7 On Your Side: Save money by adding years to your air conditioner units

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Nina Pineda has tips on your air conditioner units.

The air conditioning season generally lasts until late September, which means we're about halfway home. So with a solid two months left during which we depend on air conditioning, now is the time to do a quick check to avoid losing your cool when the dog days of summer hit.

It's a good thing the Whaley family put in a backyard pool this summer, because inside their house is a sweltering 87 degrees.

"This conked out on Friday," Steve Whaley said of his A/C unit.

He's eight years into a 10-year warranty, so thankfully, the broken compressor is covered.

"It's about $700 to $800 for just the part," he said.

That puts Steve in a common dilemma. Do you spend a few hundred dollars for the repair? Or replace the unit altogether?

HVAC specialist Mike Jackson, with C and C Air & Plumbing, says bottom-of-the-line units that are more than a decade old are inefficient, and ones that haven't been maintained should most likely be replaced with newer energy efficient "Energy Star"-approved ACs.

"Do you want to invest a little more money and get the more efficient one that's quieter and is going to cost you less money over time to actually use?" Jackson said.

Properly serviced air conditioners should last 15 years, he said, but homeowners can get the most out of their air conditioning by first making sure nothing is preventing maximum air flow in or out.

"The shrubs here, we want to make sure they're at least 12 inches away from the unit," he said.

Next, clean or replace air filters at least once a year or more often as needed.
"All the particles get clogged, and it starves air flow," Jackson said. "So you're not going to get as much cooling, and it's not going to be as efficient. So maintaining your filter is maintaining your whole system."

Also, make sure your ceiling fan is pushing air down. There's a toggle switch on the side, and clockwise in the winter will draw air up, reverse to counterclockwise in the summer.

Jackson says make sure to close window shades in sunny rooms, and close doors for rooms you don't use.

You also may want to consider investing in a programmable smart thermostat to control temperature when you're not home, as even a few degrees will save you money on your bill.

A routine maintenance plan on your A/C system is also important. The cost it takes to keep it running properly will be made back quickly through lower electricity bills.

"We have three units and have to service them twice a year," homeowner Risa DeMaio said. "It's peace of mind to know everything's working properly."

The A/C units in her Morganville, New Jersey, home lasted 18 years.

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