How Air Conditioners Work (The Abridged Explanation)
Air conditioners are very simple devices. They were actually invented to remove the humidity from rooms where paper was stored. It was only after they’d been in use in industry a while that anyone thought to use them for cooling.
There’s not much to these devices. Essentially you’ve got an outdoor condenser unit that works like a giant heat sink to carry heat collected from indoor air to the outside. Ultimately, the cooler that outside unit is, the more heat it can remove and the more efficiently the whole system works.
Reduce the Strain on Your A/C, Stretch Those A/C Dollars
There are plenty of ways to help your air conditioner work more efficiently short of replacing the whole system. That will increase your efficiency, but you’re going to put a lot of money into a system upgrade that may not be needed just yet.
Before you do anything rash, give these a try:
Change your filter when it’s dirty. Dirty air filters are a huge drag on efficiency. After all, the more air that can be pulled into the system at once, the faster the air in your house will cool and the less time your A/C will spend running. You’ll know your paper air filters are dirty when they change color from white to gray or brown. That’s dust and other tiny particles clogging the pores.
Another way to tackle this would be to buy an electrostatic filter. These are reusable and washable, saving lots of money on filters, as well as energy (if you keep them pretty clean).
Clean your air conditioner condenser. That outside unit is too often neglected to the point that it can affect your energy efficiency. The fins get clogged with dirt, vegetation grows around the bottom of the unit and things like blowing leaves or plastic bags get caught in and around the unit.
Throw away any trash that’s clinging to the condenser, even if it’s inside. Just make sure the unit’s off before you stick your arm in. Next, remove vegetation that’s threatening to grow into the unit, treat it with weed killer if it’s particularly aggressive. Last, get your garden hose and spray the whole condenser down using minimal pressure. Crank up the water pressure and go over it again, slowly, working from the top to the bottom. Work in sections, moving to the next one when the water coming off the condenser runs clear. You may be surprised how much dirt was hiding in those fins.
Shade your unit. Plant a tree or install a solar shade over your A/C condenser to help keep it cool on those hot summer days. The less heat already being carried by the system, the easier to expel heat from your home. Blocking direct sunlight can make a huge difference, just be sure to allow at least two feet around the unit on all sides so your condenser has plenty of air circulating around it.
Install ceiling fans. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, using properly sized ceiling fans in conjunction with your air conditioner can make 78 degrees feel just as cool as 74 degrees. Those four degrees can add up to serious cash, too. The reason this works is that ceiling fans cool people using a wind chill effect. It doesn’t change the actual temperature in the room, but it does change how it feels to you.
Hang heavy drapes. If your house has any windows that get particularly hot during the summer, you need to insulate them right away. The easiest way to do this is with heavy drapes, and the heavier the better. Make sure those curtains are closed during the hottest part of the day to prevent heat radiating into the rest of the house. To further help those windows stay cool, you can add Low-E film into the equation. When used together, heavy drapes and Low-E film will make a noticeable impact on your indoor temperatures.