Homeowner How-To: Staying Cool with your HVAC Checklist

There's no denying it: summer is here. But that doesn't mean you should deny potential savings on your energy bill and overall power usage this season – and one often-overlooked area is the air conditioning department.

Sadly, our HVAC units are far too frequently neglected until it's too late, it breaks and we are left sweltering in the heat when a few easy adjustments could have prevented what has transitioned into a much larger problem.

It is with that goal in mind that we turn to a simple checklist of items you can undertake to help avoid those periods when your HVAC is out of commission.

HVAC-Specific Solutions

In addition to regular and seasonal maintenance, implement a few extra steps when addressing the health of your HVAC.

Cleaner Air Conditioning Concerns

  • If you have pets with fur, keep them brushed and well-groomed in order to prevent the HVAC from sucking up all of that fluff.
  • About once a month (or more if you have an especially old HVAC or you have furry pets, etc.), vacuum the dust from vents and louvered door slats around your HVAC unit and surrounding closet (if housed inside).
  • While we're on the subject of the relationship between cleaner air and vacuuming, for family members with allergies, consistent Hoovering is the other half of ensuring your HVAC is running at its optimal level to provide your household with the best air quality possible. Help your HVAC out by catching many allergens before they reach the air filters – vacuum pillows, seat cushions and mattresses as well as carpets!

As an additional precaution for those with allergies, asthma or other respiratory sensitivities, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filtration system – these little filters effectively trap many of the ultra-fine allergens that would otherwise escape back into the atmosphere.

  • Check your air filters regularly – at least once a month for cleanable filters and replace disposable filters every 3 months.

If your cleanable filters are gray or dingy, run cold water over them until the water runs clean and allow them to air dry completely before returning them.

General Household Heating & Air Tips

How many of us actually take the time to ponder the interconnectivity of our home systems? But if you stop for a second to think about it, you see how it makes sense: in order for a house to function as a cohesive unit, all of the individual units need to be fully functioning.

Along those lines, here are some ways to max out the performance capability of each system within our homes to keep our heating and air systems in peak condition as well as minimize our ecological footprints and our energy bills.

Kitchens (and the house in general)

  • Replace old appliances and light bulbs that give off lots of heat with newer, energy-efficient models.
  • Run appliances (like the dishwasher and dryer, etc.) at night whenever possible. Not only is this the time of day when energy costs are at their lowest, but you and the rest of your family are less likely to be affected (and you won't be forced to drop the thermostat a couple of notches to counteract any resulting heat).

Plumbing

  • In the cooler months, address issues with insulation so that you're ready to go when the temperatures start to rise. For example, properly insulating your water heater in the winter keeps your AC unit from working overtime in the summer.

Doors and Windows

  • Seal all air gaps around leaky windows and doors with weather-stripping or caulking.
  • Install eco-friendly window treatments with reflective, light-colored backings. Honeycomb shades, for example, are designed to keep cool air inside and heat out during the summer and the opposite in the winter (retain heat and block cold).
  • If you prefer to have your view unimpeded, apply clear window films to your glass panes. These have UV-blocking abilities that also prevent the formation of hot spots (think of the heat created by focusing a beam of sunlight through a magnifying glass) which make your AC work that much harder to cool down rooms.
  • Another way to keep cool is to simply open windows and run fans – with the AC off, of course – whenever possible.
  • Keep shades drawn during the heat of the day but then pull them up in the cooler afternoon hours when there is still sufficient sunlight outside. Turn off light bulbs and capitalize on nature's natural lighting!

What other ways have you found to become more energy-efficient and knock a few bucks off your utility bill in the process?

Chris Long is a store associate at a Chicago-area Home Depot. He frequently writes for the Home Depot website. HVAC maintenance is among the many areas where Chris provides advice to homeowners.

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Comment by Jason Wall on July 15, 2013 at 8:32am

Great list, Chris. You make great points about properly sealing the home in all rooms and installing proper insulation.

Filter cleaning or replacement is a good idea monthly for homeowners with pets, but folks without pets who shed frequently or who live in fairly dust-free environments can probably hold off on cleaning their filters for up to every 3 months.

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