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The Best of AHAM’s Air Conditioning Advice

Did you hear that noise? It was summer knocking at the door. After a winter that had most of the U.S. dealing with record-breaking cold spells, I am ready to welcome the summer warmth.
And, it’s not too early to think about pulling out the portable or room air conditioner to help cope with the summer heat when temperatures go from warm to hot.

Maximizing your air conditioner’s cooling potential is not just a matter of flipping a switch. Proper use and care matters for your AC just as it does for all of your appliances. How you use and maintain your air conditioner can affect your energy use and determine whether your AC is ready to go when you need it most.

Even something as simple as where you place your portable air conditioner can make a big difference. We have compiled the best of AHAM’s air conditioning tips to help you get the most out of your air conditioner this summer:

Buying an AC

Once you’ve chosen between a portable air conditioner and a room air conditioner, buying an air conditioner comes down to three major factors: size, capacity and features. Measure the room where the AC will be used. The packaging of many AC units will include a chart of appropriate room sizes, but you can also do the calculation yourself. More power is not necessarily better. You may end up using more energy than you need. That also goes for too small of a unit, as it will have to work harder to cool the space and may not be able to reach the desired temperature for the room. Use this calculator from ENERGY STAR® to find out how much power you need.

AC operating tips

Hot weather can make you cranky and lead you to make bad decisions. One of those is immediately turning your air conditioner to the highest level. This is tempting, but inefficient. Pick a comfortable temperature and set your air conditioner there. Save energy by setting it to a higher temperature if you won’t be in the room for a while. Pull your curtains or shades to block out the sun to make it easier for your portable air conditioner to cool off the room, and make sure your room air conditioner is not in direct sunlight. Consider turning the AC down at night when temperatures outside tend to drop.

If you are using a portable air conditioning unit, keep the exhaust hose as straight as possible. Any kinks can reduce the unit’s efficiency.

AC care tips

Your air conditioner’s use and care manual will include instructions for how often you should clean or replace the unit’s filter. The coils and vents of both window and portable units need to be cleaned periodically. A plastic scrub brush can be used to remove dirt from a room air conditioner. For portable air conditioners, the use and care manual may have specific suggestions, but they may include using a mixture of water and vinegar or other mildly acidic solution to clean a portable air conditioner coil. Finally, break out your vacuum brush attachment to pull out any dirt not picked up during the initial cleaning.

Tips to improve and maximize air cleaner performance

Millions of people around the world rely on room air cleaners (sometimes referred to as air purifiers) to improve indoor air quality and reduce the presence of allergens. They are a valuable tool that can help ease your allergy symptoms and keep homes cleaner.

Like most appliances, how you operate and care for your air cleaner will affect its performance. Take these steps to ensure that your air cleaner continues to operate at a high level:

Change the filter regularly: Your air cleaner’s use and care manual will recommend how often you should change your air cleaner’s filter. Keep in mind that these recommendations are based on the manufacturer’s testing. How often you should change the filter also depends on how much you’re using the air cleaner and the level of pollutants in the air. If you have your windows open frequently, for example, you may need to change the filter more often. Check your filter regularly. If the filter is changing color or if you notice that a drop in the level of air coming out of the air cleaner, it’s probably time for a new filter.

No filter? Some air cleaners don’t require filters, relying instead on an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), which charges particles and attracts them to a plate. Clean those regularly. Check your use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions.

Clean the outside: Some manufacturers recommend using a vacuum to remove dust from the outside of the air cleaner. Vacuum or gently clean the dust from the outside of the air cleaner when you notice a buildup.

Take care of the rest of the room: Air cleaners are only part of the equation if you are seeking cleaner indoor air. Do a thorough cleaning of the area and vacuum regularly to remove particles so they are not kicked back into the air you breathe.

Change your furnace filter: If you change your furnace filter regularly, you might not have to change the filter in your air cleaner as often. However, a furnace filter is not a substitute for an air cleaner because it is designed to trap large particles. In addition, it is common for particles to miss the furnace filter and end up inside the home.

Give your air cleaner room to breathe: It might be more convenient to place an air cleaner against a wall and in a corner, but that sort of placement will restrict airflow and reduce performance. Move it toward the center of the room and operate it in an area free of obstructions. The more air that goes through the air cleaner, the more pollutants it will remove.

Shopping for an air cleaner? Here’s how to make the right choice

If you are shopping for an air cleaner, you will likely come across models that use different types of technologies to clear the air. More important than the method the air cleaner uses is whether the air cleaner is appropriate for the size room in which it will be used. Look for the AHAM Verifide® mark on the air cleaner packaging. The mark means the air cleaner has been independently tested for its ability to remove tobacco smoke, pollen and dust. The suggested room size for the air cleaner will be noted prominently on the label.

Tell us your top concerns with your indoor air quality.  We’d like to hear from you.

AHAM’s Top 5 Posts of 2017

Before we jump into 2018, let’s take a moment to revisit our most-read posts from 2017. We covered a wide range of topics, from chef-approved ways to grill indoors, to keeping your home safe after a hurricane. That variety is evident in our top posts of the year.

We are grateful to our readers – thank you for taking the time to click, read and share our content last year! Without further ado, here are your favorite pieces from 2017.

Is your water filter counterfeit? Keep your family safe – learn to spot the signs of counterfeit water filters.

Safety, security, warranty: Why it’s important to have your appliances repaired by authorized providers In the long run, authorized repairs just make sense for you and your appliances.

Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space Designer advice on how to balance function and style.

The Facts on PACs and RACs: Should you choose a portable or room air conditioner? AHAM helps you decide what type of air conditioner is best for your home.

5 questions to ask before buying a used appliance These key questions will make you an informed buyer.

Space Heater Round-Up: AHAM’s Expert Advice, All in One Place

Winter is coming, and it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to fend off those seasonal chills. To help you prepare, here’s the best of our expert advice on portable electric heaters.

These key questions will help you choose the portable heater that works best for you:

  • Will you be using the heater for temporary personal heat or to keep a room steadily warm?
  • Do you need instant heat, or can the heat be generated gradually?
  • What’s your noise tolerance?

Learn about the types of heaters available –

  • Panel heaters can be wall-mounted or freestanding, and may include fans.
  • Radiant heaters generate warmth by heating oil within the unit, though the oil doesn’t need to be refilled.
  • Fan heaters distribute heat from an element using a fan.
  • Ceramic heaters use a ceramic heating element and may also use a fan to spread heat.
  • Infrared heaters generate heat from a surface within the heater. The heat is emitted in the form of infrared energy.

What features do you need? Today you can easily find heaters with the following:

  • A thermostat to keep the heat at a steady temperature. Some models offer a digital setting.
  • Oscillation to distribute heat
  • Adjustable fan speeds

And finally, no matter what type of heater you end up with, AHAM recommends these safety tips:

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels before using your portable electric heater.
  • DO NOT leave operating heater unattended and always unplug heater when not in use.
  • DO NOT use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Overheating of a power strip or extension cord could result in a fire.
  • String out cords on top of area rugs or carpeting. Placing anything, including furniture, on top of the cord may damage it.
  • Keep combustible materials, such as furniture, pillows, bedding, papers, clothes and curtains at least three feet from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear. DO NOT block heater’s air intake or exhaust source.

Looking for further reading? We have more info on heaters here and here. You can learn more about heater safety – and order free safety brochures! – here.

Vacuum away indoor and outdoor allergens

Autumn leaves

Allergies tend to grab our attention when the seasons change and symptoms rear their ugly heads. In the fall, tree pollen tends to get the blame for our respiratory misery. Other common allergens like dust mites can cause trouble all year long. Regardless of whether your allergy symptoms are seasonal, regular and proper vacuuming should be part of your allergy prevention strategy.

We have one piece of advice allergy sufferers might love: If possible, somebody who doesn’t have allergies should do the vacuuming. But these tips will help cut down on the amount of allergens in your home no matter who is behind the vacuum.

Use an effective filter: HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters remove more than 99 percent of allergens with particles larger than .3 microns. They can be helpful in removing common allergens like dust mites and pollen. Micro-lined, two-ply vacuum cleaner bags will help prevent those dust particles from blowing back into the air.

Vacuum more than just the floor: Vacuum upholstered furniture, mattresses and drapes regularly. All can harbor allergens.

Don’t forget about the hard surfaces: Use a stick vacuum to remove pollen and dust mites that might have settled onto hard, non-carpeted surfaces.

Other appliances can help, too: Pollen comes out in the wash, and washing your clothes in hot water can remove dust mites. Your dehumidifier, air conditioner and room air cleaner can also help you get the upper hand on both outdoor and indoor allergens.

You’re getting warmer: How to choose the right air conditioner

Weather experts are suggesting that much of the U.S. could see higher-than-average temperatures this summer. It’s easy to forget what a heat wave feels like until it happens. However, you’re already behind the cooling curve if you wait until temperatures approach triple digits to shop for an air conditioner. Plan now, before portable and room air conditioners fly off the shelves and you’re left overheated and longing for autumn’s cool relief.

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You’ll find many models and brands on the shelves of appliance retailers. Choosing the right one involves more than just looking at price and power.

You’ll need to know a bit about the area you’re trying to cool. This is important. Buy too strong of a unit for the room size and you’ll use more power than you need. Take home a unit that doesn’t have enough capacity, and you may end up sweating (and, perhaps, swearing) while you use too much energy as your unit runs continuously but never quite cools the room.

Are you in the market for a portable air conditioner or room air conditioner? After you learn some of the differences, it’s time to get to work to figure out how much cooling capacity you’ll need your new air conditioner to deliver:

Check your measurements: Your first step is to figure out how much cooling power you need by determining the square footage of your room. Measure your window as well and take the measurements with you when you shop. Both portable and room air conditioners need to be connected to a window, and it’s important to make sure it will fit before you bring your new AC unit home. Finally, if you’re buying a portable air conditioner, it will take up floor space. Consider whether the physical size of the unit is appropriate for the room.

Choose your capacity: Air conditioner capacity is measured in BTU (British thermal units). Check the unit labeling as you shop. You’ll likely see a chart with BTU and the appropriate room size for cooling. Choose a size appropriate for the room or rooms you’ll be cooling.  If you are placing the unit in a kitchen, sunny room, or room with high ceilings, you may need to size up.  Some manufacturers may also have capacity information available on its website.

Speaking of capacity: If you’ve purchased a portable air conditioner before, you might notice that this year’s capacities seem lower than you remember. The difference is due to a new test procedure developed by the Department of Energy. The procedure takes different factors into account and generates a lower number to indicate capacity. However, the actual capacity has not changed—the difference is simply due to the different test procedure.

Frigid features: Smart technology is being incorporated into portable air conditioners. Some units can be turned on or off via smartphone or tablet, so you can come home to a cooler space on a hot summer day. Others offer a “follow-me” function that measures the temperature both at the location of the unit and of the remote control. If you’re sitting across the room from the unit and holding the remote control, the unit will take the temperature in the remote into account and adjust its output based on both temperatures. Other features you might find are programmable timers and alerts that tell you when the AC filter needs to be changed.

What’s your plan for staying cool this summer?

Buying a portable electric heater? Here’s how to make the best choice

black electric heater on laminate floor in the room

They warm up your chilly office and keep your house guests comfortable all night long. Portable electric heaters give you more control over your own comfort and let you bring heat to where you need it during the cold winter months.

Like any appliance, portable electric heaters come in a variety of models and sizes, with different features. We’ve put together a guide to make it easy for you to buy your next portable heater so you can stay warm while you wait for the snow and frost to give way to spring flowers.

Heaters are classified based on how they generate heat. Your choice will depend on your heating needs:

  • Panel heaters could be wall-mounted or freestanding, and may include fans.
  • Radiant heaters generate warmth by heating oil within the unit, though the oil doesn’t need to be refilled.
  • Fan heaters distribute heat from an element using a fan.
  • Ceramic heaters use a ceramic heating element and may also use a fan to spread heat.
  • Infrared heaters generate heat from a surface within the heater. The heat is emitted in the form of infrared energy.

What you need to consider

There are a vast number of portable electric heaters on the market. Sorting through them all could take until summer. By then, you won’t need a heater anymore. Knowing how you’ll use the heater will help you narrow your choices. Here are three questions to consider:

Will you be using the heater for temporary personal heat or to keep a room steadily warm? The size and type of heater, and the size of the space you’re trying to heat, will be factors.

Do you need instant heat, or can the heat be generated gradually? Keeping your feet warm under your desk at work for a few hours will call for a different solution than making sure guests stay warm overnight in a chilly bedroom.

What’s your noise tolerance? Any heater with a fan will generate some level of sound. An in-store demonstration will help you decide what’s appropriate.

Heater features
Personal electric heaters offer a number of features for operation, safety and heat distribution. They might include:

  • A thermostat to keep the heat at a steady temperature. Some models offer a digital setting.
  • Oscillation to distribute heat
  • Adjustable fan speeds
  • Some types of heaters may employ additional safety features, including automatic shutoff if the heater tips over, cool-touch housing, child locks, or motion sensors that automatically turn the heater off if anything gets too close.

More on portable heater safety

There are a number of steps you should take to heat your home safely, regardless of the style of heater you choose:

  • Purchase a heater that is safety certified. This means it has been tested by a recognized safety-certification organization. Look for a safety certification mark on the packaging or the heater.
  • Don’t leave your heater unattended and always unplug it when it isn’t being used.
  • Don’t use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Fire can result if either overheats or if the wiring in the extension cord cannot handle the wattage of the heater.
  • Placing anything on top of the cord, including furniture, could damage the cord. String cords out on top of area rugs and carpeting. Never use a heater with a damaged cord.
  • Combustible materials, including furniture, pillows, bedding, papers clothes and curtains, should be kept at least three feet away from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear of the heater. Don’t block the heater’s air intake or outlet.
  • Keep flammable materials, such as gas and paint, away from the heater.
  • Don’t use heaters in wet or damp areas unless they’re designed for bathrooms or outdoor use. Heaters not designed for this may be damaged by moisture.
  • Periodically check the plug and outlet for a secure fit. The outlet may need to be replaced if the plug does not fit snugly or if the plug becomes very hot. Consult with a qualified electrician to replace the outlet.
  • Don’t plug any other electrical device into the same outlet or the circuit as the heater. It could result in overheating.
  • Keep children away from heaters and do not place one in a child’s room without supervision.
  • Heaters should be put on a flat, level surface. Only use a heater on table tops when specified by the manufacturer. Do not place the heater on furniture. It could fall, resulting in damaged or dislodged parts.

Have a warm, cozy winter. You’ll be looking for air conditioners before you know it. (And if you want to get an early start on AC shopping, we have you covered.)

In the Hurricane’s Wake: What to do if your appliances are flooded

flood waters overtake a town in Indiana

Few events are as devastating to property and homeowners as flooding. After the waters recede, your appliances may look relatively unharmed. But flooding can cause serious damage to appliances and make them hazardous to operate. Follow these post-flood appliance safety tips from UL’s guide, “After the Storm: Floodwater Safety”, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross.

  • If the storm requires you to evacuate, unplug appliances except for refrigerators or freezers before leaving. Turn off gas and electricity if your home is damaged or if you are instructed to do so.
  • Do not turn on or plug in any appliances after a flood, as doing so could cause an electric shock or fire.
  • Flooding may cause gas appliances to move or break. Leave immediately if you smell gas or suspect a gas leak. Turn off the gas and leave the door open.
  • Clean and sanitize all hard surfaces, including countertops, concrete, plumbing fixtures and any portable appliances. This is critical to remove and to prevent mold. Use hot water and dish detergent to clean, and a capful of bleach in a gallon of water to sanitize. Wash your hands with boiled and cooled or sanitized water after cleaning.
  • Wash any contaminated clothes in a laundromat or machine in a location that hasn’t been flooded if yours hasn’t been inspected, serviced and cleared for use.
  • If you use a wet-dry vacuum during cleanup, follow all manufacturers’ directions to avoid electric shock.

 

Be prepared to replace your appliances. While it’s possible that some may be recovered, don’t use them until they’ve been thoroughly inspected by an electrician or qualified technician who can assess whether they’re safe to use.

Physicians share their allergy prevention advice

Ragweed. Pet dander. Tree pollen. Mountain cedar. Regardless of what’s causing your allergy symptoms, the sniffling, coughing, sneezing and itching are a major downer any time of the year. Before you reach for the antihistamines, look around the house. Odds are you already have many of the tools—your appliances—that can reduce the level of allergens in your home and help you breathe a bit easier.

AHAM spoke with two allergy experts, Corinna Bowser, M.D., of Narberth Allergy & Asthma in Narbeth, Pa., and Sakina Bajowala, M.D., of Kaneland Allergy in North Aurora, Ill., who shared their advice on how your appliances can help you find allergy relief:

Vacuum: Vacuums with HEPA filters can be helpful in removing both ground allergens, like dust mites, and airborne allergens like pollen. A stick vacuum may be a convenient option to help you remove dust mites from the hard surfaces in your home between regular cleaning sessions.  Finally, consider having someone who doesn’t suffer from allergies do the vacuuming.

Room air cleaner: Air cleaners also utilize HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air. Do you have pets? Keep an air cleaner running in the room or area where the pets spend their most time and in the room where the allergic person sleeps. “Running a HEPA filter can help to reduce the levels of allergens in the air by up to 50 percent,” Bajowala said. “The air filters can help trap a lot of the allergens and make the air more suitable for asthmatic or allergic patients to breathe.”

Air conditioner: Air conditioners will help filter outdoor allergens and keep them outside. Combine them with a room air cleaner for an extra layer of protection. “Many patients with asthma and allergies do a lot better in air conditioned environments,” Bajowala said. “Both room and portable air conditioners can be helpful.”

Dehumidifier: The dreaded dust mite thrives in a human environment. “The more people, animals and humidity, the more dust mites,” Bowser said. Dust mites live year round, which means you have to take year-round precautions. Dehumidifiers can help reduce the humidity in your home and give the mites a less-favorable environment. “The recommended humidity is under 50 percent,” Bowser said. Bajowala recommends purchasing a humidity monitor to check your levels. Keep in mind that any appliance that uses water has the potential to grow mold, so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning.

Washing machine: Dust mites tend to thrive in mattresses. You can help kill the mites by washing your linens in hot water. Washing machines will also help remove outdoor allergens like pollen from your clothes. “The pollen that covers cars is the same stuff that settles in our hair and clothes,” Bowser said. “It can become airborne again.”

Dishwashers: This isn’t related to seasonal allergies, but Bajowala recommends that anyone who lives in a home where someone suffers from food allergies wash their dishes on a sanitize cycle. “It does a better job of cleaning the surface and not transferring [allergens] from dish to dish. Hand washing can leave food protein behind.”

Finally, it’s important to visit a doctor to see if you can find out what’s causing your symptoms. “It helps to get tested and see what you’re allergic to,” Bowser said. “You can then focus more on what’s causing it and get the right advice.”

Smash through the heat dome with this air conditioning advice

Days of the oppressive heat dome have left people across the country feeling more than a little hot under the collar. Your air conditioner may be your best ally during a string of hot summer days, turning a stuffy space into an oasis from the heat. These tips apply to both portable and room air conditioners.

Don’t go too low: Your air conditioner doesn’t need to be set at a high level if nobody is going to be in the room for a while. Set it at 75-80 degrees if you’re going out. You’ll keep the room cooler and cut power consumption.

Keep it steady: While oppressive heat will make you want to crank up the AC, it’s inefficient to try to cool the room all at once by setting your AC to the maximum level. Start earlier in the day when the temperature outside is lower and allow the room to cool slowly.

Block out the sun: Give your AC unit some help by drawing the shades or blinds to keep the sun—and the heat—out of the room.

Clean equals cooler: Check your air filter twice a month and clean it when necessary. Excess dirt and debris can reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner. Filters can be cleaned with lukewarm water and mild dish detergent. Accessible parts can be carefully cleaned with a vacuum and brush attachment.

Stick with cooler activities: Make it easier for your AC unit to do its job, and avoid activities that heat up the house, like cooking or laundry, during the hottest hours.

Let nature do some of the work: Has the temperature outside dropped? Take advantage of the break in the heat, turn off your air conditioner and open the windows. Use the unit fan and portable fans to bring the cooler outside air inside.

If your air conditioner still doesn’t seem to be keeping the room cool, it’s possible that your AC unit may be too small for the size of the room. Grab a tape measure, paper and a calculator and use AHAM’s online room air conditioner worksheet to find out how powerful a unit you’ll need.

If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner, learn the differences between room and portable air conditioners.

Still sick of the heat? Autumn is less than eight weeks away. You’ll be dusting off your heater soon enough!