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Consumer Reports tips for air-conditioning efficiency

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Are you trying to keep cool and keep your energy bills down? Replacing an old central air-conditioning system can help you do just that. But it pays to shop carefully. In a Consumer Reports survey of more than 40,000 subscribers, some systems have been much better at keeping their cool than others.

Contractor Tim Mosher says it's important to take good care of a central air-conditioning system.

"The preventative maintenance in the beginning of the season is better than having to have a serviceman come out during a heat wave," said Mosher.

Consumer Reports says carefully choosing an air-conditioning system can help you avoid service calls too. Its latest product-reliability survey shows some central air systems have been significantly more repair-prone: Amana, Goodman and York.

"In the past six years, close to one in five of these systems needed repairs. That's a lot," said Dan DiClerico, Consumer Reports.

The Consumer Reports survey also shows how inconvenient repairs can be. Ten percent of those polled said they needed repeated repairs in the first year. Eighteen percent reported their system broke down completely. And 39 percent lost air-conditioning for at least a day.

"About 30 percent who had problems had to pay $150 or more for the repair," said DiClerico.

To prevent having to call a repairman, Consumer Reports says invest in a more reliable brand, including ones from American Standard, Rheem or Trane. And don't place plants or hedges on the units; they should be at least 2 feet away from the air-conditioning unit. Also, you should clean filters and grills monthly. And be sure to seal and insulate every duct.

"Up to 30 to 40 percent of energy can escape through leaks when ducts aren't insulated," said DiClerico.

Another energy-saver: Use a programmable thermostat and set the temperature higher when you're out of the house.

The Consumer Reports survey turned up more interesting information: Homeowners who hired the installer themselves versus those who let a home builder do the hiring had significantly fewer repairs.

And once your system is installed, Consumer Reports says, it's important to get it inspected by a professional at the beginning of every cooling season to avoid repair problems.

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