Cool Tips for Keeping Your Air Conditioning Happy

September 23, 2010

Condenser Unit

Of course, where keeping your cool matters the most is at home, especially if you want to sleep comfortably at night. Here are a few tips for keeping your air conditioner healthy and happy:

Change your return air filter once a month. Clogged filters restrict air flow which can keep your air conditioner from cooling properly.

Cut back any shrubs or tall grass which have grown around your outside condenser unit. Vegetation can restrict the airflow around the unit and reduce its cooling ability.

Eradicate any ant mounds close to your outside condenser unit. Ants can infiltrate your unit and cause it to shut down.

Avoid piling boxes around the furnace or air handler in your attic. Your equipment needs unrestricted airflow to function at its best.

Make sure your attic is well ventilated and consider having an attic fan installed. The less heat your air conditioner has to fight in your attic, the more effectively and efficiently it can cool your house.

If your outside condenser unit is exposed to full sunlight most of the day, plant a shade tree nearby. Your unit will not have to work as hard. Avoid pine trees and deciduous trees which will clutter up the condenser with pine needles or leaves.

In the winter, pick a warm afternoon once or twice a month and turn the thermostat down so that your air conditioner runs for about fifteen minutes. Running your system periodically helps maintain the viscosity of the lubricants it uses.

Have your air conditioner inspected each spring by a qualified technician to reduce the risk of your system breaking down at the height of the summer. Ask the technician to treat your ac drains with an algaecide to keep algae from clogging your drainlines.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.


AC Trivia

September 15, 2010

Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai – Photo courtesy of Daniel Cheong


The air conditioning system for the Burj Dubai (the tallest building in the world), produces approximately fifty-one million gallons of condensation each year, which is salvaged and pumped into an irrigation system.

In 1881 naval engineers constructed an air conditioner consisting of a fan blowing air across a box of cloths saturated with ice water. It lowered the temperature of a room by 20 degrees. The catch? It consumed half a million pounds of ice in two months time. (Source: Jones Jr., Malcolm. “Air Conditioning”. Newsweek Winter 1997 v130)

During their famous walk on the moon, Neil Armstong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s spacesuits had built in cooling systems utilizing a liquid cooling undergarment. Think one of these suits would come in handy for walking around in the heat of a Texas summer? Think again. On earth the infamous NASA Apollo 11 spacesuit would weigh 180 pounds.

In what film does a hunter come across two-million dollars from a drug deal gone bad and hide it in an ac vent? Answer

Americans use as much energy to power their air conditioners each years as the entire amount of energy consumed by all of Africa.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.


Thanks but no Thanks for the Memory

September 13, 2010

We recently shopped for a new mattress and given how comfortable the memory foam European pillow top mattress was when we stretched out on it in the showroom, the sales clerk had little trouble talking us into a purchase. The first night slept on it, we were hot, and I don’t mean hot in the adult funhouse sense of the word. We tossed, we turned, we sweated, we cast off the comforter and, lying beneath nothing more than a thin, Egyptian cotton sheet, we tossed and turned and sweated some more. Either I had fast forwarded into menopause complete with night sweats and my husband was suffering from sympathetic symptoms or our new mattress was smokin’.

The next morning I did a bit of research and, lo and behold, there was something the sales clerk had not told us. Memory foam operates through heat; your body heats up the foam which, in turn, molds to your body so that there are no uncomfortable pressure points. The catch is these beds ‘sleep hot’. That could be a benefit if you live next door to Sarah Palin and have to shoo Russians out of your yard now and then, but down here in the greater Houston area it’s more of a curse.

Even if your sheets’ thread count is in the quadruple digits, they will never feel crisp and cool if you’re sleeping on memory foam. And if you like to sleep cool, you may soon find yourself cranking the ac down, down, down, while your energy bill goes up up up.

We pawned our brand new bed off on a teenage daughter who loves its vast height and comfiness. She sleeps directly under an ac supply air vent and a ceiling fan and we still have to keep the ac 2 degrees lower than we used to so that she can sleep at night. In the meantime, we dragged our old mattress out of the guestroom, flipped it over – something we had neglected to do the first ten years – found it perfectly cool (yes!) and comfortable and I now look forward to climbing into bed each night .

Thanks, but no thanks, for the memory.


Rasberry Ants Have an Appetite for Electronics

September 8, 2010

Their appetite for electronics exceeds that of the average American teenage boy. They have already launched one attack NASA. Stories about them read more like science fiction than credible journalism. Who, or rather, what are they? Paratrechina species near puben, better known as Crazy Rasberry Ants.

Named after Tom Rasberry, the exterminator who first identified the species (hence the spelling), the rasberry ant invades and devours the electronic components of air conditioning units, security alarms, pool pumps, gas meters, and computers.

Scarcely larger than a flea, the rasberry ant makes up in numbers what it lacks in size. Rasberry ant colonies have multiple queens, with each queen laying up to one million eggs per ant hill per day. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, infestations can reach fifty million ants per acre during their peak season (June through September). When an infested areas is treated with pesticides, the initial wave of rasberry ants die; then the remaining ants use their dead comrades as a bridge to safely cross the pesticide treated ground.

If your home has suffered an attack from these minute creatures and you’ve found a way to fend them off, let us know. You might want to let the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture know while you’re at it! They’re still researching the answer to the question, “How do we get rid of these things?”


Wild Tomatoes Put Domestic Cousins to Shame

August 17, 2009

Late last spring my husband planted a dozen tomato plants in our garden. He fed them, religiously watered them, staked them as they grew, and yanked out every last weed that dared poke its head through the surrounding soil. The tomato plants grew like crazy and tiny blooms appeared right on schedule. The blooms gave way to green tomatoes which soon ripened to red ones. Unfortunately the ripening coincided with our record-breaking streak of triple-digit temperatures. The juice literally boiled inside the tomatoes, their skins developed angry blisters, and fewer than one in ten proved suitable for eating. So, with a vegetable garden bursting with three-foot high tomato plants right, I found myself trekking to the grocery store to purchase tomatoes for salads and tacos and hamburgers.

Last week, after riding my horse around the pasture, I led him out to graze on some of the grass which really does grow greener on the other side of the fence. The tallest grass to be found was around our thicket of banana trees which my husband always skirts when he mows the lawn. While Cisco snatched up greedy mouthfuls of the ankle deep grass, his lips turning vivid green, I spied something red and shiny and round growing beneath one banana tree. A lot of somethings. Cherry tomatoes! Every last one of them was perfect, not a blister in the bunch. The tomato plant must have self-seeded, probably with the help of one of the many birds who attacked our more successful tomato crop last year.

I tore off one of the larger banana leaves and picked and placed the tomatoes on it, then drew the ends of the leaf together, like the corners of a hobo’s scarf to carry my find inside.

As soon as Cisco had his fill of grass, I returned him to the pasture and went indoors for a treat of my own — sweet, sun-ripened tomatoes. Delicious as they were, I felt as if nature was mocking me every time I popped one in my mouth. What we could not do armed potting soil, organic fertilizer (compliments of the horse), and water from our well, nature had done on her own.


Trouble in Pearadise

August 11, 2009

One of the nicest thing about owning a business on the outskirts of town is having enough land to maintain a pasture out back for a horse and donkey and a garden, in front, to one side of our parking lot.

Lately, however, there has been trouble in this semi-rural paradise.
Theodore, the donkey, has been opening the gates from the pasture to the garden where we grow our flowers and fruit trees. Theodore himself doesn’t do much damage. The problem is he lets out Cisco, our Quarter Horse, who attacks the pear tree, snatches off a pear, takes a bite or two, then snatches another and another and another. Soon the ground is littered with half-eaten pears.


Land Ho! The Pros and Cons of Dropping Your Landline

August 10, 2009

If only the Middle East, Africa, and Asia were stamping out landmines as quickly as we Americans are stamping out our landlines, Princess Di would rest easier in her grave and the third world would be a safer place for children, farmers, and their animals .

I’m all for ridding the world of landmines but I would encourage you to think twice about getting rid of your landline. While reviewing our household budget, recently, we considered this move. After all, we no longer need a landline to access the Internet; every member of our family now has his or her own cell phone; and getting rid of our landline would rid us of all those annoying telemarketers who ignore the Do Not Call list and all those computerized calls from candidates the week before election. (When I am otherwise undecided on which candidate to vote for, I vote for the one who has not had a computer dial my home).

Those were our pros for ridding ourselves of the landline. Now for the cons.

1. In an emergency, if you dial 9-1-1 from your landline, a screen will display your address and a map at the dispatcher’s end. The obvious benefit of this is that if you’re choking on a piece of beef jerky and can’t speak, or you pass out, mid-stroke, or a home invader snatches the phone out of your hand, the dispatcher will send someone to your home to check on you. If you call from a cell phone, they may not be able to pinpoint your location.

2. If you have keep one of those old-fashioned home phones (one that is not cordless), you will never have to worry about a battery going dead or about not being able to find a phone in the event of an emergency. I don’t know about you, but I have been known to leave my cell phone and, less often, my cordless home phone, in some strange places – the back pocket of my jeans in the laundry hamper, under the cushion of the couch where I dozed off during Saturday Night Live, out on my deck, beneath the seat of my car, in the refrigerator, and wherever that one cell phone I lost five years ago (and have since replaced) is still hiding.

3. Unlike a cordless phone, when your power goes out, an old-fashioned corded phone connected to your landline will still work. We had purchased an old-fashioned phone for this very reason several years ago, plugged it into a backroom phone jack, and all but forgot about it. After Hurricane Ike, when we were without electricity for a full week and without cell phone service for a couple of days, our landline only went out for two hours. Once it returned, the landline and that old-fashioned phone together served as our one link to the outside world. Out of state relatives were able to check on us and we were able to call out. Later, when our cell phones worked but before power had been restored, we conserved batteries by using the landline as much as possible.

Weighing these pros and cons, we asked ourselves whether the benefits of maintaining a landline was worth the monthly expense. To determine exactly how much money were talking about, I called the phone company and had them strip our account of every single feature, including a long distance plan, down to a barebones line. The landline was still going to cost of over thirty-dollars a month – thirteen dollars a month for the line and eighteen something for surcharges and taxes. With the surcharges and taxes amounting to over a hundred-percent of the cost of the line itself, I was ready to cancel the line on principle alone.

Only when I uttered the secret password “Cancel” did the customer service representative reveal to me a closely guarded secret of the phone company. They actually offer what they called a “restricted” or “measured” phone line. For eight dollars a month plus some five dollars in surcharges and taxes (ah, we were down to a mere sixty-two percent), we could receive unlimited in-coming calls and make up to twenty-five outgoing calls per month. Those twenty-five calls should more than cover any 9-1-1 we ever have to make. It will also cover most, if not all, of the phone calls we will make if another storm ever takes down the local cell tower. If we go over our twenty-five call quota or make any long distance calls, we just pay a small additional stipend per call.

So, in the end, we were able to stamp out the goldmine the phone company had been excavating at our expense all these years without stamping out our landline.

If you are facing the same dilemma, whether to keep or cancel your landline service, give the phone company a call, whisper the secret password “Cancel”, and ask whether they offer a restricted phone service at a steeply reduced rate.

Now if only we landlubbers could stamp out those phone calls from pesky politicians, telemarketers, and charlatans masquerading as charities.


Clutter – Conquer or Be Conquered

August 8, 2009

There’s nothing like buying a new car (new to us, anyway) – until it comes to making room for it in the garage. In fact, that’s what I’m taking a break from, right now, as I write this post.

Despite the fact that Americans, on average, inhabit larger living spaces than any other people, rental storage space is a booming business in our country. How do we accumulate so much stuff? It’s said that work expands to fill time. Maybe the same law holds true for junk expanding to fill space.

One of our customers recently called for air conditioning service as her house was growing hotter by the minute. Even so, she asked us to give her a few hours before she came so that she could clear a path to the air conditioning unit in her attic. “Tell the serviceman to come to the backdoor,” she added. “By the time I carry everything down from the attic and pile it up in the front hall, he won’t be able to get through the front door.”

With a new car sitting in our driveway, it’s now my turn to declutter. Given that we live at the southern tip of Tornado Alley where thunderstorms, high winds, and hail can strike at any time , tossing branches and toppling trees with the fury of a two-year-old denied a purchase from a passing ice cream truck, we think it best to keep the new vehicle in the garage.

Cleaning out my garage is proving to be an archaeological dig into my own personal past. Among other things, I have unearthed the flashcards I used to teach an ESL class back in the 20th. Century, the wooden alphabet blocks which were already old when I played with them as a child, the punchbowl and glasses we drag out and rinse out and use about once a decade, my entire library of LP’s, a light-bulb powered Queasy Bake Oven, an old-fashioned English pram filled with deflated soccer balls, and a dozen paint cans, each containing a thin and now thoroughly parched layer of the paint we were keeping for touch-ups.

The question is will our older car survive the many trips it must make this weekend, its trunk and backseat crammed with 3D jigsaw puzzles and freshly bleached toys destined for the local thrift shop and bag after bag of junk destined for the dumpster outside our business. I’m expecting CPS – Car Protective Services – to show up outside my garage door any day now. “We’ve had reports that you’ve been abusing your Toyota.”

Enough stalling (me, not my faithful Toyota!). It’s time to tear through the cobwebs, peer into those mystery boxes over in the corner of the garage, and load up the old car once more.


Clutter – Conquer or Be Conquered

August 8, 2009

There’s nothing like buying a new car (new to us, anyway) – until it comes to making room for it in the garage. In fact, that’s what I’m taking a break from, right now, as I write this post.

Despite the fact that Americans, on average, inhabit larger living spaces than any other people, rental storage space is a booming business in our country. How do we accumulate so much stuff? It’s said that work expands to fill time. Maybe the same law holds true for junk expanding to fill space.

One of our customers recently called for air conditioning service as her house was growing hotter by the minute. Even so, she asked us to give her a few hours before she came so that she could clear a path to the air conditioning unit in her attic. “Tell the serviceman to come to the backdoor,” she added. “By the time I carry everything down from the attic and pile it up in the front hall, he won’t be able to get through the front door.”

With a new car sitting in our driveway, it’s now my turn to declutter. Given that we live at the southern tip of Tornado Alley where thunderstorms, high winds, and hail can strike at any time , tossing branches and toppling trees with the fury of a two-year-old denied a purchase from a passing ice cream truck, we think it best to keep the new vehicle in the garage.

Cleaning out my garage is proving to be an archaeological dig into my own personal past. Among other things, I have unearthed the flashcards I used to teach an ESL class back in the 20th. Century, the wooden alphabet blocks which were already old when I played with them as a child, the punchbowl and glasses we drag out and rinse out and use about once a decade, my entire library of LP’s, a light-bulb powered Queasy Bake Oven, an old-fashioned English pram filled with deflated soccer balls, and a dozen paint cans, each containing a thin and now thoroughly parched layer of the paint we were keeping for touch-ups.

The question is will our older car survive the many trips it must make this weekend, its trunk and backseat crammed with 3D jigsaw puzzles and freshly bleached toys destined for the local thrift shop and bag after bag of junk destined for the dumpster outside our business. I’m expecting CPS – Car Protective Services – to show up outside my garage door any day now. “We’ve had reports that you’ve been abusing your Toyota.”

Enough stalling (me, not my faithful Toyota!). It’s time to tear through the cobwebs, peer into those mystery boxes over in the corner of the garage, and load up the old car once more.


Three Things I Love About My Pit Bull

August 8, 2009

petie1. The way he crowds his entire ninety-pound body onto my lap when I sit down on the top porch step.
2. The way he barks, whines, twitches his nose, and runs in his sleep.
3. The way he sits at attention and licks his chops when I take a container of Bluebell Homemade Vanilla ice cream out of the freezer