Not Just a Convenience, Air Conditioning is a Must Have for Living in Houston
By Barbara Canetti
There is a reason why Houston is perhaps one of the most air-conditioned cities in the world. Just step outside and it becomes obvious.
Virtually all new construction done in southeast Texas is built with air conditioning in mind because of the heat and humidity in this area. It hasn’t always been that way, but many structures originally built without cooling systems have been remodeled to add in the necessary air conditioning.
“Unfortunately, during a remodel, many homeowners focus on what you can see and not on some important things that you can’t see, but the systems and functions of a home remodel are as important as the aesthetics,” says Jennifer Franz, a home comfort expert at Lennox. A remodeling job or home addition should take into consideration factors such as energy efficiency, comfort and practical function.
“It’s important to have an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor determine whether the existing HVAC system can accommodate the extra square footage,” she says, noting that with room additions that don’t have existing ductwork, homeowners could consider a ductless system, such as the mini-split systems, which are more cost efficient for rooms that aren’t used continuously or when ductwork isn’t feasible.
Mini splits or ductless systems have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units. They are installed in individual rooms and are good for zone cooling.
Ken Taylor, owner of Air Depot, says central air conditioning is still the most common method of cooling and is usually less expensive than the mini-splits although not as cost effective to operate. But before any new installs or upgrades are ordered, Taylor says homeowners should consult with a professional to help them understand their options, to calculate whether their existing unit can handle the additional load, and to talk about existing problems within the living space.
“This needs to be discussed with the installing a/c contractor — questions such as are there any current a/c or heating problems, any hot or cold spots, any zoning issues, any humidity issues, efficiency requirements and, of course, their budget requirements for the project,” he says.
Taylor also notes there are new and innovative changes occurring in the industry now that could affect a homeowner’s choice. “Variable speed blowers and compressors are making new systems more efficient, quieter and more effective in controlling humidity. New refrigerants are more environmentally friendly,” he says.
With proper care and upkeep, the mechanical life of an air conditioning system should be between 12 to 15 years. Taylor says units should be replaced after this amount of time if there are continuous breakdowns occurring or a major repair pending.
“Replacing an older, inefficient system can almost pay for itself in saved utility costs,” he says.
Taylor urges homeowners to clean or replace filters on a regular basis and suggests using an algae tablet or poured bleach solution in the primary condensate drain, if accessible, to keep it free flowing. It’s also a good idea to keep shrubs cleared away from the outside unit so it can “breathe” properly but leave the cleaning of the outdoor coils to a professional who has been trained to do this task.