Heating and cooling is the single biggest energy consumer in a home, about 40% of all the energy used by homeowners.

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institutereminds homeowners that this is the ideal opportunity to prepare cooling equipment for the hot summer months to ensure it operates at its highest efficiency.

“Heating and cooling is the single biggest energy consumer in a home, and accounts for about 40% of all the energy used by homeowners,” saidStephen Yurek, president and CEO of AHRI. “That’s why taking steps to ensure the unit is running as efficiently as possible can help offset cooling costs this summer.”

AHRI offers homeowners the following tips to keep their central air conditioning and heat pump units running efficiently:

  • Check the air filter and change it if it’s dirty or, according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, to keep dust from collecting on the evaporator coil fins. Keeping your filter clean can cut energy consumption 5% to 15%. Turn off the power to the air handler before pulling the filter out so that the fan doesn’t come on and blow dust throughout the home. Be sure to position the new filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Clear away leaves, grass, weeds, plants and other debris that block airflow through the outdoor condensing unit, which is the large metal box in your yard next to your home. Anything that collects on the unit’s fins will block airflow and reduce its efficiency. Grass clippings thrown by the lawn mower are particularly common offenders.

  • Occasionally clean the outdoor condensing unit by spraying it with a water hose.

  • Check to make sure air vents inside your home are not obstructed by furniture.

  • Closing off unused rooms and closing vents in those rooms can help; however, homeowners should consider adding zone controls to automatically set back the temperature in unused areas.

  • Set the fan speed on high except in very humid weather. When it's humid, set the speed on low; you will get less cooling, but the air circulation will make it feel cooler.

  • AHRI also suggests that homeowners hire a professional to service their air conditioner. A well-trained technician will find and fix problems in the system. Look for a technician that is certified byNorth American Technician Excellence. Be sure to insist that the technician:

    • Check for the correct amount of refrigerant and test for refrigerant leaks.

    • Capture any refrigerant that must be evacuated from the system.

    • Check for and seal duct leakage in central systems.

    • Measure air flow through the evaporator coil.

    • Check the accuracy of the thermostat.

    • Verify the correct electric control sequence and make sure that the heating system and cooling system cannot operate simultaneously.

    • Inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections, and apply a nonconductive coating if necessary.

    • Check belts and oil motors for tightness and wear.

    Finally, AHRI recommends that homeowners establish a service agreement with a reputable contractor that will take care of regular spring and fall maintenance to ensure maximum efficiency and catch problems early, before they can become bigger and more expensive. A service agreement also ensures that the homeowner has priority during the hottest and coldest months, when problems are most likely to emerge.

    “With proper maintenance, central air conditioning and heat pump units should last at least 12 to 15 years,” Yurek said. “Homeowners need to regularly service their heating and cooling equipment to keep them running smoothly.”