You’ve got to love Utah. As recently as last week, we were donning sweaters in the morning and late evening hours. Then, although Sunday didn’t reach the record-breaking temperatures that were forecasted, yesterday got hotter. It is supposed to cool down a bit as the week progresses, but who knows?
This is Utah, after all. The weather cavorts — especially during the spring months. The only thing we know for sure is that we will experience very hot weather on a regular basis this summer.
The hot weather we’ve already experienced has sent people scurrying to start their air conditioners and make swamp coolers ready for use.
Compared to swamp coolers, air conditioners have the advantage of cooling the air to a selected temperature regardless of the outside air temperature. To do this, they use a coolant and refrigeration system.
This process requires energy to run. If you are using an air conditioner, save money by not setting the thermostat too low. For every degree you increase the temperature, you save two to three percent on energy costs.
Swamp coolers, or evaporative coolers, cool the air by pulling outside air through wet pads. As the moisture evaporates, it reduces the temperature of the air. The amount the temperature drops is dependent on the humidity outside. The higher the humidity, the less the air cools. In very low humidity, a swamp cooler can reduce the temperature by as much as 30 degrees. At 90 percent humidity, it may only make a difference of a couple of degrees. As a result, the conditions outdoors dictate the response indoors. Hot muggy days may stay hot and muggy.
Fortunately, we don’t have many of those. However, swamp coolers are considerably less expensive to run than air conditioners, especially in very hot, dry weather.
Both types of cooling systems do need some springtime maintenance for optimum performance.
Air conditioners should have a service check in the spring — especially if it has not been done for the past two or three years. Before you bring in a technician, take care of a few chores yourself.
Clear bushes away from around the outdoor air conditioning unit so the air can move freely around and through it. Clean up the unit and clean and/or change filters.
Hiring an expert to go through the rest of the workings may help save money in the long run and even prevent a breakdown.
Keep in mind that an air conditioning unit will lose efficiency over years of use. It won’t do the second year what it did the first. If you don’t keep it tuned up it will lose about 5 percent of its efficiency. By maintaining it properly, you can keep it functioning in the mid 90 percent of its original efficiency.
A technician will check the refrigerant charge, control systems, condensing unit, coils, motors and belts to see if they are operating correctly. The cost may vary, but it is important to do it at least every couple of years. It is a good investment that may prevent total breakdown in the heat of summer.
A few tricks in using evaporative coolers can make them more efficient.
Save water in our desert climate and operate your cooler more efficiently by waiting until the outside temperature reaches 85 before you turn it on. You will use 50 percent less water over the season than if it goes on at 79 degrees.
Turn on the water pump a few minutes before you turn on the fan. This saturates the pads first so the unit will function more effectively.
Open the window a crack — not fully open — in the rooms you are cooling to draw the cooled air through the room. Use ceiling fans to circulate the cool air through the rooms.
In the evening, operate the cooler fan without the water pump. One of the nice features of our climate is that air temperatures drop considerably in the evenings and nights and the fan will blow the cool air through your home.
If you can install a thermostat to turn the unit on and off, it will help save energy.
This spring, uncover the cooler, remove the panels and clean out any debris in the water pan at the bottom. Check the tension on the motor’s fan belt. When pressed it should move about a half inch. Lightly oil the bearing on the blower assembly and the motor if it has an oil receptacle.
Install new cooler pads. Aspen wood fiber makes good pads or follow the recommendations of the manufacturer.
Reconnect the water line and turn on the water. Check the float valve to be sure it is operating effectively. Adjust it as needed by bending the arm.
Switch on the cooler motor and recirculating pump to be sure the pads are being saturated evenly with water. Look for rusted areas in the tray that could cause a leak.
Sometime in mid summer, check the unit out again. The water level in the tray should be about an inch below the top of the tray and below the top of the overflow pipe. If it is too high or too low, adjust the float arm.
Check other working parts including the pump, motor and fan belt.
Check the condition of the cooling pads. The cleaner the pads, the more efficient the cooler. If they are covered with a heavy layer of mineral deposits, replace them.
Some coolers have a bleed-off valve to drain the recirculating water and prevent excessive mineral buildup. If your unit has one of these, be sure it is adjusted to drain no more water than is necessary.
In the fall, winterize the cooler. Get rid of minerals in the bottom of the tray. Vinegar can be used to dissolve the buildup. Clean out the tray. Drain the water and gently scrape it out. Inspect the water trough at the top of the filters for clogged holes and clean them as needed.
Dry the tray and inspect it for signs of cracking.
Coat the tray with submarine sealer or another product that will prevent rust.
Cover the cooler to protect it and to keep cold air from your house. If you are using the cooler in a window, you may be able to pull it back and close the window to keep your house warmer.