Hire a professional for regular air conditioning tuneup
Q: Are there any do-it-yourself tuneup things I can do to my central air conditioner between professional service calls to keep it running at maximum efficiency and cooling output?
A: With just a few hand tools, there are some things you can do, but don't think this will allow you to skip regular professional service calls. A central air conditioner has many moving parts and refrigerant systems that must all work together. Without the proper test equipment, you cannot check or adjust everything yourself.
Before doing tuneup things, try setting the thermostat a couple degrees higher during peak afternoon heat. Installing a setback thermostat is best for this purpose. They are available at hardware stores and are not difficult to install.
This does two things. First, air conditioner efficiency and cooling output drop as it gets hotter outdoors, so the cooling is more expensive. Second, setting it back reduces the peak electricity demand for the utility company and this reduces long-term electric rate increases and greenhouse gas emissions.
The most important factor for efficient air conditioner operation is to get maximum air flow through the outdoor condenser coils. This air flow is what carries the heat away from the refrigerant that flows into your house.
Make sure the area is clear on the side of the outdoor unit where the coils are exposed. Landscaping, shrubs and weeds may have grown up around it. Cut plants and branches back to provide at least 2 feet of clearance. Similarly, don't rest garden tools against it or on top of the fan outlet.
Look through the grille into the unit. It is normal to see some dust and leaf debris and they are designed for this. If there appears to be a lot and it may impede the air flow, it is wise to clean it out. Before doing anything inside the cabinet, switch off the indoor circuit breaker and outdoor disconnect.
Remove the sheet metal screws and the cabinet access cover. Remove as much debris as possible, but it does not have to be spotlessly clean. Check the fins on the coils and gently straighten any bent ones. The tip of a kitchen knife is effective for this. They don't have to be perfectly straight.
When reinstalling the access cover, make sure to get all the screws tight. Any gaps around the edges allow air to come in and bypass the coils. Even if you do not have to remove the cover, check the screws for tightness.
Air flow over the coils in the indoor unit is also important. Make sure the circuit breaker is still off. Remove the indoor access cover over the coils and blower motor. Clean off as much dust and dirt as possible. Start with a vacuum cleaner brush attachment and then wipe any stubborn spots.
Change the furnace filter regularly. Many are actually more important for keeping the coils clean than for cleaning the room air. If the filter is extremely dirty, it can block efficient air flow. If you see or feel any leaky duct joints, seal them with black Gorilla duct tape or aluminum tape.
Q: I have an older house with real plaster walls that are wallpapered. I want to remove the wallpaper and paint them so the room is brighter without many lights on. How can I remove the wallpaper?
A: Old dull wallpaper does not reflect much light. On most walls, a steamer makes the job easy, but be careful on old plaster walls. Test the steam method in an obscure corner to make sure it does not damage the wall.
A safer method is to spray the wall with warm water from a weed-type pump sprayer. To speed up the job, most hardware stores sell stripper additives. These usually use enzymes to break down the old adhesive faster.
• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit dulley.com.