Summerize your home with tips from the experts
Warm air belongs outside; cool air belongs inside.
Keep that little lesson in mind as you prepare your home for the coming summer months. Your family, pets and bank account will thank you.
As homeowners anticipate the thermometer’s ascent into summer temperatures over the next month, it’s time to begin assessing and reversing the damage winter may have caused to your home so it’s ready to keep occupants and visitors safe and cool this season.
That means it’s also time for summer’s shining star — the air conditioner — to gear up for a transition from dormancy to overdrive.
Charlie Waterfield, who has worked as a handyman for homeowners in the Petersburg area since retiring from Caterpillar in 1992, and Ron Eades, owner of Eades Heating & Air Conditioning in Springfield, offer the following tips to prepare your home and air-conditioning unit for summer.
The non-AC-related projects that may need attention:
* Patching cracks in the asphalt caused by winter freezing on your driveway.
* Sealing your wooden decks and fences.
* Pressure-washing your home’s siding and windows.
* Replacing storm doors and windows with screens.
* Repairing any torn screens. “Make sure your windows are tight so you’re not trying to cool the outdoors when it’s hot,” Waterfield said.
* Trimming back branches so they don’t damage your roof or siding.
* Cleaning out your gutters. If you don’t, they can quickly fill with weeds and branches — and rain water will run off the roof as if the gutters aren’t there and run down the foundation of your house.
“We’ve seen gutters that have little maple trees 2 to 3 feet high because it’s been years since they’ve cleaned their gutters,” said Waterfield, whose wife, Betty, has been helping him since 1995.
* Sealing your fireplaces. If you don’t plan to use the fireplace this summer, seal it up so you don’t lose cool air through your chimney.
Projects related to your air conditioner that may need attention:
* Changing your furnace filter every 30 to 90 days. “The key thing,” Eades said, “not just at the beginning of summer but also during, is the filter. They’ve got to keep a clean filter. That’s a key component.”
* Cleaning the outside AC unit, which Eades said is “basically something people don’t do.”
However, because the fins that surround a unit often are close together, it doesn’t take much dirt and grime to get jammed in there and block the airflow. This, just like a dirty filter, makes the unit work harder to pull air in to cool.
Eades said if the unit sits on or near dirt and grass, it may need to be cleaned with a garden hose once a month. If it is resting on a cleaner surface — for example, on a bed of woodchips — it may require less cleaning.
* Reopening registers. People tend to close some of their registers during the winter, especially in rooms, such as the kitchen, that have heat-producing appliances. But you’ll likely want the cool air to get into those rooms in the summer, so make sure all are open.
The only ones you probably want to keep closed, Eades said, are in the basement. “You really don’t need extra cold air down there at all,” he said.
* Hiring a professional. Older AC systems may need to be oiled annually so they work properly, and that’s a job best left to a certified HVAC contractor such as Eades. You also can hire a professional to take the unit apart for a deep cleaning (insects and animals can make homes in AC units) and put it back together.
* Checking for Freon leaks. Once your unit begins to leak Freon, you’ll need to refill it each year. Eades estimates that about 80 percent of units on the market eventually will develop a leak.
* Caulking the windows. Eades said many homes built today don’t have caulked windows, which keep heat out.
* Checking the location of your home’s return air ducts. If you close off a room to cool and it doesn’t have a return air duct to send the bad air out of the house, it won’t cool down, no matter how much cool air you pump in, Eades said.
If you have a room that won’t cool as well as other rooms in your home, the best option is to run the air conditioner’s fan at “on” instead of “automatic.” That, he said, “will tend to make it where every room has a more even temperature.” The AC will continue to cycle, but the air will constantly be moving. “It’s not a bad idea to run the fan all the time,” he said.
* Understanding how to use the thermostat.
“The last thing people should do that nobody does is turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees when you go to bed at night,” Eades said.
The whole idea of an air conditioner is to get rid of humidity. If the AC doesn’t run a few times overnight, it won’t get rid of the humidity that builds up while you sleep and will make the home uncomfortable.
The hotter it is outside, the warmer you can keep your house. Eades said a good rule of thumb for how to decide where to set a thermostat is to set it 8 to 10 degrees lower than the current outdoor temperature.
Kelsea Gurski can be reached through the State Journal-Register features desk at (217) 788-1515.
WAYS TO SAVE
Summer offers many opportunities for saving energy.
Eric Guldenstein, who has operated Home Energy Solutions in Springfield since 2003 and has studied energy efficiency since the early 1970s, said people can do several things this summer that cost very little but save a lot.
“Most of the things that help you save energy during the winter, like adding insulation and sealing air leaks, will also help you save during the summer. It works for both seasons,” he said. “Energy prices don’t go down; they only go up. If you can save money and be more comfortable in your house, you’ll get a two-for-one deal out of this.”
Some of his suggestions:
* Pull your drapes or blinds. “If people would just, on a hot, sunny day, pull the drapes and blinds on the south and west sides of their homes so the solar heat couldn’t come in, it makes a big difference,” Guldenstein said.
* Consider when you use heat-producing appliances. Instead of using an oven, try the microwave or outdoor grill. Or if you must use the oven, use it in the late evening or early morning hours, when the outdoor temperature is lower. The same principle works for washing and drying clothes.
* Switch out incandescent light bulbs with CFL bulbs, which produce far less heat.
* Use fans more. Guldenstein said it’s possible to be completely comfortable inside your home on a hot day with the thermostat set at 85 degrees if you have fans helping to circulate the air. The AC will still kick on to remove the humidity, which is a major source of discomfort. “It could make you very comfortable running the (fans and AC) that way,” he said. “It’s worth a try.
For every few degrees you set the AC temperature up, you can save.”
* Seal the joints on any vents in your attic or crawl space. You can lose a lot of conditioned air if these joints aren’t sealed well, and you don’t want to allow extra cooled air into spaces you rarely occupy.
* Have an energy audit performed on your home.
Check out Guldenstein’s Web site at www.energysolutionsnow.com.