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No rest for weary as temperature soars

HVAC professionals have trouble keeping up

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POSTED: August 9, 2010 1:13 p.m.
Blistering summer days have air conditioning service professionals working up quite a sweat, answering more calls than usual in an attempt to keep area residents cool. As daytime temperatures continue to hover in the mid-90s with heat indexes up to 100 degrees, even afternoon rains give little relief when cool air is nowhere to be found.
“We’re getting a heck of a lot more calls,” said Johnny Ryals, operations manager for Bennett’s HVAC and Electrical. “A lot of the problems are heat-related.”
Real estate broker Janie Diggs said her company’s rental department was fielding 15-20 calls in the last two weeks of July as temperatures broke the century mark. “One poor woman couldn’t get her air conditioning fixed for over four days because the A/C companies were so busy,” Diggs said.
“We are sending a notice to our tenants and past clients to suggest they set their A/C to 78 during the day to prevent problems and possibly minimize their electric bills.”
Ryals said major unit components such as capacitors and contractors are among the parts he sees affected most by the high temperatures.
Capacitors store power to help minimize the strain on units when they turn on. “When a unit first comes on there’s a power surge. The capacitor … gives it that extra boost,” Ryals said. Because they are electrical components, contractors are also particularly susceptible to the heat. “Anything electrical that holds energy, the heat makes them go out.”
To help combat breakdowns while still keeping homes cool, Ryals shies away from recommending thermostat settings above 78. Mary Flake, service manager at Canady’s Air Conditioning and Heating said her technicians also tell customers to keep thermostats set at a temperature to maintain that particular level.
Flake said when thermostats are set too high, turning them down to cool very warm air makes the unit work much harder. She said poor upkeep is also taxing on A/Cs. Canady technicians are seeing “a lot of water leaks due to a lack of preventive maintenance.”
Ryals said many older homes battle hot air more because their insulation has aged and is losing its effectiveness. “As it ages, it starts compacting. Once it does you’re not getting that R30 rating,” he said.
Ryals recommends upgrading home insulation, however, he acknowledges in this economy few can afford pricey home improvements. Budget-friendly tips include keeping drapes and blinds closed and closing vents in under-used rooms.
One other problem homeowners face when trying to keep cool stems from having a unit that’s too small for the house it’s attached to. “At one time, they were saying to undersize them to keep them running all the time,” Ryals said.
If an upgrade is in a homeowner’s budget, now is the time to purchase a unit that fits the size of the property. Ryals said the federal energy tax credit of $1,500 will make the cost of a 15 SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating), high-efficiency unit less than a 13 SEER unit. Additionally, buyers who purchase  a new unit and file the appropriate paperwork with the state by Aug. 27 can receive an additional $199.
Ryals said he upgraded his unit recently and now pays an electric bill that is half as much as it used to be. “The system has already paid for itself,” he said.
 

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