It's Getting Hot In Here

One of the most incredible changes I experienced when I moved down to beautiful Southwest Florida was the amount of time my air conditioning unit ran. As the project manager on most of my personal real estate flips and home owner, I can tell you that there is a lot that you can do to keep your air conditioner healthy.

When clients move to Southwest Florida I always recommend that they have their air conditioner unit serviced twice a year – once in the summer and once in the winter.

It's also important to choose a qualified licensed contractor, Florida consumer experts say, noting complaints statewide have been on the rise in recent years. According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, last year 1,056 complaints were filed against certified air-conditioning contractors. In 2009, there were 696, compared to 606 in 2008.

With the Property Management Division of Leisure American Realty, we have a few air conditioning service companies that we use to service those units as well as our own personal residences and you can find these on our home page under “Local Services”, mid way down our page on the right hand side.

The good news is regular maintenance can extend the life of your system, and it is pretty easy to find a qualified contractor when it comes to repairing or replacing your system. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Maintenance

Your system will not work without the thermostat, which often works on alkaline batteries. It's a good idea to change the batteries once a year. To help you remember, change the thermostat batteries each time you replace smoke alarm batteries.

Know your condensing unit from your air handler. The former is the giant boxlike unit outside the home with a giant fan inside. To keep it running properly, keep it free from leaves, grass clippings and other debris that can cause it to work harder and burn out sooner. The handler is located in the house and the best thing you can do is regularly check to make sure it works properly; remove the screws holding the panel in place and check to make sure the drain pan water is flowing freely.

You should also check the piping system that terminates outside your home used to get rid of excess water. The water should flow or drip without obstruction. When it clogs, it can lead to mold and mildew buildup inside your home, as well as leaks in ceilings, walls and flooring.

It's important to change the air filter in your air conditioning unit regularly, about once a month. London recommends avoiding cheap fiberglass throwaway filters that can cost $1 or more. Go with either high-efficiency filters that cost $6 or more apiece, or an electrostatic filter that can cost $15 or more each. These filters cost more but protect your system's coil, which is akin to a car radiator, and keeps it cleaner and running longer.

Repair

Look out for signs of major trouble. The first indication that your unit needs more than general maintenance is increased electricity bills. Your unit will use excess power when it is not running properly, like an out-of-tune car uses more fuel.

Other hints that you may need a professional are water leaks, strange noises coming from your unit or a drain pan that repeatedly overflows. London says it's also a bad sign if you need to call out a technician more than once a year for repairs. This could mean your unit is ripe for replacement.

The last thing you want to do is rush a replacement job. Yes, it is uncomfortable to go without air conditioning for a few days, but it is more important to choose the right contractor and get the best price possible. Calling someone to make major repairs on a weekend or weeknight will inevitably cost more. Have patience and save your wallet.

Most Florida homes use a 2- to 5-ton unit. Expect to pay $2,500 or more for the smaller end, and $7,500 or more for the larger units, London says. To check the size and model you have currently, check the side of the outside condenser for a tag with vital information: Manufacturer name, model number and serial number. With that information, you can call your manufacturer to find out whether you have time left on a warranty. Often, the manufacturer can recommend local contractors to repair or replace your unit.