It’s March – the birds are singing, the grass is green and the sun is shining for a longer period of time, it seems. Embrace the season by doting a bit on your major appliances.
Spring cleaning includes cleaning large appliances – such as the air conditioning unit and refrigerator – that might have been overworked in previous months. Equipment maintenance could save money on electricity and help you avoid costly repairs.
Some appliances might need to be replaced due to age or working condition. Direct Energy and its Clockwork Home Services brands of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning and Mister Sparky are here to help with information on cleaning or choosing the right new appliance for your home.
Determining if a new appliance is warranted is the first step. Is your current appliance still operational? How old is it? Does it fit the needs of your household?
“Common mistakes are keeping an appliance too long and not keeping it maintained. Another is getting an appliance or system larger than it needs to be,” said Mark Wendland with Wendland One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating. “These things will cost you money, sometimes plenty of it, because either your appliance will be drawing more energy than it needs to or working harder than it needs to, which means it will be inefficient.”
Here are some tips on maintaining or replacing those appliances.
The air conditioning and heating unit typically uses most of the electricity in the house. A certified service technician should inspect the system once a year to make sure there are no leaks or major problems.
Wendland suggests finding a reputable technician through word-of-mouth or via online sites such as AngiesList.com.
Larger appliances such as the refrigerator, washer/dryer and dishwasher should be inspected by a certified technician about once a year. But basic upkeep and cleaning can easily be done.
“Basic maintenance saves energy and done correctly, will help prevent overheating and fires,” said Richard Hodge with Mister Sparky in Houston.
Tips for Cleaning/Maintaining Appliances
- Washers/Dryers – A cup of white vinegar run through the warm cycle will break up mineral deposits and neutralize odors. Make sure the washer is level. Clean the dryer lint filter before every load and check the dryer exhaust, straightening out the kinks every few weeks.
- Refrigerators – To be done every three months to keep it running in top shape. Front coils – Remove the bottom plate on the front of the fridge and use a vacuum nozzle to remove the dirt on and around the coils. Back coils – Pull the refrigerator out to access the coils on the back. In some models, you must remove a grill at the bottom to access them. Use a vacuum nozzle, a broom or a duster to remove the dirt.
- Freezers –Don’t let the freezer frost over. When frost accumulates to a thickness of ¼ inch or so, remove the food. Turn off the thermostat or unplug the unit and allow the frost to melt. Do this when necessary to avoid it working overtime and using more electricity than needed.
- Dehumidifiers – Most use a removable plastic bucket and have warning lights to indicate when the bucket is full and needs to be emptied. Typically, there is an automatic shut off that activates when the bucket is full. Some dehumidifiers have the ability to hook up a hose to the bucket which allows the water to drain. Draining the water helps to prevent mold and mildew buildup and keeps the unit running in optimal shape.
- Dishwashers – Run it regularly to prevent food and debris buildup. When empty, inspect the holes of the spinning arms. If they’ve accumulated debris, use needle-nose pliers or a toothpick to carefully remove debris. Clogged holes make it harder to clean dishes properly. Clean under the bottom of the door and check for debris near and around the drain.
- Air conditioning – Shut off the power to the condenser. It’s usually a box-like unit located outdoors. Cut grass, weeds, or vines around the unit. Clean the condenser with fresh water, clean the fins with a soft brush and check the concrete pad to make sure it’s level. Generally, the evaporator is inside the home and not always accessible. If it is accessible, clean it once a year to help keep electricity costs down.
“Any large repair signals that the appliance might need to be replaced. Most appliances should be replaced every 8 to 12 years unless they’ve had serious malfunctions,” Wendland said. “Technology for appliances doesn’t move as fast as it does for cell phones. The pace is usually government mandated, so you don’t have to worry about getting the latest, greatest appliance every year.”
If an appliance or system needs replacing, there are several things to keep in mind. Among those is the service energy efficiency rating (SEER) and the Energy Star guide, which is a yellow label found on a new appliance.
The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the appliance or unit.
“It’s very important to have a high SEER rating on your AC unit, especially if you own an older home,” Wendland said. “Older homes are not very energy efficient, so you’ll need a good unit that will keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.”
It’s also very important to have a sales technician come to your home and conduct measurement and heat calculations so the right size unit is installed. If it’s too big, not only will it cost you more money to run, but it will not remove humidity properly.
“And don’t go solely on the yellow energy label on the appliance,” said Wendland. “Several factors determine how much that appliance will cost you to run a month – how often you use it, how you use it, what time of day you use it most, etc. But at least it lets you compare that appliance to other models and brands.”
Tips for Finding a New Appliance from the Dept. of Energy
- Washers/Dryers – Larger models hold more clothes, but cost more to run. Pick one that best meets your needs. Although dryers aren’t labeled with Energy Star labels, choosing one with a moisture sensor will reduce the amount of energy used. Choosing a unit with a high Modified Energy Factor and Water Factor also can save you money.
- Dehumidifiers – Capacity is measured in pints per 24 hours, so it is important to know the size of the space that needs to be dehumidified and the condition of dampness of the space – moderate, very, wet or extremely wet. For example, a 500 square-foot space that is moderately damp would need a capacity of 10 pints.
- Dishwashers – Compact-capacity units hold up to 8 place settings and 6 serving pieces. Standard-capacity units hold more. The size depends on the needs of your family and/or how often you host parties. Also, choose one with several wash cycle options as light or energy-saving cycles use less water and operate for a shorter period of time.
- Freezers – An upright freezer has a front-mounted door like a refrigerator and shelves that are for easy organization. A chest freezer requires more floor space but generally is more energy efficient as the door opens from the top and allows less cold air to escape. A manual defrost freezer use half the energy of automatic defrost models, but only if the frost is not allowed to build up more than ¼ of an inch.
- Refrigerators – Models with a top-mounted freezer use 10 to 25 percent less energy than bottom-mounted or side-by-side models. The most energy efficient units typically are 16 to 20 cubic feet. Automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14 to 20 percent and raise the purchase price by $75 to $250.
For more information, visit www.directenergy.com.