you’re not. And keep in mind that for every degree you raise the temperature, you’ll save 3 percent on your air-conditioning costs.

Window units, of course, don’t offer the whole-house control of a central system. If you’re depending on one window unit to cool a large space you’ll have to experiment with the thermostat setting as the temperature will vary depending on where you are in the room.

It’s too sunny inside. If your room AC unit is in a sunny window, it’ll have to work harder to cool your space. Likewise, if the thermostat for your central system is in a sunny spot, it will register the wrong temperature. Your best bet is to keep your shades and curtains drawn all day during the heat of the summer.

Plants are crowding the compressor. The outdoor compressor for central air needs adequate airflow to work correctly, so make sure there’s at least 2 to 3 feet of space between the unit and any plants or structures. There should also be 5 feet of clearance between the top of the unit and any trees above.

You forgot an annual checkup. An inspection by an HVAC technician can catch any serious problems before they get worse and leave you hot and bothered at the peak of summer. A technician will check all the moving parts as well as the refrigerant and recharge the system if necessary.

Contact us today to sign up for our annual maintenance agreement to help keep your system performing at maximum efficiency!

Updating windows, insulation and heating/cooling

If you are planning on renovating an older home, you may wonder where to begin.

Many homeowners are drawn to cosmetic updates first. But maintaining a comfortable, efficient home should also be top of your list. Again, depending on your budget, there are many heating and cooling options for older homes. A home built some time ago may not have a whole-house air conditioning system installed. There are several ways to approach this, and we can walk you through your options. You may also find that the heating systems for older homes are inefficient and need updating. For best results, consider new windows and insulation to prevent drafts and keep cold air out in the winter and warm air out in the summer in addition to a new HVAC unit.

How to prevent damage from a clogged condensate drain line

We all know how humid the summer can be. And it's because of this humidity that your home could run into costly water damage.

If your home's condensate drain line becomes clogged with dirt, debris or a buildup of rust or algae – this can cause major damage.

How is that possible? We’ll explain:

What is a condensate drain line? A condensate drain line helps remove excess water that drips off of your air conditioner's inside unit.

Think of this - when you have a glass of water with ice in it, the humidity in the air surrounding the glass is cooled down. The cooled moisture in the air forms those little droplets on your glass. That's condensation.

The same thing happens with your air conditioner. When your air conditioner removes humid air from the living space through your return vents to be cooled, water droplets form on the evaporator coils.

That water needs to go somewhere. Enter - the condensate drain line. This drains the water to a floor drain, laundry tub, sump pump, condensate pump or a small 3/4 inch PVC piped directly outside your house.

Why does this matter? Imagine if that drain line was clogged: all that water formed by condensation has nowhere to go and backs up into your home.

This creates a variety of problems including:

  • Water damage
  • Creating a breeding ground for mold, mildew, virus and bacteria
  • Causing a possible electrical issue if the water drips onto any electrical components

The source of the clogs is usually algae, which thrives and grows in dark, damp areas. Other sources can be dirt, dust, debris, or insulation fibers in the main indoor coil drain pan.

What are signs that my condensate drain line is clogged? Most homes have a secondary drain line that drips only when your main line is clogged. This drain line is higher and towards the roof line or attic. If you see this leaking, you'll know that the main drain line is clogged.

If this secondary line becomes clogged, and your air handler (the inside portion of your air conditioning unit containing the coil and fan) or indoor coil is located in your attic, you'll notice water leaking from your ceiling.

If this is the case, call an air conditioner professional to unclog the drain for you.

How to keep condensate drain line clogs from causing a problem: There are plenty of things you can do to keep clogs from causing water damage in your home:

Get annual air conditioner maintenance - A typical air conditioner tune-up includes checking your drain line so that there are no clogs and clearing the drain line as a precautionary measure.

Make sure drains lines are properly pitched (angled down) - water flows downhill, so you need to make sure the drain line is properly pitched. Also, ensure drain lines don't sag and be sure not to store items on top of drain lines in your attic.

Use a wet/dry vacuum - connect the hose to the drain line to suck out any algae or debris that has built up in the drain line.

Keep an eye on the secondary drain line - next time an air conditioner contractor is at your home, ask him or her where your secondary drain line is. If it's dripping water, you know you have a problem.

Install a safety switch - you can install a safety switch on your drain line that automatically shuts off your AC if the drain line is clogged. This helps you avoid expensive water damage.

Lighten your load!

You can make your air conditioner work better by reducing the size of the job it has to do. You can do this by improving the building or reducing the internally generated loads that your air conditioner must deal with.

Improving the building “envelope” includes things such as increasing insulation levels or shading windows or reducing air leakage. Such improvements will reduce energy spent on heating and cooling, but may require substantial time or investment. When putting in a new roof or new windows, it is usually cost effective to use high-efficiency products. “Cool” roofing, for example, can save half a ton of cooling and a lot of energy over the year.

Reducing internal loads can be simpler. Shut off unneeded electrical appliances, lights and equipment. Shift appliance use (such as washers and dryers) to cooler times of the day. Use local exhaust fans to remove heat and humidity from kitchens and baths. Buying Energy Star or similarly efficiency appliances helps as well!

How to increase energy efficiency

Sealing leaky ducts may be the biggest single thing you can do to improve efficiency, but replacing dirty filters, cleaning the coils and keeping the right charge and airflow will help as well.

Another thing to do is to make sure the outdoor (condenser) unit is not so hidden from sight that its airflow is blocked or that leaves or other matter are not clogging it.

If you are replacing the air conditioner, look to buy high efficiency equipment. The most generally known efficiency rating is Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). SEER 13 is the minimum efficiency you should consider, but higher efficiencies are likely to be quite cost effective.

How exactly does your air conditioner work?

The job of your home air conditioner is to move heat from inside your home to the outside, thereby cooling you and your home. Air conditioners blow cool air into your home by pulling the heat out of that air. The air is cooled by blowing it over a set of cold pipes called an evaporator coil. This works just like the cooling that happens when water evaporates from your skin. The evaporator coil is filled with a special liquid called a refrigerant, which changes from a liquid to a gas as it absorbs heat from the air. The refrigerant is pumped outside the house to another coil where it gives up its heat and changes back into a liquid. This outside coil is called the condenser because the refrigerant is condensing from a gas back to a fluid just like moisture on a cold window. A pump, called a compressor, is used to move the refrigerant between the two coils and to change the pressure of the refrigerant so that all the refrigerant evaporates or condenses in the appropriate coils.

The energy to do all of this is used by the motor that runs the compressor. The entire system will normally give about three times the cooling energy that the compressor uses. This odd fact happens because the changing of refrigerant from a liquid to a gas and back again lets the system move much more energy than the compressor uses.