Tips to get the most out of your Central Air Conditioning

Buying a central air conditioner is just the first step in keeping your home cool. To get the most out of your central air there are a few tricks for maintaining your air conditioner and keeping your cool. Air conditioning maintenance isn’t the sexiest of subjects, but fainting from the heat isn’t sexy either.


I’m not at all impressed by  how it looks but it makes up for its homeliness with its practicality.   The house is cool.  Not ice cold where you walk in and get brain freeze, but nice.  It’s relief from the 100 degree, 100% humidity outside.

But it took a bit of work to get it to this point.  The guy who installed the air conditioning spent about an hour fiddling around with the ducts and the registers, balancing the system so the entire house would be the same temperature.  If he noticed that it was really BLASTING out of the dining room, he closed the duct running to the dining room a bit, which in turn forced cold air into the living room, where it was needed.

After a few days I noticed that the bedroom was not what you’d call cold.  It was what you’d call not cold.  So I called my handy, dandy air conditioning installer and he came back once more to do a readjustment of some of my ducts and cold air returns.  The bedroom is now the same temperature as the rest of the house, which … in a story and a half house, is quite an accomplishment.

Just two weeks ago I was using my upstairs to incubate dinosaur eggs and fire the odd piece of pottery.

Just  having air conditioning installed isn’t enough to guarantee success.  Here are a few tips I got out of my installer.

Get the Most Out of Your Central Air Conditioner.


  • Wash your outdoor unit with high pressure hose water working from the top down.  It’s like cleaning out the lint trap on your dryer.  If the air conditioning unit is clogged it can’t work properly.


  • Make sure none of your vents are blocked.  Not blocked by a couch, dresser, sleeping goat.  Nothin’.


  • If you don’t use your basement or it’s getting too cold, close your basement vents.  Since cold air drops, basements always get cold.  Closing the vents will  force cold air to other areas of the house where the cool is needed more.


  • In the spring or fall when you don’t need air conditioning but still want to cool the house a little, turn your furnace fan on.  This will circulate the air throughout the house making it feel cooler.


  • If one vent is blowing really strongly it’s taking power away from vents elsewhere.  Close the offending vent a little to allow airflow elsewhere.  In older houses this can be done with the dampers in the basement.


  • Don’t ever turn your air conditioner off in the summer.  Once it’s cool enough outside, turn the temperature that your air is supposed to come on  up a few degrees and open your windows.   When your air comes on you know it’s time to close your windows again.  If you let your house overheat in the summer getting full of hot air and humidity before you turn the air on, it’s harder on the air conditioner, more expensive and takes wayyyyy longer to cool the house down.


  • Finally, if you can’t seem to get your house consistently cold or your upstairs is still too hot, call in a professional.  Having your system professionally balanced makes a huge difference and could mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and punching your partner in the head because you woke up drowning in their puddle of sweat.


  1. Kristin says:

    Is it possible, I wonder to “balance” the ducts yourself? My AC is brand new and balanced, but is that always best? For instance, I have giant windows with western exposure (in Oklahoma where it’s been in the 100s for weeks) in my office. I would love for that room to get a little more air while the seldom used guest room gets less. Without having to pay a professional. Because I’m cheap. Hot and cheap.

  2. Tequilla says:

    Dont’ forget to use cieling fans and regular fans to help circulate the air and cool down your house or a room.

  3. Gayla T says:

    Since I grew up much later in life than you, I’ve learned a lot here about the adjusting. One huge reason I was able to get by w/o it so long was that I lived on the northern shore of a huge federal lake so had the breeze across the water to cool us. I’ve really enjoyed it this summer as so far it’s breaking all records as the hottest ever. Although there’s been summers since I moved to town that I never turned it on, I’d be in misery this year. I’m scared to see the next electric bill though. All I saved by the warmest winter on record is being eaten by the heat. Dang!

  4. Kelli says:

    Sorry Algore, damn the global warming consequences, i WILL NOT live without air conditioning! There’s nothing worse than being hot and sweaty all night long, taking a shower in the morning but not being able to dry off, and trying to get yourself presentable for work without your head, face and pits dripping. Bleah. Until i was about college age, my fam in Wisc. didn’t have AC…i remember nights i thought i’d suffocate from the heat & humidity. Now, it’s 65-70F AC and i sleep blissfully cool and dry…ahhhh…

  5. Winegirl says:

    We have an OLD house that still has window units and a boiler! I’ve moved past glistening and into sweating! The only saving grace is that we’re on the water.
    Congrats. Really…

  6. candace says:

    The AC is a real valued member of the family down here in hot ass Texas. Thanks for the tips for keeping it happy :)

  7. Laura Bee says:

    Are you really the kind of woman that sits on the ground as opposed to hanging out a bedroom window?
    Thanks for the tips – going to see if my garden hose reaches far enough…

  8. Marie says:

    Karen, I guess I’m the only one that’s disappointed that you and the fella didn’t install the central AC yourselves and provide us with a tutorial.

    I was excited when my home inspector told me I should have central air installed in my newly purchased townhouse because I already have the air ducts (for the heat). I was shocked when the installer told me the estimate, which included replacing all my ducts because they aren’t big enough for cold air. I use window and portable ACs but still dream of central air.

  9. Beth says:

    Neighbors built an adorable lattice fence around their AC ‘box’. Allows for circulation and looks pretty. Now if I could only figure out how to make the dish on the side of my house more attractive……

  10. Martha says:

    I just went downstairs and shut all my vents, even the ones that were stuck that I had to take off the wall to shut. Thanks for the great tips. I personally became a woman 2 years ago. I’m pretty sure it saved my marriage and the lives of those around me. Heat makes people cranky and possibly violent. (By “people” I mean me.) Love my AC.

  11. Trish says:

    If I do all of these things (which are great tips, thank you), then I won’t have a good excuse for hitting my husband in the head at night…decisions, decisions.

  12. Marion says:

    Dang it, you mean I have to move the goats again?! ;) haha.

    I could not imagine life without air conditioning, of course, in Alabama there are very few houses without it! Thanks for the tips!

  13. Melissa says:

    Right after I read your post, I saw this info & thought I would pass along to you for more helpful hints:

  14. Debbie says:

    Everyone here is right. I left a house (not because I wanted to) with it, and had to wait a few years before I could get it again. I was hell to live with. The part of the blog that is interesting is the growing up part. It starts with something like this to be more comfortable even if not pretty. Next thing you know, you buy shoes for comfort, clothes, cars, hair cuts, all for comfort or easy care. This year alone I started to live in croc’s super ugly and the most comfort in a shoe ever for me. Now, Karen what will be the next thing…………….

  15. designlove says:

    Love my A/C. But my husband and I argue all the time about the upstairs! I get mad that it doesn’t cool down and think it should blow more up there thru the vents and he says it’s an old house and that the vent runs are too long and will never blow like the downstairs. Seems like a load of bull to me. Do you know if it’s possible Karen? Am I just to sweat on hot nights forever??? Or sleep on the couch downstairs!

    • Amy in StL says:

      You should look into a zoned system. A friend of mine and I were just talking about this because he has a beautiful 100 year old brick home where it is really warm upstairs and I was looking at buying a similar house without central air. A lot of the older homes that I looked at were really warm upstairs and apparently the secret is a zoned system.

    • Laura worsham says:

      Most people down here (the Gulf Coast of the US) have separate units for upstairs and downstairs — but we use lost of AC at least 5 months a year (You’re lucky down here if it goes below 80 at night. So may not be cost effective, but something to look into.

  16. Kim from Milwaukee says:

    Great tips, Karen, thank you!!! Also, people in the hotter climates can benefit from a turbine fan or two on the roof…to expel the heat that builds up. I had a couple on my house in CA, worked great, especially if you don’t have an attic.

  17. Nicole says:

    And one more tip – it is right to keep plants a safe distance from the A/C unit BUT it is also helpful to shade the unit. My mom acquires bits of information like this from a million different sources and she is usually (maddeningly) right – feel free to check out the veracity of this particular tip. :) Another thing she has beaten into my head is to change my furnace filters every month, especially if you burn candles in your house. The sooty stuff makes its way into the system (adding to all the other dusty stuff the filter catches). Happy A/C ownership!

  18. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    We don’t have central air but I couldn’t live without my window units..or the AC in my car…

  19. Dawna Jones says:

    I’m so glad I have never had to know what life is with one! It has never gotten hot enough although maybe a handful of times. I wonder if that is all to change someday! Congrats on growing up Karen you’ve waited long enough!

  20. Sara says:

    One more tip, which we learned the hard way after eight years on our house: ATTIC INSULATION!

    Our house had pitiful insulation (like, from 1971, all grey and compressed and useless). Our A/C unit was running constantly, but never really WORKED.

    This spring, my husband and a friend put in a nice, fluffy layer of new insulation, 9″ thick, in our attic. It has made a HUGE difference for us — helps our ancient central A/C unit work less, keeps us comfortable, AND our monthly electric bill has just dropped $50. That means the cost of the insulation will be covered in less than a year, based on monthly savings.

  21. Thank you!! We just moved to a home with AC and it’s wonderful! But, of course, there were no tips to get the most out of it. And I can do some of these myself. Yay!

  22. Krikit says:

    Gosh! Isn’t cold air from a big box just the coolest thing!? ~:0) Ahhhhhhhh……..

  23. pve says:

    I catch myself saying, “How did we live without air-conditioning?”
    Fathom, I was pregnant and that was the hottest summer…..heat waves, power outages….it was all a bad dream.
    Now I am spoilt rotten with my central A/C and eternally grateful- not to mention “cool as a cucumber.”

  24. lemur_lass says:

    I wish I would have read this post 14 months ago! I had no idea what dampers were up until a week ago. They work so much better than the switching them off at the vent.

    Oh and I have a suggestion that I am dealing with now: Be careful planting around your outside unit. You want air to flow around it, not impede it. But even more importantly, you need it to be able to be serviced. No rose bushes, or your HVAC person will hate you. I think he rule of thumb is that the plants (in their mature form) should be at least 2 feet away.

  25. Lemurific says:

    Congrats on growing up. I want to warn you that you will never be able to live without central ac again. Mine died, after 14 months of living in my home, and didn’t have it for 5 unbearable weeks. My new unit was installed TODAY. Life is good now. Its not so much the heat, but i hate having a sticky house. Your electronics also thank you.

    • Karen says:

      I was just thinking today .. no one would have believed how hot my house was for the past 13 years or so, because now that I have central air, I even have trouble believing it was as hot as I remember it. ~ karen!

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