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The word “summertime” conjures up visions of lazy days on the water, sipping iced tea on the porch swing, cicadas singing at dusk – but the reality in Middle Tennessee is quite different. The heat and humidity soon drive us indoors, iced tea or no iced tea. A cool home may be our only haven when temperatures soar, so it’s best to be prepared for the season with an HVAC unit that is in top form. We chatted with the HVAC experts at Lee Company, a family-owned company with more than 75 years of experience, to learn about their top energy-efficient options to ensure your home is perfectly pleasant throughout the dog days of summer.

The specialists at Lee Company see a few common questions that pop up every summer. In each instance, there are things that can be done to extend the life of your unit, as well as increase energy efficiency.

Is your HVAC unit performing at its best? If not, there are a few things you can pursue to ensure your home is nice and cool in the hot and humid summer months.

How can I tell if my utility bill is too high, and if it is, what can I do?

“First, homeowners need to be sure they are comparing apples to apples,” says Lee Company. “Don’t necessarily look at the amount you pay, because the electricity provider could have raised the rates – they don’t have to tell you when they do. Taxes could have changed as well.”

Instead, look at your average usage per day (found on most electric bills), and compare the current temperatures to previous years. “If last July was unseasonably pleasant with temperatures in the 80s, and this year is back to highs in the 90s, you will use more electricity and your bill will be higher,” they explain.

Other factors could include inadequate insulation or weather-stripping. SB TIP: If you can see light coming in from any of your outside doors, it’s a sign that cool air is escaping – and hot air is seeping in.

If you find that your utility bills are higher than they should be, the solution is multi-faceted. Here are four things you should take a look at and consider doing to bring the bill cost back down:

  • Attic insulation should be 12-15 inches deep.
  • Install an attic fan to draw hot air up and out of your attic.
  • Have your HVAC unit properly serviced each year and filters changed monthly unless purchasing 90-day filters.
  • Weather-strip windows and doors to prevent air leakage.

How can I maintain my home’s target temperature?

“Target temperature goes back to keeping your unit clean and changing the filters,” says Lee Company. (SB TIP: After working in your yard, grass clippings and yard debris may get on your HVAC unit. Do not use a pressure washer! Just let the water run on the coil to wash clippings and leaves away.)

It also relates to the age of the unit – an older HVAC just isn’t going to function as well as it did when it was new. The age of the duct system may impact target temperature, too. Insulation in the ducts deteriorates over time, so it won’t provide good results as the years go by. And as with high utility bills, properly weather-stripping your doors and windows is beneficial to maintaining a consistently comfortable temperature throughout the home.

“We would also look to see if your unit is the right size for your home,” they add. “You may have converted a previously unused space, added a bonus room, or changed a room’s use, so your unit no longer fits your home’s needs. Duct design and insulation issues are factors when you add on or convert a room as well, and a reputable HVAC company can help you make sure all your systems are right-sized for your home.”

Why is my system running for extended periods of time?

When temperatures rise, you may notice that your air conditioner runs without cycling on and off as frequently – and that may not be a problem as long as your house is maintaining a comfortable temperature and humidity level. But if your unit runs constantly without ever cycling off, and your house never seems quite cool enough, you are right to be concerned.

The problem could be something as simple as a dirty filter. Air filters should be changed monthly unless you have purchased a 90-day filter, and more often if you have a pet. Other culprits include a stuck fan, a broken thermostat, low refrigerant, or the wrong size unit for your home.

“We have several diagnostics we run to help with this issue,” says Lee Company. “If you feel like your HVAC is working ‘just enough’ to make your home bearable but not pleasant, that’s the time to give our company a call.”

If your HVAC unit seems to be running for longer periods than usual, one culprit could be a broken thermostat. Image: The Lee Company

My second floor is hot and uncomfortable – what can I do?

As with many of our answers, the solution to overheated upper stories overlaps with others. “Once again, we would make sure the unit is sized properly for your home,” says Lee Company. “If the unit is not large enough, your home will not feel cool enough.”

Other solutions include making sure your home is vented properly, adding insulation to walls, and sealing attic accesses. “We can actually add enough insulation to an area to fit it to your HVAC unit, rather than the other way around if a new unit is not in your budget,” they explain.

SB TIP: We all know that heat rises; in the summer, your attic is sure to be the warmest place in the house. To determine if your attic is overheated, just put your hand on the attic door or knee wall door. If it is hot to the touch, it may be time to insulate. Which leads us to our next question …

My walk-in attic door or knee wall door is warm. What should I do?

“This is one of the easier things to fix, if you want to DIY,” says Lee Company. A homeowner can glue or tack up insulated foam or foam board around any attic access point. A great device is an attic door insulation cover that easily closes the gap between your attic and living areas, preventing seepage of hot air so your HVAC unit does not have to work as hard to keep your home cool.

How can I tell when it is time to replace my unit?

Lee Company says there are tell-tale signs that the time has come to consider a new HVAC system: “Multiple repairs, high utility bills, and high humidity in the home. Lee Company does add refrigerant to a unit if the customer wants to extend the life of the unit. In some instances, repairs can be made to stop the leak. However, when they encounter a leak, they always talk about the cost of repair/refill versus replacement with their customers, because leaks often reoccur.”

You may be tempted to delay – after all, replacing your HVAC has the reputation of being a disruptive, cumbersome, and expensive process. Lee Company says a good HVAC company should make the experience as seamless and affordable as possible.

Lee Company says a good HVAC company should make the experience as seamless and affordable as possible. Image: The Lee Company

“We offer one point of contact for a homeowner, so they don’t have to wonder who to call for questions, concerns, or issues,” they say. “A company should be able to offer payment and financing options to fit any budget. At Lee Company, we have a wide range of HVAC products, financing, and special offers. We pride ourselves on going above and beyond to get our customers what they need.”

Finally, Lee Company recommends a few energy-efficient ideas for any home:

  • A solar-powered attic fan is a highly efficient way to move hot air and moisture out of your home. An added benefit: a 26% tax credit!
  • A web-enabled, programmable thermostat has many benefits: You can program it from your smartphone, laptop, or other device; it allows you to create a temperature schedule based on your home’s needs, and it is a helpful tool for diagnosing any problems.
  • If your windows are more than 10 years old, it is probably time to make sure they are sealed correctly. Not only do older windows leak hot air into your home, but outdated windows also may not protect your home from UV rays. Weatherstripping is an easy, affordable option.
  • Regular maintenance is crucial to extending the life of your HVAC unit. In fact, maintenance is required to keep a warranty in force. Don’t overlook this simple but vital step! For an air conditioning tune-up and inspection, Lee Company recommends (and offers) cleaning the AC condenser and evaporator coils, checking the wiring, and testing capacitors.

To learn more about all of these services plus additional options provided by Lee Company, visit leecompany.com.

This article is sponsored by Lee Company.