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James Dulley, Published May 06 2011

Sensible Home: Efficient air conditioner saves energy, cuts costs

Dear Jim: With recent concern about nuclear power plants, I want my central air conditioner to run efficiently to save electricity. Other than a professional service call, what can I do to tune it up myself?

– Bob W.

Dear Bob: Electric utility companies have to provide enough electricity generation capacity to meet peak demand even though it is actually not needed often. If peak electricity demand can be decreased, then fewer power plants will have to be built and perhaps some old ones can be shut down.

Peak electricity demand typically occurs during hot weekday summer afternoons when commercial/industrial demand is high along with residential air-conditioning load. Running your air conditioner as efficiently as possible can help reduce this peak electricity demand.

There are some things you can do yourself to keep your central air conditioner running efficiently. This does not preclude having regular professional service calls though. Technicians have special equipment and pressure gauges to check the internal components of the system.

Getting adequate air flow through the outdoor condenser coils is important for efficiency because this is where the heat is exhausted from the refrigerant. Make sure weeds and shrubs have not grown too close to the outdoor unit. Also, don’t rest rakes or other items against it that may block air flow.

Switch off the circuit breaker to the unit and remove the outdoor cabinet. Clean out any debris that has accumulated inside it that may block the coils. You don’t have to make it spotless though. If fins have been bent over in spots, try to straighten them out enough so more air gets through.

It is important that all the screws holding the cabinet sections together are tight when you reinstall the cabinet. Even if it is clean and you do not remove the cabinet, check all the screws. If they are loose allowing leaks, air will be drawn in gaps instead of through the coils as designed.

Just as the proper amount of air flow is important through the outdoor coils, it is also important through the indoor coils. With the circuit breaker still switched off, remove the side cover on the indoor unit to expose the evaporator coils and the blower. When you reinstall the cover, make sure to tighten the screws.

Quite a bit of dirt can accumulate on the indoor coils blocking air flow and insulating them from the air. This is because the coils get damp when the air conditioner is running and dirt sticks to it. Wipe the coils and then use the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to clean them and the blower as well as possible.

Even though everyone has heard to change the blower filter regularly, most people don’t do it. At the beginning of the cooling season, change the filter whether you think it is dirty or not. A dirty filter increases air flow resistance, which reduces efficiency. Check the joints in the ducts for any air leaks. Seal them with aluminum tape or black Gorilla duct tape.


Dear Jim: I want healthy landscaping, but I don’t want to use typical fertilizers. I have heard about alternative fertilizers which have less or no phosphorous. How do these fertilizers work? – Pat R.

Dear Pat: Phosphorous is in common fertilizers, but due to environmental concerns, some communities limit its use. New fertilizers, such as ones from GreenView (www.greenviewfertilizer.com), include an additional GreenSmart ingredient instead of phosphorous.

This formulation improves the effectiveness of the plant’s root system. By doing this, the plant is able to absorb more existing phosphorous from the soil and is more drought resistant.


Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com