AC 101: How Does an AC Work & Questions to Ask Your HVAC Provider
Unless you’re in the HVAC industry, you probably don’t know everything about an AC system. When it comes time to make repairs, purchase a new system, or conduct an inspection, you might feel overwhelmed.
To answer your questions, calm your fears, and empower you to ask your service provider essential questions, we’re going to give you a basic education on how an AC system works, and ways to think about optimizing its performance.
How does an AC system work?
Many people incorrectly believe that an AC unit works by “creating” cold air in your house. That’s not quite the case. An air conditioner takes the heat from inside your home and moves it outside.
To work its magic, AC units consist of:
- A cold indoor coil called the evaporator.
- A hot outdoor coil called the condenser.
- A pump, or the compressor.
The pump moves heat transfer fluid, also called refrigerant, between the evaporator and the condenser. The refrigerant evaporates in the indoor coil, extracting the heat from inside your home, and then cooling it down. The cold air blows back into the house, while the hot refrigerant is pumped outside via the condenser.
The process repeats itself over and over, and each time the refrigerant pumps back inside your house, it removes more heat.
In addition to removing heat from your home, an air conditioner should also remove moisture from the air.
Questions To Ask Your AC Service Provider
Every responsible homeowner with an AC system should be scheduling an annual AC inspection with the professionals. A routine check-up will increase the efficiency and performance of your unit, and help extend its life expectancy.
Not to mention, during your scheduled service appointment, you can get to know your expert technician. Our techs appreciate questions and curious homeowners who want to learn about their HVAC system.
Here are seven questions to help you learn more about your air conditioner, and keep it running properly:
1. What’s the right temperature to set my thermostat?
We know thermostat temperatures can cause great conflict in the family, so asking the service tech may help to settle the issue once and for all. Finding the right temperature setting can not only prevent a few family fights, but it can help save you money on energy bills.
2. Should I get a Smart Thermostat?
Turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling, according to Energy.gov. Service techs can walk you through all the pros and cons of buying a Smart Thermostat, maybe even help you find the right one for your house.
3. How can I save money cooling/heating my home?
Service techs know a thing or two about energy efficiency, so they will definitely have tips to share on how to save energy in the summer and how to cut heating costs in the winter.
4. Does my AC unit use R-22?
If you have an older AC unit, then it’s prudent to ask your service tech whether it uses R-22, a type of refrigerant that has been completely phased out by the EPA due to environmental impacts. If you have a unit that uses R-22, you may have a harder time finding that specific refrigerant, now that it’s illegal to import or produce it. Your technician can help you identify cost-effective options for converting your existing AC unit or another type of refrigerant, or helping you pick out a new system to go in your home.
5. How often should I clean my air ducts?
Your service tech should be able to answer that for you by inspecting your ducts, and by asking you a few questions:
- How often do you use your HVAC?
- How old is your house?
- How often do you replace the air filters?
According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, most homeowners should get their air ducts cleaned every 3 to 5 years. Service techs should also be able to give you recommendations on air filters that can help improve air quality inside your home and cut down on allergens.
6. How often should I schedule an AC maintenance appointment?
Service techs can help explain why you should be scheduling an annual appointment every spring. While you should be doing visual inspections regularly, a professional can inspect and test the more intricate parts:
- Check and test the controls.
- Inspect the condensation line and drain.
- Ensure proper lubrication of all moving parts.
- Clean your vents and air ducts, and check for leaks.
- Ensure the thermostat is properly working.
- Tighten electrical connections.
7. Should I repair or replace my AC unit?
This question is perhaps the most common our service technicians get. To make that decision, you can work with an HVAC specialist to help you weigh your options and discover the costs to repair your system.
The best way to calculate that cost and whether it’s worth the repair vs. the replacement cost:
Repair cost x Age of AC unit vs. New AC unit cost
If you multiply the repair cost by how old your unit is (in years) and it’s more than the cost of a new air conditioner, then it makes more sense to replace than repair.
In The End
How you use your service appointment is ultimately up to you, but remember, the service technician is a valuable resource. Not only do they have the knowledge, but they also love sharing that knowledge with customers, too. It’s rewarding to provide homeowners with the know-how to safely, efficiently, and properly use their AC system.