Heatwave in NJ: Why shading your air conditioner won’t necessarily help
Every summer in New Jersey we're bound to have a heatwave. It's to be expected since New Jersey does deal with oppressive heat from time to time.
We're very fortunate in the Garden State to experience the ups and downs of every season. Of course, when it's a really cold snap in winter we'd trade it any day for the heat of summer. And when it's oppressively hot, we tend to wish the opposite. But again, we're very fortunate to experience it all.
With summer in full force, some might wonder what they can do to help keep their air conditioner from overheating. Or better yet, what they can do to help it run cooler when it's like a furnace outside.
One common theory to help your unit is to shade it with an umbrella. Of course, it can be pretty much anything that can cast shade. The theory is that the umbrella would block the intense sunlight from overheating the unit, and thus, allow it to work more efficiently.
But does that actually work? Does casting shade on your air conditioner really help it work more efficiently? Well, not quite.
One thing to understand about air conditioning units is that they were made to be outside in the heat. After all, why would they be needed if it wasn't hot outside in the first place?
Also, consider this. If the sun wasn't safe for them, then why are the units outside? And for commercial buildings, on the roof? Seems kind of odd to have the units bake when their sole purpose is to cool down the air.
Well, here's the answer to this. Those units are designed to withstand the heat, and thus, will function just fine when the sun is beating down on them. This basically means that your umbrella won't do a whole lot to help keep the house cool.
But what about when it's really hot outside and the air conditioning isn't keeping it as cool as it should? A really good question, and there's a reason for that.
Essentially, that happens so the unit doesn't overwork itself. The more extreme the temperature difference is from inside to outside, the higher the possibility the unit stops functioning properly. In fact, most newer units are purposely designed to function like this.
It actually protects your investment. And, the inside temperature will still be noticeably cooler and drier. Being in a comfortable 78-degree house is much better than a 95-degree day outside with high humidity.
Now just because putting an umbrella over your air conditioner won't help it work more efficiently doesn't mean there aren't steps you can take to help it along on extremely hot days.
One way you can help it out is by keeping the blinds closed. This will help block the hot rays from the sun from getting in, and thus, help keep the cool air circulating inside at a comfortable level. This, in turn, will take some strain off your air conditioning unit.
Another thing that can be done is something that's often overlooked. Take a look at the air vents on the air conditioning unit and see if they're clogged up. Perhaps dust blew into your unit and got into some of those vents? That could choke up some of the airflows and force your unit to work harder than it needs to.
The same thing happens with forced-air heat. Over time, the air filter clogs up with particles circulating inside. This in turn will cause the system to work harder to keep the heat at the set temperature. The remedy to this is to check and change out the filter when needed. The same thing applies to air conditioning.
Here's the difference. The air conditioning unit doesn't have a filter the same way a forced-air heat system does. But, you can still help keep it clean with a hose. Simply spray water downward from the outside along the sides of the unit where the air vents are to help clear any dust that might be obstructing the airflow. This in turn will help air flow more efficiently and allow your unit to operate more efficiently.
Speaking of airflow, also make sure nothing is right up against the unit. If it's a central air unit, make sure tall weeds aren't growing where the air vents are and that nothing's leaning against it. Simple steps like this will go a long way.
So as for the rumor that seems to go around every year about putting an umbrella over your unit? Don't bet on it. Yes, it'll help keep the metal cooler on the unit itself, but that won't really do much to actually make a difference.