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Keep cool with regular service

Save money and keep your AC in tune with annual maintenance

Posted: July 13, 2012 5:44 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2012 5:44 p.m.

Air-conditioning Installer Sergio Vilega with Santa Clarita Custom Air charges the lines of a home air-conditioning system with nitrogen to check the system for leaks. (Right) Vilega braises the copper suction line during an AC installation.

 

On Thursday and Friday we caught a break from the super-heat-wave, with weather that made the SCV feel like Cabo San Lucas. But even so, this recent hot spell has been a wakeup call to many local residents who have suddenly realized that their air-conditioning systems are not operating at peak efficiency — or not operating at all.

Bob Lucas, president of Santa Clarita Custom Air, said that the heat wave has caused a huge increase in requests for air conditioning service and repair appointments.

He said many expensive system repairs could have been avoided with regular maintenance. But in his 30-plus years in the heating and air conditioning business, Lucas has learned one unfortunate fact.

“Most people don’t maintain their heating and air conditioning systems,” he said. “For example, the filter is pretty much ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”

Regular maintenance
Lucas noted that most people maintain their cars with regular service, but, when it comes to their heating and cooling systems, if it’s working, they don’t worry about it.

“They think, ‘I don’t need it maintained’ or ‘We had it serviced last year, and it’s cool today,’” Lucas said.

He pointed out what an expensive mistake this type of thinking can be.

“Our service visits are $75, and we recommend the heater be serviced in the fall and the air conditioning be serviced in the spring,” Lucas said. “For $150 a year you can have the heating and air conditioning systems tuned up, and have the peace of mind that everything is good to go.

By comparison, neglecting service, as you will see below, can cost you from $300 to $3,000.

“We go out to Mrs. Jones’ house, and she’s upset because it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said.

But when it’s 105 degrees outside, and 103 degrees inside, “Mrs. Jones” will have to bite the bullet.

Lucas said he would much rather have happy customers, and added that his regular service charge is just high enough, “So, we barely break even. If you go in cheaper, you need to sell something to make a difference.”

Lucas explained that the regular service visits will prevent system failures due to lack of maintenance, such as icing of the evaporator coils, burned out motors ($300 to $500), burned out compressors ($2,000 to $3,000) or “plugged up” systems, which can cost from $300 to $700 to fix, depending on how much the system has to be dismantled.

“Preventative maintenance is totally the key,” he emphasized. “I have 20-year customers who call every spring, like clockwork,” he said. “But I also have people with newer systems that haven’t touched their filter in five years.”

What to expect
During a regular service visit, which includes the running of the air-conditioning system, Lucas said they monitor and check refrigerant levels (Is it charged correctly or not?) and they also make sure the indoor temperature drop is industry standard, which is 20 degrees, plus or minus two or three degrees.

“We assess the age and condition of the customer’s equipment and make recommendations to the customer as far as maintaining its efficiency,” Lucas said. “We give them an idea of how much they might save by upgrading to a new, more efficient piece of equipment.” And he noted that, typically, replacing a 20-year-old system can save as much at 30 percent on cooling costs.

Duct work
“We do inspect some duct work, to see if it is intact in the attic,” Lucas said. And he explained that 20- to 25-year-old duct work was not designed with ultraviolet light resistant outer covers.

“As indirect sunlight comes into the attic, it breaks the plastic down. The outer layer of the duct gets filleted open. If it’s hanging off, it’s time for new duct work,” he said.

He said that duct work is not cheap, especially in the summer, when the heat in an attic makes the job take longer, as the repairman needs to get out of the heat regularly.

“Duct work in a typical house can run $1,500 to $3,500, depending on the size of the house and the duct work they opt to,” Lucas said, noting that “anti-bacterial” duct work is much more expensive.

Replace the filter
Lucas explained that most furnace filters in SCV homes are located in a closet in a hallway. As the air is drawn through them, they get clogged with pet hair, carpet dander, dust and pollen.

“The filter should catch all the particulate matter that’s airborne,” he said.

As a filter collects this material it gradually gets dirty and the airflow becomes restricted.

This makes the system less efficient and costs you money. But, it also causes other problems that can lead to expensive repairs.

“When the filter gets real dirty, the blower pulls the filter up and all that dust and hair bypasses the filter,” Lucas said. “That gets embedded inside the motor and blower wheel and it goes through the heater, right onto the evaporator coil. That’s when units ice up and lose compressors.”

Outdoors
Lucas explained that the outdoor coil, which needs to be clean for efficient operation, gets clogged over time with leaves, dust and animal hair, and even diatomaceous earth if the unit is placed near pool equipment.

“Most of the time, a good cleaning of the outdoor unit will help it work a lot more efficiently,” Lucas said.

But he doesn’t recommend homeowners clean their equipment unless they are very experienced doing it.

“I don’t fix my own teeth, I have a dentist do it. Have a trained professional work on your unit,” he added.

Professional help
Lucas emphasized that when you need your air conditioning and heating systems serviced, choose the servicing company carefully.

“No matter who you call out, make sure they are bonded, licensed and insured,” he said. “You don’t want somebody sending a subcontractor out who might not be insured.”

He explained that you can visit www.CSLB.ca.gov to check the license, worker’s compensation coverage, etc. of any contractor.

“Make sure their license is in good standing,” he said.

He added that a big part of selecting a service company is finding out where they are located. They should be local and have a physical address.

“I have a physical address, not a P.O. Box,” he said.

Yes, the heat wave has been keeping Santa Clarita Custom air busy, but don’t let that put you off. On Thursday Lucas said, “It’s not too late to get a service. We’re scheduling stuff for tomorrow.”

You can reach Santa Clarita Custom Air at 661-251-2510. The website is www.santaclaritacustomair.com.

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