There’s a saying in Colorado: “Come for the winters, stay for the summers.” The idea behind this is that, although our state is justifiably famous for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, it’s the somewhat-less-famous 300 days of annual sunshine and 70-degree Fahrenheit average temperature for most of the year that really endear visitors and locals to the Centennial State.
But, although they are beautiful, those sunny Colorado summers can be hot, particularly down along the Front Range where days in the 90s and above are not uncommon in the dog days of July and August. In fact, the summer of 2012 saw a full 73 days with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, an all-time high, and both 2008 and 2012 had stretches of 24 consecutive days over 90. The year 2011 had a stretch of 18 days over 90.
So it can be hot on the Front Range.
Traditionally, this has been a problem due to the fact that many historic homes in the region were not designed with warm weather in mind and often do not have cooling systems. This is changing, however, as hotter summers and out of state transplants are leading more and more homebuilders to consider air conditioning and cooling other systems in their new builds and remodel projects.
But how should homeowners prepare their homes for the Colorado summer? It depends on what type of cooling system they have installed in their home.
Central air conditioners typically consist of a few different components, all of which need to be inspected every spring to ensure smooth operation throughout the hot months.
Outside the home there is a condenser and compressor, usually part of a standalone heat pump unit that, and we’re simplifying thing significantly here, pulls the warm air from the system and forces cooled air back into the home where it is distributed by the air handler and ductwork.
The annual inspection of a central air conditioning system should start outdoors, clearing away leaves and debris from around the condenser unit and removing anything that has become lodged in the grate around the fan. If anything has fallen inside the unit over the course of the winter—leaves, dust, dirt, etc—you’ll want to vacuum all of that out before firing up the air conditioner for the season, taking the time to wipe off the fan blades with a wet rag at the same time. It is also important to check the outdoor coolant lines for leaks at this point too, as a leak is not only harmful to the environment but will leave you with warm air blowing through your vents in a matter of hours.
Inside, make sure the air handler / furnace filter is clean and able to function unencumbered. As a general rule, these filters should be replaced every month or two, depending on your A/C usage and how much dust and debris is getting pulled into your cooling system. Homes with dogs and cats tend to go through filters faster than those without, for instance.
In addition to central air conditioning systems, many homes in Colorado’s dry climate make use of what are known as swamp coolers in the summers. As whole-home systems, evaporative swamp coolers work by cooling air through the evaporation of water, pulling that cooled air through the home just as a typical air conditioner would. They use far less energy than refrigerated systems and are common in dry climates across the Western United States.
They are simpler in design than standard air conditioners, but swamp coolers are not entirely maintenance-free.
First, as with an A/C compressor unit, it is important to make sure then entire system is clean before summer starts. Clear off any debris that has gathered in and around the evaporative cooler unit itself and wipe down the various parts of it with mild soapy water if grime has built up. Sometimes you’ll need to vacuum out the inside as well to get at any debris that has found its way inside over the winter. This includes the water tank too, which feed the evaporation system. A dirty water supply will eventually gum up the entire system and, at the very least, lead to unpleasant odors being pumped through your home.
Like a central air conditional, an evaporative cooler also makes use of filter pads, although they are usually installed in the outside unit rather than indoors. Although they can sometimes be cleaned and reused, these pads should generally be changed out once a year to ensure optimal performance throughout the system.