Stay Cool and
The Bottom Line A well maintained,
properly installed air conditioner not only increases your comfort but also
Taking good care of a window air conditioner and operating it properly can
not only save a lot of energy and money but also ensure greater comfort
throughout the summer season.
First of all, before beginning any type of maintenance or installation of an
air conditioner, make sure the unit is unplugged.
Pre-season cleaning. Before the cooling season begins, remove and clean the
unit's filter, which is normally located on the inside side of the unit
behind the front decorative panel. Usually it is either a piece of foam
secured by an elastic band, or a plastic panel that simply slides in and out
of a track. If there is just a little dust on it a simple vacuuming will do
fine, but if it is really dirty it can be carefully cleaned in cool water.
Just make sure it's all the way dry before putting it back in.
Also clean the outside (condenser) coils with a soft brush attachment on a
vacuum cleaner. Take care not to bend the fins surrounding the coils, for
doing so reduces the air flow through the unit and compromises efficiency. A
really dirty outside coil might need to be professionally steam cleaned, but
this can be prevented with yearly use of the vacuum cleaner. It's not a good
idea to attempt to use a garden hose to clean the coil due to the risk of
getting electrical components wet, causing damage or a possible shock
Fan Motors. On most models the fan motor is maintenance free, needing no
periodic oiling. Check the unit's owner's manual. If you do not have the
manual anymore, peek through the vent holes on the side of the unit and look
at the fan motor. Most motors that need periodic oiling will have a sticker
saying this and also will have two small plastic plugs (usually yellow) at
the front and rear of the motor. If the unit needs oiling, it will probably
be a larger one with a slide out chassis. Use the oil called for on the
sticker, but if there is no recommendation a straight SAE 20 or 30 oil like
3 in 1 usually works well. Make sure to observe the recommendations for the
amount of oil to use -- too much is as bad as not enough. If oil runs down
the side of the motor be sure to use a rag to wipe it off so it does not get
into parts of the motor where it is not supposed to be. If you are wiping
the motor off anyhow, go all the way around it and remove accumulated dust
and grime, as these can keep the motor from dissipating heat effectively and
shorten its life.
Installation. Putting the air conditioner in the window can be a big job
depending on how large a unit it is. Units of more than 8,000 BTU capacity
usually weigh 70 pounds or more and require two people. Make sure when the
unit is installed it is either level or tipped VERY slightly down toward the
outside. If it's tipped the wrong way moisture condensed from the air can
run out of the bottom of the unit and into the room, making a mess. On the
other hand, if you tip it too much toward the outside, the condensed water
will run right out the back of the unit where it won't have a chance to be
picked up by the fan blade's "slinger ring" and flung against the condenser
coil. This slinger ring increases the efficiency of the unit by helping to
cool the outside coil, so you do not want to defeat its function. (Some old
models, or models that both heat and cool, do not have the slinger ring
After you expand the side panels out to fill in the window, be sure to use
some screws to secure the unit to the window using the small holes in the
mounting frame provided for that purpose. All units vibrate some, and if the
window isn't secured it can work its way open, possibly allowing the unit to
fall out. Even if it doesn't fall out, an unsecured unit can make the glass
in the window rattle and create a noisy, unsatisfactory installation.
Don't forget to use a foam strip to fill in the gap between the two window
sashes of the open window where the unit sits; otherwise you have an
approximately one inch opening that's going to let in a lot of outside air
and reduce the unit's efficiency. If you don't seal off that gap, you'll
also have a problem with bugs getting into the room! If there are other gaps
around where the panels fit against the window, seal them up with rope
caulk, which is sold in rolls and can be shaped and pressed into place like
clay. This is much better than conventional caulk because it's not hard to
remove if you take the unit out at the end of the season.
Power. Small bedroom units can be plugged into a normal grounded outlet on
any lightly loaded household circuit, but models that consume more than 7.5
amps (check the unit's specification label, which should indicate this)
should be on their own circuit. Regardless of whether you put it on its own
circuit or not, be certain that the outlet is properly grounded. Do not use
one of the "cheater adapters" to fit the a/c unit's three prong plug into an
old two-prong outlet. Not only is an old outlet likely to be wired with old
wiring that is not up to the task of an air conditioner's high constant
current draw, but the lack of grounding poses a severe shock hazard should
there be a malfunction in one of the unit's motors (compressor or fan). Have
an electrician put in a properly grounded outlet if you need to -- it could
be a life saver.
Operation. Many different models are available with a range of controls, but
here are some general operational guidelines that can greatly increase
comfort and efficiency:
For maximum cooling on hot days, use a high fan speed. This improves heat
transfer both on the inside and outside coils, maximizing the unit's
capacity. It is not necessary to set the thermostat to a really cold setting
to cool the room quickly. Determine what's a comfortable setting and just
leave the thermostat there. Cranking it way down every time you turn the
unit on will mostly likely cause you to over-cool the room at first, wasting
energy, and it will not drop the temperature any faster.
If possible locate the unit on a shady side of the house, but not blocked by
bushes, fences, other buildings, or other obstructions within a couple feet
of the unit. The unit will be move efficient if it is in the shade, but it
does need good airflow all around it.
To dehumidify a room effectively on humid but not so hot days, use a low fan
speed. This maximizes moisture removal by allowing the room air to stay near
the cold inside (evaporator) coil for a longer time.
At night, be sure not to use a thermostat setting which is so cold that the
inside coil ices up. You will know that a unit has iced up if the airflow
discharged from it decreases markedly even though it is still running at the
same speed. In some cases they will even blow small ice chips into the room.
If this happens turn the thermostat to the warmest setting and keep the fan
running. This will de-ice the coil. Icing can be prevented by not using too
cold a thermostat setting at night and during moderate weather. Higher fan
speeds also keep the coil from icing as readily. If you experience icing
often you may be running the unit when it is not really needed. If outside
temperatures are below 70 degrees, most window air conditioners will have a
tendency to ice up. If it ices up under other circumstances, it may have a
refrigerant leak and will need to be checked by a technician.
Saving Energy. Some tips are pretty obvious, such as not getting the room so
cold that people are huddled under blankets. Use a thermometer if necessary
and see what thermostat setting corresponds to the temperature you want to
maintain, such as 78 degrees. Some people like the "energy saver" setting.
What this does is cycle the fan motor with the compressor, so that the fan
no longer runs all the time. This does save a little energy but may not be
advantageous because the room air can become stale if there is no air
moving, and you might turn the thermostat to a lower setting to get it to
start up again.
Since the compressor uses 80 percent or more of the unit's power, this would
cause you to use more rather than less energy. One way that the "energy
saver" feature can be useful is to keep an area moderately cool when you're
away so it does not take so long to cool it back down when you return home.
An even better strategy here is to buy a timer for the air conditioner and
use it to turn the unit on an hour or two before you plan to get home. Some
models have timers already on them, which is obviously better still.
Keeping the filter clean throughout the cooling season can also save a lot
of energy and keep you more comfortable as well. As the filter gets dirty,
airflow through the unit decreases, resulting in more energy usage and less
comfort. In periods where the air conditioner is seeing more or less
constant use, it's a good idea to check the filter every couple of weeks.
Finally, if you need to purchase a new air conditioner, consider a model
that bear's the government's Energy Star seal. These models use far less
energy than many other units, saving you money over the whole life of the
appliance, and they usually also incorporate useful energy saving and
convenience features like digital thermostats and timers.
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