7 Myths About Air Conditioning You Need to Know Before the Summer (Podcast)

In this podcast, John Maher chats with Brett Rogenski, General Manager of N.E.T.R. Inc.. They discuss some of the most popular myths about air conditioning, and they explain the truth behind these misconceptions.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Brett Rogenski, General Manager of N.E.T.R., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. Today, we’re talking about the seven myths about air conditioning you need to know before the summer. Welcome, Brett.

Brett Rogenski: Thank you, John. I appreciate you having me on.

John: Yes, great. Thank you. So, Brett, we’re going to go through these seven common myths that people think about, about air conditioning and discuss them, and why they’re myths and what the truth is. The first one is that you should get the most BTUs that you possibly can or the largest air conditioner that you can for your space. Why is that wrong?

Myth #1: You Should Get the Largest Air Conditioner Possible.

Brett: Well, you know what? That’s a pretty common misconception, John. And I don’t know, maybe, sometimes, as Americans, we think we’re getting better value for getting more. But the way air conditioning systems and HVAC systems work is you want to have them sized properly. So if you get an air conditioning system with too many BTU capability for the size, then what happens? It’s not that it cools the space too rapidly, but it actually uses its output too rapidly.

And it causes something called short-cycling, which means that the compressor and everything gets started and just starts spinning up to where it’s efficient. And guess what? It’s already achieved its cooling load. So you end up, actually, spending a lot of money on excess electricity because you’re not working efficiently. You’re working in the most inefficient part of the cooling cycle.

John:     … which is that beginning cycle where it’s ramped up as high as it can and you’re using as much electricity to try to cool the space off.

Brett: Absolutely. So a good analogy might be if you think about your car. You’re at a stoplight, and if you’re looking at your mileage, you get very low mileage going from zero to 30 or 40 miles an hour, as opposed to doing 60 miles an hour on the highway where you’re getting much higher mileage. So it’s very similar to the way the cooling system works in that initial startup in getting the temperature down is the least efficient part of the cycle. So by getting too many BTUs, you’re actually going to use electricity inefficiently and cost yourself more.

John: Does it actually cause issues with the humidity in the room, too? If the air conditioner is not running for very long, then it’s cooling down the space very quickly, but then you’re not running it for long enough to get all that moisture out of the air. And so you end up with a cool room, but you end up with a room that has a lot of moisture in the air. Is that true?

Brett: Absolutely, because you haven’t had time to cycle that air through the cooling system as long, so exactly that, you’re not cycling as much air through the cooling system, allowing for that dehumidification. So that’s exactly what happens, you end up with a cool, clammy room, if you will, because the humidification actually stays much higher than it would be if it was running in a little more efficient manner.

Myth #2: You Don’t Need to Clean Your AC.

John: Right. Okay. All right. So our second myth is that you don’t need to clean your AC, especially the coils or the fins on your air conditioner.

Brett: Definitely a myth. That’s something that should absolutely be done every year. It’s probably one of the most cost-effective things that you can do to properly maintain your system and get the most economy out of it. So yeah, we recommend that annually. Typically, it’s done in the spring that you actually have preventive maintenance done on your system.

Where we would come in, in our case, and check, first of all, we’d check your refrigerant levels. We’d make sure that everything’s appropriate there. And then we actually clean that down with, first of all, we brush it down. Second thing we do is, we can actually use chemicals and actually, essentially, almost like a pressure wash of those fins and those coils to get rid of all the accumulated dirt, dust, other things that get in there that don’t allow it to help dissipate that heat that’s pulled from your house into the outside.

John: Do you find, often, that you’ll get calls from people to come out and maintain their air conditioner? Maybe it’s not running as well as it used to, or maybe it’s actually broken, and then you get out there, and you look at it, and you’re like, “Oh, they haven’t had this cleaned in years.”

Brett: Absolutely. That happens with us every day, and we’re happy to help those folks. But that’s exactly what we’ll find is, they come, they turn it on every year. When the cooling season’s over, they go ahead and shut it off. And then what ends up happening is, like you say, they never have that maintenance.

And think about it, it’s outside. Pollen, grass, dust, dirt, all these different things are being sucked through that machine, accumulating on those fins, and they almost act like insulation. So instead of that heat being released and letting the system work efficiently, it’s being trapped in the system. So you usually see a dramatic increase in your efficiency with just an annual cleaning and maintenance on those items. So it’s one of the most cost-effective things you can do to keep your system healthy and running efficiently.

Myth #3: You Should Turn Your Thermostat Way Down to Cool the Room Faster.

John: Okay. Our third myth is that you can turn your thermostat way down in order to cool off the room quicker.

Brett: Yeah, gosh, I wish that were true, but unfortunately, that’s not how cooling systems work. So ultimately, the coolant is pulling the heat out of the room and it’s cooling that. That’s at a constant temperature. So whether you set your thermostat at 28 degrees, not that it would go that low, but you set it at 50 degrees as opposed to say, oh, 70 degrees, if that was your desired temperature, the actual coolness of the air that’s coming out is the same.

The problem is also that people… We’re humans, we forget sometimes. Right? So someone who thinks that might help cool their room better, they go crank their thermostat down to 60 degrees, when really, what they’re hoping to achieve is 68. They forget about it. They walk away. And now that thing just over-cycles, shoots way past it. It’s cool in the room. And they’ve wasted a lot of energy and also made themselves uncomfortable. So yeah, what you really want to do is set it to that desired temperature and let it maintain it while you’re using that space.

John: I had a friend who, whenever we were driving in the car together, he would always turn on the air conditioner, full blast with the fan all the way up in order to cool off the car. And then, when it got too cold to stand, then he would shut it off, and then wait until we got too hot, and then turn it full blast again.

It never made sense to me. Instead of just, like you said, just set it for a certain temperature, and it will get there, and it will just maintain that temperature instead of going, constantly, on and off and on and off, which can’t be comfortable. You’re going hot and then cold and hot and then cold. You’re only comfortable for one little moment in the middle there. That can’t be good.

Brett: Exactly. And that’s really what you want to do when you’re setting that system. Set it for where you’re going to be comfortable. And once that room achieves that and stabilizes, you’re going to be comfortable, to your point, for the maximum amount of time, instead of overshooting, wasting energy, and then going, “Oh, my gosh. It’s cold in here,” and having to walk around with a sweatshirt on.

Myth #4: Running an Old AC Unit It Dies Is Cheaper Than Buying a New One.

John: Right. All right. Our fourth myth is that running an old AC unit until it’s dead is cheaper than buying a new one.

Brett: Yeah. A lot of us will tend to want to do something like that where, all of a sudden, our old AC unit, “Well, I’m going to get a little more out of it. It’s paid for.” That’s maybe our sense. Then, where you end up actually spending more money is in two primary places. Well, three primary places.

The first one is that old system is probably nowhere near as efficient as a current system. So you’re actually pumping money out by way of electrical costs, et cetera, because that system is running at a much lower SEER level, efficiency level. So, number one, you’re costing yourself money in terms of electricity because, almost guaranteed, a new system is going to be much more efficient than your current system.

Second thing that you’re going to do is you’re going to be spending money on maintenance costs. As things age, whether you’re talking about an HVAC system, an air conditioning system, your car, whatever it is, it requires more maintenance. So a newer system, hopefully, will require only a little preventive maintenance every year. Your old system may lose refrigerant, which is massively expensive now. That has to be replaced. It may need much more maintenance in terms of replacement parts to keep it going and that sort of thing. So you’re going to continue to pump money into that thing just to keep it working.

And then the third part is tied to warranties. There becomes a point where it just doesn’t make sense to continue to maintain and invest in an old, inefficient system when you can get the benefits of a new system, most of which include a warranty ranging up to 10 years, or in the case of a Mitsubishi electric system from a Diamond Elite contractor, there’s a 12-year warranty on all Mitsubishi parts. So, there’s a lot of money to be saved in lowering those consumable costs and lowering those maintenance costs for yourself over time.

John: And to go back to your car analogy, too, you get to a point when your car has, whether it has 90,000 miles or 120,000 miles or something like that, and you’re well out of warranty. You’re starting to have to pump all kinds of money into fixing things that are breaking all of the time. So your maintenance costs are up.

Maybe it’s an older car that gets worse gas mileage than a newer car. You sort of hit a balancing point there where it just makes sense to just trade that car in, just get a new car where you’re not going to have to be paying for maintenance. You get better gas mileage and all of those things. So it’s sort of a similar thing where you do hit a point where just buying a new one and making that investment is worth it.

Brett: Sure. You’re 100% correct on that, John. And the other thing is, and this isn’t a tangible cost thing, that old system is going to fail on you when it’s under its most load, typically, when it’s working its hardest. So when that 20-year old air conditioner finally fails on you, literally, the most likely time that’s going to happen is in the dead of summer during a heat wave.

So not only are you going to have the costs that are associated with that, you’re going to be at that point where you’re going to be your most uncomfortable, and your family’s going to be uncomfortable. So to your point, we try not to drive our cars until they break down beside the road and have to be towed away. You don’t want to do that with your AC system either.

John: Yes. And probably trying to get an installer to come during the heatwave and install an air conditioner in your house is probably not the best time to be asking because everybody’s looking for them at that time as well, right?

Brett: That’s it. It’s a time of very high demand. As we live in 2022 right now, there are challenges in every industry with their supply chains. So depending on what you would need to even replace that, there may even be a lead time on that. And we hate for people to find that out on July 4th weekend when it’s 102.

Myth #5: You Don’t Need to Do Pre-Summer Maintenance on Your AC.

John: Right, right. Alright. Our fifth myth is that you don’t need to prep or do maintenance on your AC before the summer. Again, just going back to that idea of, “Yeah, I shut it off at the end of last season, and now I’m just ready to go, and I turn it on. And let’s go and cool off my house for the summer.”

Brett: Yes. And spring is the absolute, most important time to actually pay attention to your air conditioning system. So absolutely everyone should have an annual preventive maintenance on their system regardless of age.

Again, some of the basics include cleaning that coil, et cetera, but also getting there, making sure that, depending on the type of system you have, that the filters are clean, that that system has been properly charged with refrigerant, that you haven’t lost any over the summer, excuse me, over the winter.

And I’ll actually share a story from my own life. My father, who has a ductless system, doesn’t live near me so, unfortunately, I couldn’t serve him. So he went to start up his ductless system and somehow a leak had occurred during the winter. So he had no refrigerant in his system. And if he hadn’t had the PM (preventative maintenance) schedule where they did the startup, he would’ve found that out when it was hot out.

So absolutely, you should have that preventive maintenance done every spring. We happen to offer a membership program where you don’t even have to remember to do that, where people who join our program, we call you to schedule your annual preventive maintenance. So you don’t have to remember “Geez, did I do that or not?”, so that’s something that we recommend.

Myth #6: Running Your AC Can Make You Sick.

John: Right. That’s great. All right. Myth number six is that running your AC will give you a cold or make you sick.

Brett: No, not at all. The only thing running your AC is going to do is make you comfortable. So it’s going to help get to a proper temperature. I think most of our moms maybe told us that. They say, “Oh yeah, you’ll go outside in the winter, you’ll get a cold.” Well, maybe this is that idea transferring, but it’s not true. Running your air conditioning system actually helps your indoor air quality, typically, because that air is being filtered. You don’t get a cold from being chilly. We get colds from germs and viruses, which depending on the nature of your system, it can run and filter those types of things out of the air.

There are even UV sterilization systems that can actually help improve that air quality inside. So running your AC is going to help get the humidity in your home down. It’s going to get you to that comfortable temperature. And it’s not going to give you the chills and make you sick. And again, it’s also going to clean up that indoor air quality for you as well.

John: Right. And I think something that people should think about, too, is that, hey, just because you have an air conditioner doesn’t mean that you have to make it 68 degrees or 65 degrees, or something like that. If you’re perfectly comfortable with it being 75 degrees or 77 degrees inside, and especially with an air conditioner running, you can make it dehumidify so that you have less humidity, but it’s 75 or 77 degrees. That can be perfectly comfortable in the summer. There’s nothing that says that you have to make it 68 degrees.

Brett: Absolutely it’s about personal comfort and that flexibility for personal comfort in whichever space or spaces you’re using in your home. So you 100% right on that, John.

Myth #7: Turning Your AC Up When You Leave the House Doesn’t Save Money.

John: All right. Our final one, number seven, is that it’s cheaper to let your AC run at the same temperature all day rather than turn it up a few degrees when you’re leaving the room or leaving the house, and you won’t be back for a little while.

Brett: Well that’s a common misconception, is that “Oh, you just set it and forget it,” I guess what they would say to steal one from Ron Popeil. But no, that’s not true. What you actually want to do is you want to build that around your comfort and usage. So, for instance, if you’re leaving your home and let’s say there’s no one there, there’s no other folks there or pets there. Then, turn that up a few degrees because there’s no sense of cooling that down.

You have on-demand cooling. So once you get home, if the home is three or four degrees warmer than you’d like it, then you turn it down. It’s going to cool your home to that desired temperature in a few minutes. And otherwise, all that electricity that you’re using in that time that you were gone is essentially wasted electricity.

Back to a car analogy, we don’t leave our car, even though it doesn’t use a lot of fuel. We don’t leave our car idling in the driveway in case we’re going to go somewhere. Yeah, no, we shut it off because that would be wasted fuel sitting there idling in the driveway. And when we need it, we turn it on. One of the great things with Mitsubishi mini-splits is, they actually give you a lot of flexibility. So it’s not just turning the air conditioning to a warmer number when you’re not there. If you have mini-splits in your home, each area where you have a mini-split head can be set and controlled independently.

So at night, all the bedrooms may have their air conditioning on so that we’re comfortable while we’re sleeping downstairs in the living room, maybe shut off or turn to a much higher temperature. We get up during the day, that probably reverses. We either turn the bedrooms way up to a warmer temperature, or we shut them off altogether until we go back to bed that evening. But we go downstairs and actually make that more comfortable, turn that to a more desirable temperature. So letting it run all day is a pretty inefficient way to work in it. It’s not helping your comfort either.

John: Are there any caveats to that? If it’s very hot out, you don’t want to just shut off your AC completely during the day and let it get up to 95 degrees inside the house and then have to cool it all the way down to 70 degrees when you get home. Should you just turn it up by 5 or 10 degrees and then turn it back down those 5 or 10 degrees, or do you want to shut it off completely? What’s the balance there, do you think?

Brett: Sure. I would tell you, for most people, the answer is probably turning it up, as you said, John, 5 to 10 degrees. And a little bit of that depends, obviously, on the days that are bright, super hot days and you know your house is going to get to 95. Or is it a day like today where it’s maybe not quite as warm? I recommend turning it up. If you have rooms that aren’t in use, though, shut them off.

So, if you’re using a Mitsubishi mini-split and you have a guest room, and your guest has left, and that room’s going to be unoccupied, shut that thing down until the next time, and close the door so that it’s not bleeding heat into the rest of the house. But yeah, in general, most people do that because you walk into a 95-degree house, even though it’s going to be cool before too long, that’s not real comfortable for the 10 or 15 minutes it takes for that thing to get brought down.

Contact N.E.T.R., Inc to Learn More About air Conditioning

John: Sure. All right. Well, that’s really great information, Brett. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Brett: John, thank you so much for having me.

John: Yeah. And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R. website at netrinc.com or call 781-933-N-E-T-R. That’s 781-933-6387.