Consumer Reports

Fast Fixes for Your Air Conditioner

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Summer is already in gear, with parts of the country experiencing record-breaking high temperatures, with more heat to come. If your air conditioner is struggling to keep things cool, the experts at Consumer Reports have some tips for when Mother Nature turns up the heat.

Start with the air filter. A dirty filter is a common problem for window and central air conditioners. It restricts the airflow, which reduces the air conditioner's ability to cool a room. You can clean or replace a filter yourself; there's no need for a service call.

Window units typically have a reusable filter that you should vacuum gently and then wash with soap and water about once a month during peak periods. For central air conditioners, check the manual to see how often the filters need replacing. You'll most likely need to replace your filters more often if you have pets because their hair can clog them faster.

Another way to maximize efficiency, CR says, is to use weather stripping around window units. This keeps the cool air from escaping outside and warm air from sneaking in.

Location can also affect the performance of a window air conditioner. It has to work harder if it's placed in a very sunny spot. Keep your shades and curtains closed during the day to keep the sun from adding extra heat to your house. And if the temperature seems off with your central air conditioner, make sure the thermostat isn't exposed to direct sunlight, which may cause it to register the wrong temperature.

You also want to be sure that your air conditioner has enough cooling capacity or power. Take a look at the room it's going to be in. If your unit is too small for your space, it will never keep up, especially on those super-hot days. On the other hand, if your unit is too large, it might cycle too quickly and not dry out the air, leaving your space a little humid.

If none of these moves work, compare the cost of a repair with a new window unit. If your air conditioner is more than 8 years old, it's probably time to replace it. For central air conditioners it may be worth the fix, CR says. Installing a brand-new central air conditioner can cost thousands. But in its member surveys, CR found the median price paid to repair a broken system was only $250.

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