Low-Maintenance Appliances: Air Conditioners

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It is interesting to try to imagine urban development without the air conditioner. The proliferation of high-rise apartments and tall office buildings would never have happened, especially in the South. Most likely factories, stores, and offices would have expanded underground. Or squat ted in low profiles in woodland. There would be a premium on tree shade and cities would look more like forested suburbs. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

At any rate, air conditioners are now considered an absolute necessity by most people even in the North, which is a pity. There is so much energy waste with them. I have worked in air-conditioned offices and ridden in air-conditioned cars, and visited air-conditioned homes where I had to wear a sweater to stay warm. I have seen air conditioners in the North roaring away when opening a window would have brought in a cool breeze far more pleasant than conditioned air. In the North, there are about 20 days a year when air-conditioning really helps, not enough to justify an efficient central air-conditioning system.

The cheapest and most maintenance-free air-conditioning is a house built at least partially into the ground. The lower level of our house stays naturally comfortable all summer—but some of that economy is lost because in-ground rooms invariably need a dehumidifier. The cost of a small dehumidifier is, however, much less than air-conditioning.

An attic fan and/or window fans provide cheap and effective air- conditioning when the weather is only mildly hot. In well-insulated houses that become uncomfortably hot only in the late afternoon, you can turn on such fans to pull in evening and night air to cool a house down as effectively for sleeping as any air conditioner.

To cool one or two rooms, a room air conditioner may be more economical, even though these kinds are less efficient and involve more maintenance than a central system. (For a more or less complete listing of efficiency ratings of various brands of air conditioners, you can send for The Most Energy-Efficient Appliances, from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.) The central air Carrier Premium IV (Carrier Corporation, Carrier Parkway, P.O. Box 4808, Syracuse, NY 13221) and the Lennox Power Saver (see Appendix A for address) head the list with ratings around 15. Friedrich (Friedrich Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Company, P.O. Box 1540, San Antonio, TX 78295) and Carrier room air conditioners head the list in room air conditioners with ratings of about 11. These ratings are not any more significant in themselves than other energy ratings given in this book but serve as a sort of comparison. And since efficiency and running time are related, the more efficient, the less the maintenance, generally speaking.

The Japanese have developed a central air-conditioning system different from those in the United States. As in regular American central systems, the compressor sits outside. The difference is that there is an evaporator in each room; tubing carries refrigerant to each evaporator. The advantage of this design is that there is no ductwork, so installation is easier than regular central air. The evaporators are positioned high on the walls for better air circulation and are out of furniture’s way. By the time you read this, American manufacturers should be offering these “split” systems. They are worth looking into.

Maintenance Tips

A few timely maintenance tips will add years of good performance to your unit:

• If you can position your outside condenser in the shade, so much the better. Make sure the air intake is not blocked by bushes or debris.

• Clean or replace the filter(s) regularly.

• Clean the coils in the condenser.

• Put a few drops of oil in those little cups at each end of the motors. Oiling too much is as bad as oiling not enough because the excess attracts dirt into the motor. Once a year is usually enough, twice if you are really energetic.

• Don’t set the thermostat lower than the temperature you desire, thinking that it will cool down quicker that way. It will just run longer and so the sooner maintenance problems will develop.

• You should consult with an experienced cooling contractor for recommendations on the proper size air conditioner for your needs. No use paying for more than you need, and anyway, an air conditioner with more capacity than you need will cool too quickly for you to get the full dehumidifying action from it. A unit too small will use more electricity trying to cool a space larger than it can handle. It will do a poor job no matter how hard it tries, and the extra strain will cause it to wear out too soon.

Details on how to do these service jobs are in the service manual you purchased with your machine or are available from your dealer.

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