With the temperatures still barely hitting freezing, you may not even want to think about preparing your AC. But trust us; now is the time to start thinking about the ol’ HVAC switch-a-roo between heating and cooling. So many of you may be wondering, “when do I turn on my AC?”
Since 2001, our HVAC technicians at Santa Fe Air have gone through the whirlwind that is the Kansas City seasons. We’ll admit that with the crazy weather we get in Kansas City, it’s hard to give an exact answer. If we could say, “you should always turn your AC on by May 28th,” we definitely would (and wouldn’t that be easy?).
Although we can’t give you a concrete date, what we can do is give you some tips to help you figure out when it’s best for you and your family to turn on your AC. At its core, you should only turn on your AC when it’s the right temperature outside, your unit is clean and functions properly, and you’ve gotten a thumbs up from your HVAC tech.
Keep reading to learn when you should turn on your AC.
So, what is the perfect outside temperature to turn on my AC?
We’re not going to say there’s a “perfect” outside temperature. What’s unbearable to you may be just fine to someone else. It’s not really about the best temperature, but there is a time when it’s too cool to turn on your AC and too hot to wait.
When it’s too cool to turn on your AC
First, let’s talk about when it’s too cool outside for you to turn on your AC.
In general, you should wait until the outside temperature hits above 55 degrees.
Most AC units run on a cycle that involves changing the refrigerant from a liquid to a gas to cool your home. These systems assume that you won’t be using them in temperatures below 55 degrees (in some cases 50, but we’ll say 55 to be safe). In cooler temperatures, the refrigerant could start acting differently, causing extra strain to your unit as it compensates for refrigerant changes. As a result, you could ruin your compressor, which is key to cooling your home.
Therefore, it’s honestly not super safe to run your AC when it’s too cold outside because it can significantly reduce the life of your unit.
When it’s too hot to turn on your AC
We don’t want to mislead you. If your AC unit is in good health, it’s never too hot to turn your unit on. It’s going to work whether it’s 70 or 100 degrees outside. But one thing people fail to realize is that you often won’t realize your AC isn’t working until you turn it on.
Many people think it’s best to wait until it’s blistering hot to first turn on their AC. We’re all about saving money, but we also care a lot about maximizing the comfort of your HVAC system too.
Okay, so imagine this:
You’ve held off until July to turn on your AC unit, and finally the heat is just unbearable. You even start sweating just from walking down the hall. Caving in, you finally turn on your AC, but nothing happens. Since you didn’t check your unit when it was slightly cooler outside, you have to wait in the heat for an HVAC technician to come save the day.
If that situation sounds ideal for you, then by all means wait. Our team at Santa Fe Air will still be there if your AC is acting up, no matter how hot it is.
But we also have a better idea: turn on your AC on the first 70 degree day.
“No way, that’s not warm enough!”
Hey, hey, hey. You don’t have to keep your AC on; you just want to make sure everything’s in tip-top shape and ready for the summer, then you can shut it back off. Keep reading, and we’ll go into more detail about how to maintain your AC long-term.
How to clean and check your AC unit
When spring begins to make an appearance (remember, 70 degrees), that’s how you know it’s time to start preparing your AC unit.
Step One: Jumpstart your spring cleaning
If you had a protective cover over your AC unit, go ahead and take it off; it’s time to let that thing breathe. Proper airflow ensures that the compressor doesn’t overheat as temperatures continue rising.
As you do that, make sure you sweep away excess dirt, debris, and leaves. After, take your hose and spray down the outdoor unit. Now don’t go too “spray happy” here and cause a muddy mess; spray just enough to clean off the dirt.
Step Two: Create a checklist
Once everything is good to go outside, you can start on the inside. For those who don’t like cleaning, we’re not going to give you a free pass to skip step one. You truly want to make sure everything is clean before you start fiddling around inside.
✔︎ Check your thermostat
Make sure your thermostat is set to cooling and not heating. We know that might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people overlook this part. Your AC isn’t going to turn on if they still set your thermostat is still to heat.
Next, set the temperature to about five degrees cooler than the current temperature in your home. If the AC starts running, you know that it at least works. Now, if you’re having issues, there’s more you need to add to your list.
✔︎ Check your air filter
You’ll especially want to check your air filter if your AC doesn’t really blow when you did the thermostat check. You’ll want to find your return vent filter (where air gets sucked into your AC unit) and see if it’s dirty. If there’s so much dirt that light doesn’t pass through, it’s about time you change it.
A dirty filter creates a domino effect of unfortunate events. First, it’ll block air from returning to your unit. This reduces airflow to the evaporator coil, which causes it to freeze up. As a result, a low-pressure switch will trip and shut down the compressor so that it doesn’t get damaged. And without your compressor, you don’t have a working AC unit. That’s no bueno.
✔︎ Check your circuit breakers
We’re going to get electrical for a sec. First you’ll need to find your electrical panel (usually looks like a metal cabinet with a swing door). Check to see if any circuits are tripped. If you notice any, turn the circuit off, then back on. Your AC may not be working because there’s no electricity coming to it. If that works, great! But if the breaker trips again, don’t flip the switch a second time. Contact an electrician right away to take a look at it; you may need to get an electrical panel upgrade.
✔︎ Check your condensate drain
Sometimes the condensate drain can get dirty and clogged, which will stop your unit from working properly when you turn on your AC. As your AC runs, condensation forms on the evaporator coil. From there, condensation leaves your house via the condensate drain, but when it’s blocked, that water overflows. A switch will then shut down your AC to stop further water damage.
You can easily clean your condensate drain using a wet-dry vacuum. Connect the hose to the condensate drain (usually a PVC pipe near the outside unit). Once connected, turn the vacuum on to clean out any blockages. It’s usually best to keep it on for a few minutes to make sure everything is cleared out.
✔︎ Check your insulation
Coolant lines connect the back of your AC to your home, and those lines should have insulation around them. If the insulation is cracked, frayed, damaged, or simply not there, call your local HVAC technician to help you out.
Step Three: Get an AC checkup
For safety measures, you should get an annual AC checkup by a trained professional. That way you can know for sure that your unit is functioning properly when you turn on your AC. Never, ever play the guessing game when it comes to your HVAC system. A simple checkup can be the difference between paying for an AC repair or paying for an entire AC replacement.
Signs you need to call an HVAC technician for you AC
The last thing you want to do before you turn on your AC is to get approval from an HVAC technician. As we said above, getting an AC checkup is a surefire way to get your unit ready for the summer. But it’s also important that you keep an eye out for the signs that you need to contact a professional. And no, not everything should be a DIY project… Seriously, put the belt away.
Your AC smells funny.
Your unit shouldn’t smell, so it’s best that you don’t just brush it off. Here are a few different (and 100% not normal) smells you could experience:
Musty smell: If you notice a musty smell, it could mean there’s standing water in the drain pan.
Exhaust smell: An exhaust-like smell may be a sign that your unit is leaking fluid.
Skunk-like smell: Either you have a skunk in your house or your AC could have a gas leak. We can help with the gas, but skunks? Not so much.
Gunpowder smell: A gunpowder smell could point toward a problem with the fan motor or circuit board.
Whatever you smell, don’t try to fix the problem yourself. Just call your HVAC technicians, describe what you’re smelling, and they’ll know what to do to ensure your safety before you turn on your AC.
Your AC unit blows hot air.
This one’s a no brainer. You don’t have to know a single thing about the technicalities of your AC to know that it’s not supposed to blow hot air. (That’s literally the opposite of how it’s supposed to work!) Hot air could mean you have a refrigerant leak or a damaged compressor.
Your AC unit makes weird noises.
Your unit is supposed to make some kind of noise; that’s unavoidable. But if there’s weird rattling, shaking, pounding, or grinding sounds, something’s probably a little wonky. There could be loose parts or components may need more lubrication.
Your AC unit causes excess moisture.
If you’re noticing condensation in places where there shouldn’t be condensation, your condenser drain may be clogged or even broken. For a clog, you can always take the steps we listed above, but if that doesn’t work, give your HVAC technician a call.
Your AC unit hikes up your utility bill.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one wants a sky high utility bill. An AC unit that isn’t functioning properly will use up more energy, leading to a spike in your bill. Instead of using the money you’re saving on your family summer trip toward your bill, get your unit checked out instead.
Your AC unit aged gracefully.
There comes a time when you’ll need to replace your AC unit altogether. If your unit is over a decade, definitely congratulate yourself for taking good care of it. Now it’s time to say goodbye. After a while, it’s not going to run as efficiently, which could cause a load of problems in the future.
Let Santa Fe Air help you with your AC needs
If you’re asking, “when do I turn on my AC?”, our experts at Santa Fe Air are always here to help. We’re the best HVAC company in Kansas City, and we help people in the KC and Johnson County areas get the most out of their AC system. Whether you need a checkup, repair, or installation, we’re the team that’ll make sure things get done right the first time.