One of the best things about living in the Bay Area is the weather, and Santa Rosa is certainly no exception. With a Mediterranean-style climate, Santa Rosa enjoys winters that are cool but not cold enough for snow and summers that are warm and clear with no rain to spoil the summertime fun. However, there are times when the summers can get a bit too warm, especially during heat waves like the ones we’ve been having recently. Summer highs are usually in the 80s in Santa Rosa, with a handful of 90+ degree days every month from June until September.
The best way to beat the heat is with an air conditioner, which is why a good AC system is one of the most valuable parts of any Santa Rosa home. A well-maintained air conditioner can keep you and your family cool all summer long without breaking the bank with high electricity bills. However, with great AC comes at least a little responsibility. Without regular maintenance and periodic repairs, your air conditioner could lose efficiency, start running up higher power bills, and even stop functioning altogether. It’s important to stay on top of maintenance and repair for all the appliances in your home, air conditioners included.
The worst thing you can do as an air conditioner owner is just let problems fester. The occasional repair might seem inconvenient, but it’s an important part of keeping your whole HVAC system fully efficient and functional.
Why Are Repairs So Important?
A big part of being an adult is prioritizing and handling all the little things that go wrong and budgeting accordingly. Do you get your oil changed every 10,000 miles, or do you stretch it to 12,500 so you can use the money to fix something else? Should you replace your dishwasher immediately, or just wash dishes by hand so you can afford to get the refrigerator fixed this month? With all these things we have to consider on an almost daily basis, it’s easy for your air conditioner to end up low on your list of priorities. This is a trap that many homeowners fall into, and it’s unfortunately a mistake.
Air conditioners are fairly expensive appliances, which means the cost for repairs can be a little pricier than, say, a washing machine. However, putting those repairs off for a later date isn’t as cost-effective as it might seem. If you wait too long, a $100 repair could turn into a $500 repair, a $500 bill could turn into $1,000, and a $1,000 repair bill could suddenly turn into $5,000 or more to replace your broken down AC with a completely new unit. Small problems will quickly turn into big ones if you’re not careful, and even the most minor issue can end up affecting the rest of the unit in unexpected ways.
As complex machines, air conditioners are filled with a ton of moving parts that interact with one another to cool down the air in your house. The compressor uses a motor to move a working fluid called refrigerant back and forth between two coils, creating a heat transfer that cools the air on one side. A blower fan then forces the air out through an air filter into the ducts, and the cold air enters your home through vents in the ceiling or walls. If any of these parts are clogged or damaged, the whole system is affected.
For example, dust and dirt built up in your ductwork can reduce the airflow through the vents into your house. That means the climate inside your home cools down more slowly, forcing the air conditioner to stay on for longer. Staying on longer means more wear and tear on the motors in the compressor and the blower fan, increasing the risk that one or both will break. This inefficiency will also cause your power bills to spike, as the AC requires more electricity to run longer. Another common example of a small problem that creates a big one is a leak in the refrigerant lines that move the working fluid back and forth between the condenser and evaporator coils. Even a tiny pinhole leak will allow refrigerant to escape, lowing the fluid levels in the system. That in turn lowers the pressure inside the AC, which lowers the temperature, preventing moisture from fully evaporating off the evaporator coil. As moisture builds up on the coil, it eventually turns into ice that can damage the delicate metal fins of the coil.
In both these scenarios, a relatively minor cleaning or repair would have solved the problem before it became serious. A $300 duct cleaning can prevent a $1,500 compressor replacement, and a $150 service appointment can prevent a $1,200 evaporator replacement. These examples illustrate how important it is to repair even the smallest problems before they become significant ones.
Regular Air Conditioning Maintenance
If the example scenarios from the last section have you concerned, then don’t worry. The vast majority of AC repairs, even small ones, can be avoided altogether with a little care and a standard maintenance schedule. A small repair bill might be better than a big repair bill, but it’s still not as good as no repair bills at all. Taking the time and effort to keep your air conditioner in good working order even when there’s nothing wrong with it will reward you with a more efficient system, fewer repairs, and even a longer lifespan for the unit. If you take good care of your AC, it can last for fifteen or twenty years before finally dying. That $5,000 replacement cost seems a lot nicer when it’s twenty years away instead of ten.
One of the most important parts of maintaining your air conditioner is to keep up with regular service appointments from an HVAC company. While there are plenty of things you can do yourself to keep your AC running smoothly, an HVAC technician will be able to take care of some things that you can’t. An air conditioning service appointment will generally start with a full inspection of your AC. That includes both the indoor and outdoor units if you have a split-system AC. The technician will examine all the moving parts of the system, make sure the thermometer is calibrated, measure the voltage of the blower motor to make sure it’s working properly, and check all the electrical connections in the unit. They’ll also thoroughly clean the air conditioner, as well as cycle and top off the refrigerant to make sure the levels aren’t getting low. Ideally, you should schedule two of these appointments per year, one at the beginning of summer and one at the end, but you can also get away with just one in most cases.
Besides the service appointments, there are also plenty of things you can do yourself to keep things running smoothly. One of the most vital is to keep the system clean and free of any dirt or dust through the summer. This should start with regular inspection and cleaning or replacement of the air filter. The air filter is what keeps dust, pet hair, and other contaminants out of the air, but it can quickly become clogged through regular use. Typically, air filters need to be changed once a month or so, although that can vary depending on the filter you use. Filters come in both washable and disposable forms, so follow the instructions that come with whichever filter you purchase. You can also clean the vents about once a week or so with a feather duster or vacuum hose attachment.
The other important thing you can do yourself is just to keep an eye on the system so you can spot any potential problems as soon as they arise. Pay attention to the sound of your air conditioner as it runs. If you notice any strange noises like grinding or scraping, there could be something wrong with the parts inside. You should also take note if the AC seems like it’s running for longer than usual. Unusual odors can also signify something, often that something is stuck inside the unit. Finally, keep an eye out for any moisture gathering on or dripping from the air conditioner. This could signify a refrigerant leak or a clog in the drain line. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, you should turn the AC off to avoid making it worse while you wait for a technician to check it out.
Finding an Air Conditioning Repair Company
Now you know why having a regular HVAC company is important, but do you know how to find a good one? This can be a little tricky, but it’s important to work with a contractor you know you can trust to do good work without ripping you off. Ideally, this relationship should last for years or even decades as long as you continue to get good, trustworthy service. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re looking for an HVAC contractor:
- Reputation – In the HVAC industry, like most trades, having a good reputation is absolutely key. Any reputable contractor should have plenty of satisfied customers all around the area, so asking your friends, family, and neighbors is a great place to start looking. You want a contractor who’s well-established in the area, with years of experience and a large body of work. If there’s one name that comes up over and over again while you’re asking around, that’s a very good sign. You can also augment your search by checking online reviews. We recommend sticking to Google and Facebook reviews if possible since Yelp has been known to fudge the numbers in order to get subscriptions from businesses.
- Licensing – Trade licenses are a fairly divisive political issue currently, and some states don’t require HVAC contractors to be licensed in order to run their business. California does require all contractors and technicians to have a C20 HVAC license indicating that they’ve passed several exams and have worked in the industry for at least four years. However you feel about the topic, a licensed contractor is always a safer bet than an unlicensed one for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that a license means credibility. It’s perfectly plausible for an unlicensed contractor to know as much as a licensed one, but you’re forced to just take their word for it. The second reason has to do with contractor bonds. Because insurance companies require contractors to be licensed before they can be bonded, an unlicensed contractor doesn’t have insurance backing them up if they make a mistake. That could lead to you being stuck with the bill if something goes wrong.
- Service Contracts – Some HVAC contractors offer long-term service contracts to customers with air conditioning systems. With a service contract, you pay a certain amount every year, usually between $100 and $500, and in return, you get free service appointments scheduled by the contractor as well as free labor for any repairs your air conditioner might need during the year. Though you’ll generally have to pay out of pocket for any major replacement parts, the contractor will typically offer discounts for customers with service contracts. A service contract can often save you money in the long run, but not always, so you should make sure to run the numbers before signing anything.
- Experience and Familiarity with Your AC – Not all air conditioners are the same, so it’s important to make sure a contractor has some familiarity with the make and model of your AC before you pick them. This is especially true if you have a relatively obscure type of air conditioner. One way to make that easier is to look out for contractors who are “factory authorized” in the brand of AC you have. Factory authorizations are given out by manufacturers to contractors who have extra knowledge and experience with their products. You’ve probably experienced this before with car mechanics who are often authorized by a handful of specific manufacturers.
HVAC Technician vs Contractor
We’ve used the words “technician” and “contractor” in this blog post, and while they might seem interchangeable, they’re actually not the same thing. The main difference is one of scope. When you place a call to an HVAC company, the person they dispatch to look at your air conditioning will almost always be an HVAC technician. You can think of them as mechanics for your HVAC system. Technicians are trained to inspect, clean, and repair air conditioners, furnaces, heat pumps, and other HVAC-related appliances. They’re also trained in the mechanical side of HVAC installation, so they’ll generally be the ones doing a lot of the physical work when you buy a new air conditioner. Technicians, like contractors, are required to hold C20 HVAC licenses in California, so they have the same requirements for training and base knowledge. You may also have heard the term “journeyman,” which just refers to a fully-licensed HVAC technician. Before attaining a license and becoming journeymen, technicians are referred to as “apprentices.” These are just leftover terms dating all the way back to the tradespeople of the medieval era.
An HVAC contractor typically has a more big-picture view, much like a general contractor does in the construction industry. While some HVAC technicians freelance on their own, full companies like Valley Comfort Heating & Air are run by contractors. When you need work from an HVAC company, you’ll typically work out the details with a contractor who then dispatches a technician to handle the repairs. In larger companies, contractors tend to focus on things like designing and planning HVAC systems for new customers, while technicians focus on repairs and service appointments. However, in much smaller companies, a contractor might also work as a technician until they can hire enough employees to take a more managerial role.
HVAC contracting companies usually offer more services than just maintenance and AC repair. One of the primary services offered by HVAC companies is the planning and installation of new HVAC systems. They’re kind of like vendors, architects, and general contractors all rolled up into a single business. When you want to install a whole new system – air conditioning, heating, ductwork, and everything else – an HVAC contractor can help you through every step of the way. First, a contractor will help you figure out the type of system you want, as well as the model and size of the air conditioner you need. They’ll then inspect your house and design a fully-planned system tailored to your needs, including the heating and cooling units, the ducts, and the ventilation. Finally, the contractor and a team of technicians will construct and install the system in your home. You can also continue to get maintenance and repair work through the same company after the installation is complete, often with a long-term service contract.
Duct cleaning is another important service you can get from your local HVAC company. While cleaning the filters and vents is easy enough for anyone to do, cleaning the ducts themselves is a whole different ballgame. It’s an extended process that usually involves dismantling the ductwork and completely sanitizing every piece before putting it back together. Not only does duct cleaning keep dirt and dust from building up inside your ducts, but it also prevents mold from growing there as well. Even a few mold spores in the ductwork can grow until your family is at risk. As a general rule, we recommend having your ducts fully cleaned every three to five years, depending on the specifics of your home and the climate around it.
Some HVAC contracting companies, including Valley Comfort Heating & Air, hold C36 plumbing licenses as well as the HVAC ones. This allows them to do their own backflow testing. Backflow testing involves checking the prevention systems that keep sewage water from making its way into your regular drinking water. HVAC contractors typically learn how to do it since it’s part of installing hydronic heating systems like certain furnaces, but they’re also more than capable of performing your regular yearly backflow tests. If you have a good relationship with an HVAC contractor, there’s no reason not to bring in someone you trust to handle your backflow prevention, even if it’s not all that connected to HVAC work.
Find an AC Repair Company You Can Trust
When it comes to air conditioners, there’s really no such thing as being too careful. If you think something might be wrong with your AC, or any other part of your HVAC system, you should get in touch with a professional right away to take a look. Catching a problem early and fixing it could be the difference between a small bill now or a huge bill later. As long as you pay attention to your air conditioner, keep up with your regular maintenance appointments, and keep the filters clean, you’ll have cool air to keep you comfortable during the summer for the next decade or two.
If you live in Santa Rosa or the surrounding area and you’re looking for an HVAC contracting company you can trust, Valley Comfort Heating & Air is here for you. We’ve been the premier HVAC company for Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties for years now, and we have more than enough experience to help you out with anything you might need. Whether you need someone to fix your air conditioner, are interested in a service contract for regular maintenance appointments, or just have some questions, we’d love to help. You can get in touch with us here through our website, over the phone at (707) 329-4120, or at our location in Santa Rosa.