Heat takes toll on AC equipment

Published 12:54 am Sunday, July 19, 2015

FRESH AND CLEAN: Tac Caruthers makes sure extra debris is gone from an air conditioning unit.

FRESH AND CLEAN: Tac Caruthers makes sure extra debris is gone from an air conditioning unit. (Alex Swatson/ The Vicksburg Post)

It has become a rite of summer in the south.

Sometime between mid-May and the first of June the temperatures begin ascending from the comfortable 60- to low 70-degree weather of spring and into the 80s and 90s, or higher, of summer, and across the region the air conditioners are turned on and kept on, usually until sometime in mid-October.

And when the air conditioning units, whether window or central, come on, the problems that have lingered since the last summer begin to manifest themselves and people start calling for the repairman.

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“This is our busiest, most demanding and most stressful time of the year. It doesn’t matter where — residential, commercial, refrigeration — it’s taking its toll,” said Thomas Caruthers of Caruthers Heating and Air. “This time of year for us, physically and mentally, is challenging because we have to satisfy our customers. I go home ringing wet. I go through times during the day having to change clothes, because it’s just horrible. We have to be in the elements, so it’s tough.

“We’re spoiled to air conditioning,” he said.

Caruthers said the design temperature for air conditioning units is 95 degrees at 100 percent run, adding 100 percent run means constant operation.

“The stress on the equipment is there when we’re at the peak of the season,” Caruthers said, and there’s more to determining an air conditioner’s performance than just its ability to run.

The air conditioning system could be the best in the world, he said, but if the home isn’t properly built and insulated, the system won’t work efficiently.

“People don’t realize that it’s not just the system, it has to do with the home,” he said. “The structure of the building and insulation — especially in the attic — and the ventilation, those are the major things. You can’t condition an area if the structure is not capable of holding (the cooler air).”

And the high temperatures also take a toll. When the thermometer hits the unit’s designed temperature of 95, “they’re running at their maximum capacity, and when you go above that, they’re running into a deficit; they can’t keep up,” Caruthers said, adding things like having units in shady areas, or even the color of the roof can help the system.

He said the most common complaints he and his sons, who work with him, find this time of year, “Is the unit just doesn’t seem to be putting out properly.”

“You have water leaks, because of maintenance. Units that are cleaned properly won’t have a lot of dirt. Changing filters, making sure things are done like that (can prevent problems). One thing leads to another, like dirty filters. The dirt gets on the coils, the coils sweat and it pulls the dirt down, the dirt gets in the drain pan, and the drain lines stop up because they have traps in them.”

Another common problem is ants, which build their nests next to air conditioning units.

“Ants are attracted to the electric current, for some reason, particularly fire ants,” Caruthers said. “That’s what’s more prevalent to see. We replace contactors on the units because they get in between the contactors and won’t let the current flow through.”

The available electricity is also an issue.

“Our electrical problem is current, as far as demand,” he said. “This time of year, the demand is up for everybody, industrial as well as residential. So when you have the current change, it starts taking its toll on capacitors. We have more capacitor failure, say from June through August and September, than any other part of the year.”

Caruthers said people can avoid some of the problems they experience in the summer by doing some routine maintenance on their units, like having them checked before the need becomes great. Doing things like checking the refrigerant levels, the filters and coils and making sure the house has adequate insulation and the ductwork is in good shape.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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