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RISMEDIA, August 7, 2010—(MCT)—Now that summer is in full swing, your central air conditioning system needs to work its best in order to provide comfort on hot days. Here are some simple tips for getting the most out of your air conditioning in terms of both comfort and energy savings.

Quick fixes

-Block the sunlight – The sun’s heat can increase the indoor temperature significantly, said Harvey Sachs, senior fellow with the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington. Close window coverings on the sunny sides of the house during the day, Sachs said. Longer term, you can consider measures such as adding awnings or planting trees to provide shade.

-Close the windows – It’s surprising how often people seek relief by opening windows while the air conditioning is running, said Mike Foraker, president of Jennings Heating and Cooling in Akron, Ohio. But all that does is let in hot, moist air. Air conditioning works in part by removing moisture from the air. If you keep adding humid air to the house, the air conditioner has to struggle to dry it. Consequently, the indoor air can never reach a comfortable temperature and humidity level.

-Leave the unit on – People sometimes turn the central air conditioning on only at night to save money. That’s fine when the weather isn’t too hot, but it’s a bad idea when the temperature reaches 90 or so, Foraker said. Turning off the air conditioning in extreme heat lets warmth and moisture build up in the house, he explained. The unit can’t eliminate it quickly enough to make the house comfortable at night, and it uses a lot of electricity trying.

-Clear the condensing unit – The outdoor condensing unit needs a supply of outside air to blow across the heated refrigerant, which is how hot air gets expelled from the house. Make sure the condenser has enough space around it to permit a good air flow. Trim any plants that are growing close to the unit, and make sure no mulch, grass or debris is blocking the bottom openings.

-Check the air filter – In almost every forced-air system, the furnace filter is also the air-conditioning filter. If it gets clogged, air flow is reduced. Change or clean it as often as the manufacturer recommends, usually every one to three months.

-Set the fan on automatic – Conventional wisdom used to dictate running the fan on an air conditioning system constantly to keep air moving throughout the house. Newer research suggests otherwise. Leaving the fan running increases what’s called the stack effect, the tendency of a house to pull in outside air to replace air that rises and escapes through openings high in the building.

-Mind the registers – Central air conditioning works best if air can flow through the house freely. If necessary, move furniture so it’s not blocking supply registers or cold-air returns. Don’t be tempted by magnetic covers designed to block air returns. It may seem logical that they’ll keep the cooled air in a room, but instead they just keep the air from returning to the central unit.

-Leave the oven off – Even when it’s closed, an oven adds as much heat to the air as an air conditioner can take out in the same amount of time, Foraker said. Grill outdoors, order takeout, make a salad for dinner—just try not to cook indoors on the hottest days.

-Turn out the lights – Incandescent light bulbs turn only 10% of the electricity they use into light, Foraker noted. The rest becomes heat. Turn off unneeded lights or switch to cooler compact fluorescent bulbs.

-Use ceiling fans – A ceiling fan moves air over the skin, evaporating perspiration and making you feel cooler. Running one even when the air conditioning is on will increase your comfort.

-Minimize humidity – Don’t add more moisture to the air than necessary. Run exhaust fans when you shower, and run hot-water appliances such as dishwashers and clothes washers in the evening, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recommends.

-Check the duct dampers – In a house with more than one floor, adjusting the balancing dampers helps send the cool air where you want it.

(c) 2010, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.