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Keeping cool, staying cool: A primer on AC maintenance

(NC) Canada may be known as the Great White North, but that certainly doesn't stop Mother Nature from delivering hot, muggy weather every summer.

When you're in the middle of a heat wave, you want to make sure your central air conditioning system is in top working order. As many of you know, it's not pleasant to have your system break down just as the temperature edges into the 30s.

The good news is that complications such as these can be avoided with some basic, regular maintenance, and spring is the best time to tackle this.

For starters, you can clean up around your outdoor condenser – there should be no leaves, twigs or other debris in the vicinity. Following that, with the power turned off, hose down the unit regularly to make sure it's free of dust.

Then, check your furnace filters and clean or replace them. The air conditioner needs the furnace to circulate air, and a dirty filter will push dust and other particles throughout the house, cutting down on efficiency. It can also reduce airflow, forcing your HVAC equipment to work harder and leaving it vulnerable to malfunction.

Remember that it's beneficial not to overwork your AC system. Easing up on your cooling will help prevent breakdowns and increase your equipment's lifespan, possibly by years. So close off vents in unused rooms or your basement, where it is naturally cooler; use ceiling fans to circulate air; and close your drapes or shades on sunny days. Also, turn off the humidifier in summer months. Leaving it on will only increase the cooling load.

Set the thermostat below the room temperature and never below 20 degrees Celsius. This can cause a multitude of problems for your unit, including freezing up. Ideally, the thermostat should be set to 25.5°C when at home and 29°C when away.

Most importantly, call in a licensed HVAC contractor for an annual maintenance visit. Your air conditioner is a complex piece of equipment, and not all warning signs will be obvious. The refrigerant, for instance, might be leaking – a serious and possibly hazardous problem that only a professional can detect. To ensure the contractor gets accurate readings on the gauges, make sure the outdoor temperature is 21 degrees Celsius or higher.

We all know it's easy to turn on the switch and forget about the hard work your AC is doing for you. But proper maintenance can save you thousands of dollars in repair costs, and keep you cool on even the hottest days.

For more consumer tips and information, visit or for information on how to locate a qualified contractor in your area, visit

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