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Life in The DMV: Everything you need to know about air conditioning

It gets hot in the summer in D.C.

You know how they say it's not the heat, it's the humidity? Yes, it annoys us, too. Here in the Washington, D.C. metro area – the DMV – we have plenty of both. If you’re new to Maryland, Northern Virginia or the nation’s capital, air conditioning is going to be one of your best friends.

While the summer heat in D.C. can be oppressive, your home should be a cool oasis against the scorching sun and the heavy, humid air. At the same time, you don’t want to mortgage your house to pay your electrical bill.

So how can you protect your home — and your family — against the region’s oppressive temperatures and quick-change weather?

We have the answers.

Your guide to keeping cool in Washington, D.C.

Air conditioning: The cold never bothered me anyway

Staying cool outside in Washington, D.C.

Your first line of defense during the D.C. summer months will be a functioning, efficient air conditioner. Walking into a nice, chilly house after even a short walk outdoors is sweet relief!

Don't be the person whose air conditioning unit fails at the most inconvenient time possible, like the middle of a heat wave, at a weird hour of the night or on a holiday weekend.

A little preventative maintenance can keep your AC cranking away even on the hottest days:

  • Check your filters and evaporator coils. Clogged or dirty filters block airflow and reduce efficiency. Cleaning or replacing them will not only improve efficiency, it will lower your unit's energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent.
  • Keeping debris and leaves from the coils, fan, compressor and condenser. Take care to clear litter or clutter away from your system. Clean, unobstructed air conditioning components keep the unit running smoothly. If any of the coils or other components become clogged with debris and do not function, the cold air will build up inside and freeze the machine. Be sure to clean these pieces regularly.
  • Check the fluid levels. Your air conditioner runs on various coolants and other fluids. Make sure that they are filled to the necessary levels in order for the machine to function properly.

    Not sure what you’re looking for? Check out our maintenance plans for some professional help.
  • Be aware of outdoor temperatures. This may seem like an obvious point, but you should not use your air conditioner if the outside temperature is cool. Don’t turn on the air conditioner because you have a turkey in the oven, for example! If the air outside is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the air conditioner is unnecessary and should be turned off. Crack a window instead.

My air conditioner broke! Should I fix it or buy a new one?

Air conditioners in the city

Let’s be real: even the most well-maintained air conditioner is going to break down eventually. When this happens, it raises a huge question in the minds of the homeowner: repair the unit, or go all-out and have it replaced?

A major consideration in this decision is how long you have owned the machine. An air conditioning unit that that you’ve owned for several months or a couple of years is more likely to benefit from repairs, while a system with a dozen years of hard labor may be ready for the HVAC afterlife.

Here are a few notes to consider when deciding on repairing or replacing your AC:

  • Cost. Most experts say that a good rule of thumb to follow is whether the total estimated bill of a repair will cost over half of what a new unit would. If you’re paying that much money, you’re probably better off just investing in a new machine.
  • Reliability. A good air conditioning unit will do its job without causing you headache after headache. If you find that you cannot rely on the machine to keep your home cool, then chances are it should be replaced as soon as possible.
  • Warranty. If your air conditioner unit is less than five years old, it is quite likely that the machine is at least partially covered under its original warranty. Make sure that you explore this option before you make any decisions!

    Taking advantage of the warranty that you bought and paid for when  you purchased your air conditioner will make the replacement  process a lot easier – and less expensive – for you.

Living (temporarily, we hope) without air conditioning

Life without air conditioning

Maybe your air conditioner needs repairs. You’re trying to tough it out until the work is complete. Washington, D.C. and the nearby Maryland and Northern Virginia areas are known to have average summer temperature highs that creep precariously close to the 90-degree Fahrenheit mark. Living in a space without AC can be nearly unbearable.

While you are waiting for the air conditioner to be fixed, there are certain ways you can try and keep cool.

  • Keep your fan by the windows. Instead of pointing your fan at you, position it near your open windows. This will allow the small machine to suck the hot air out of your room while pulling in the cooler air from outside.
  • Shower before bed. Before hopping into bed for the night, take a quick, lukewarm shower. This will get rid of the extra sweat on your body and lower your overall body temperature.
  • Shut the blinds. Make sure that all of your window blinds or drapes are closed during the day. This will prevent the sun's UV rays from entering the home.

While these suggestions can offer some relief, they are no substitute for owning a functional air conditioning unit. If you are in need of a new air conditioner or need a quick air conditioner repair, schedule an appointment today with us.

Portable air conditioners: Not a great idea

Heat in the summertime

Thinking about saving some cash and investing in a portable air conditioner this summer? Think again.

A study conducted by Consumer Reports took a look at eight portable air conditioning models from major manufacturers like Honeywell, Frigidaire and Haier. The result: their research showed that these smaller units are not worth the money that you spend on them, even if they are intended to be a cost-cutting measure. In fact, they work no better than a common fan.

Portable air conditioners are usually purchased as an inexpensive way to keep the interior of a home cool during the hot summer months. Portable air conditioners are, in large part, a solution for cooling a room that cannot accommodate a window unit in a home that lacks a central HVAC system.

To measure the effectiveness of these units, Consumer Reports rigged up a special testing chamber and set the outside temperature to 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity. Inside, the units were all set to 75 degrees, and the temperature was taken from several spots throughout the room during the course of the study.

Consumer Reports found was that not one of the eight portable models used during the test were able to get the chamber below 80 degrees – even after nearly two hours of running.

The researchers concluded that you’re better off with a window or central air conditioning unit. Either machine will be more effective and end up costing less money in the long run – and you’ll be a lot more comfortable in the D.C. heat.

How to cool it (naturally)

Staying cool in the summer heat

Summer means longer days, and that can mean higher energy bills. To keep your home cool and comfortable without taxing your air conditioning, take a little time to adjust how the system runs.

  • Consider purchasing a programmable thermostat so your AC isn't running during the day when you're not home, or at night when the temperatures get lower.
  • Keep your blinds and curtains closed on south-facing windows during the day to reduce solar heat gain.
  • White window shades help with home cooling. Darker colors absorb more heat.
  • Have ceiling fans? Use them in conjunction with your air conditioning unit to increase cool air flow and air circulation. Changing the direction of the spin of the fan to counterclockwise will often allow you to raise the thermostat setting by about 4°F with no reduction in comfort.

It’s OK: Take a break from household chores
Taking a break from chores during the summer

You have our permission to take it east! To help keep the house cool, limit your use of the oven. Consider cooking in a microwave or (even better) on an outdoor grill instead.

Washing machines, dryers and dishwashers also generate a considerable amount of hot air. Avoid running them during the day whenever possible -- wait for the cooler evening hours whenever you can.

Incandescent light bulbs give off heat. Installing efficient lighting that needs less energy can help keep your indoor temperature cooler, too. Use energy-efficient lighting like LEDs or CFLs instead.

Is heat sneaking through your windows?

Heat can come in through the windows in summer

Normally, you’d think that leaks and seals are window issues for the colder months. While you’ll notice an issue a lot faster when cold air is breezing into your home, it’s important to keep the summer weather outside, too.

One of the worst culprits for air exchange is damaged window sealants. Gaps in and around the sealants allow hot air to come in and cool air to go out. Take a close look at all of your windows and replace any rubber seals that are worn out. While you're at it, double-check the insulation around air ducts in the basement, attic and even your fireplace — if it’s not airtight, it may be letting outdoor heat sneak inside, as well.

Landscaping is part of your D.C. heat defense plan

Trees can help keep a home cool.

A well-designed landscape can also reduce your heating and cooling costs. Trees positioned to shade the house, usually on the eastern and western sides, can save up to 25 percent of the energy a typical household uses. Even small trees generate breezes, so you will experience some heat relief as soon as you plant them!

Keep Fluffy cool: Summer care for pets

Pets need to stay cool in the summer, too.

While we often focus on ourselves and our family when it comes to the extreme summer heat, many of us have furry friends in the house who are just as susceptible to its dangers.

Whether you are on Team Fido or Fluffy, there are basic precautions you need to take to keep the little guys safe. As Washington, D.C. enters into the warmest months of the year, the dangers presented to our animal friends are only going to increase.

Here are a few tips to keep your pets cool this summer:

  • Have water available. One of the main problems that can plague a pet during the summer is dehydration. You should top off their water bowl regularly to make sure your cat or dog have an adequate amount of fresh and clean water to drink.
  • Keep them inside. While your little furball may want to run around outside, you should limit playtime to the hours of the day when the sun is not going to be as strong. Early in the morning or later in the evening are the optimal times.
  • Turn up the AC. Keep the air conditioner running even when you leave your home to ensure that your living space remains at a comfortable temperature for your pet. They will likely find a spot on the tile to keep their whole bodies cool, but the air around them should be bearable, too.

Don’t be fooled: Home cooling misconceptions

Summer air conditioning misconceptions

During summer, most people are looking for ways to keep their homes cool and comfortable without spending a fortune. It is inevitable that you will see a slight rise in your monthly utility bills because you are more dependent on your air conditioning unit and fans to stay cool.

If you are thinking of making any changes around your place -- installing a central HVAC unit, for example -- or you just want to know how to use your cooling system more efficiently, there are certain myths that you should avoid.

Here are a few common home cooling misconceptions:

  • Bigger is better. Just because a machine is larger does not mean it will produce better results for your home. When it comes to an AC unit, the most important factor for peak performance is regular maintenance. As long as the lines are clear and the filter is clean, an air conditioner of any size will work well to keep your house cool.
  • Air conditioners simply cool the air. Sure, chilling your home is the main function of your air conditioner, but give the appliance a little more credit! The best air conditioners bring down the temperature and reduce the humidity in the air with a specialized drying function. Make sure that your AC has this setting.
  • Leaving the AC on all day is more efficient. Having a programmable thermostat is a great way for you to use less energy. Set the machine so it can adjust the temperature accordingly for when you are home and not home.

Air conditioning in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland

Have questions, comments or concerns about your air conditioning situation? Want to share some tips for staying cool when it gets hot in the DMV summer (we also recommend ample trips to the ocean, but that’s a post for another day)? Tweet us @johncfloodva. If you have air conditioning repair needs, contact us today.