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As we approach summer, it's a good time to make sure that your air conditioning system and your ducts are clean and in good maintenance. This will provide you with two environmental benefits: It can save energy (any money) and it can promote healthier indoor air quality.

Your air conditioner needs good air circulation both inside the home and outside. Outside, eliminate conditions that impede proper air circulation around your outdoor unit by removing nearby shrubs and branches, leaves and high grass. Indoors, make sure that your registers are not blocked by furniture, drapes, or anything else.

I hate to talk about filters because I fail this requirement. But, the truth is that air filters should be cleaned in accordance with your manufacturer's instructions. Often this means every month or two months. Manufacturers uniformly insist that this makes a big difference. This will keep your system in better maintenance, and reduce the entry of dust into your ducts and your indoor air.

Calling in a specialist to maintain your system is often a good idea. This is particularly so if paying someone represents the only realistic chance the job is going to get done. A trained specialist, and make sure that is what you get, can keep your AC system fine tuned. He or she may measure the amount of refrigerant in the system and check for refrigerant leaks, check ducts and seal cracks, inspect, clean and tighten electrical connections, motors and other movable parts, and verify thermostat accuracy.

It's worth spending a small amount of money to maintain your expensive investment. However, before you pay someone to tune your system, make sure you ask exactly what will be done and what will not be done. You want to hire someone who is reputable and someone who will get the job done without "manufacturing" problems with the hope that your will be lured into believing that you have a problem that your really do not have. As with anything, let the buyer beware.

The other part of the AC cleaning equation concerns duct cleaning.

There are still legitimate questions concerning the benefits of duct cleaning. However, if you or family members have dust allergies, if there is moisture build up in the ducts, if there is vermin contamination in the ducts, if they are moldy, or if they are visibly dirty, some experts suggest that you pay a qualified, reputable professional to clean your ducts. Even in the absence of these conditions, occasional cleaning might make sense to you -- you need to decide that yourself.

While methods of duct cleaning vary, standards have been established by industry associations. Often, the service will involve dislodging dirt and other debris in the ducts and vacuuming them out. Biocides may also be applied to kill bacteria . Wet ducts may pose a special health risk because they can encourage the growth of mold. Moisture may enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced.

The EPA suggests that you promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage. Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air. They can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Also, make sure the condensate pan drains properly.

In addition, make sure that ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces, such as attics and crawl spaces. This will help to prevent moisture from condensation.

If you have air conditioning, you want it to work well, especially in sweltering temperatures. Good maintenance, which will cost a small amount now, may eliminate expensive repairs later, preserve your home's indoor air quality, and reduce your ever rising electric bill. It makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

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