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The coolest way to use an air conditioner

A malfunctioning AC may have more to do with how you use it than how good its innards are

Joel Rai 

These days in north India, you almost have to put on oven mitts to grab anything at home. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but with temperatures in the high 40s, 'hot' and 'steamy' are not terms of temptation in the summer. But for that blessed air conditioner, it would well nigh be impossible to get a night's wink. The trouble is, with the Celsius threatening to reach the half-century mark in IPL season, the AC seems averse to take on the extra workload. Apparently, many of the spanking new AC buses running on Delhi's streets are breaking down, their engines unable to take the burden of transporting and cooling hassled commuters. At home you find the same bothersome situation - your AC on the blink when you most need it.

Are ACs in India incapable of working in an ambience upward of 45 degrees Celsius? Not really. All major AC makers say their devices are designed to work at up to 52 degree Celsius. "This fact is mentioned in our manual too," says Suresh Kumar Bandi, divisional deputy managing director, home appliances, Panasonic India. Panasonic, like Samsung, LG and Daikin, is among major sellers of ACs in the country. A Samsung executive says, "Samsung has a tropicalised rotary compressor in its split AC that has been strengthened to provide stable operation even at an extreme temperature of 52 degrees Celsius."

Representatives of AC even say that the smaller brands as well as assembled machines in the market too will work in temperatures beyond 45 degrees. If that is a fact, then why are there so many complaints about malfunctions in the high heat of a north Indian summer?

Experts that we spoke to say that breakdowns or fall in cooling efficiency are more often due to ignorance about use than the mechanical make-up of air conditioners. Knowing how an AC works to cool a room can help understand why they break down. An AC draws in hot air, cools it in its refreigerant-chilled coils and then pumps it back. When you set an AC to, say, 20 degrees, the AC continues to recycle the air in the room until it reaches that level of coldness. The thermostat is set off at that point. The compressor, then, takes a break and begins its task only when the temperature has risen again.

The first possibility of a malfunction, therefore, is when the AC is set to a very low temperature of say, 17 degrees. This means, first that the compressor has to work for a longer time to bring the heat down from 45 degrees to 17. Then, it cannot take a break since in the summer heat, as soon as the air hits 17 degrees, it warms up again almost immediately. The thermostat does not trip and stop the compressor. Ergo, continuous pressure on the compressor. Coupled with erratic power, it could actually give way.

The second probable reason for an AC breaking down could be its positioning and the state it is in. If it directly faces the sun and is heated through the day, it is possible the compressor will collapse or trip. Clogged filters and inappropriate tonnage too could put a higher workload on the compressor.

So how do you prevent your AC from giving up the ghost and leaving you sweaty and angry?

  • Maintain the room temperature at 24-26 degrees. Keeping the temperature at that level helps in two ways, says a technician. Our bodies are not subjected to extreme temperatures when we move from one room to another, and the AC compressor also get to rest between cooling cycles.
  • Ensure the AC is placed where it is not heated by the sun for long periods of time
  • Prevent direct sunlight entering the room during cooling operation by using curtains or blinds.
  • Avoid placing any source of heat, like an oven or stove, near an AC. The cooling capacity reduces.
  • Ensure timely service. Clean the filter regularly.

Got any queries?
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First Published: Fri, May 24 2013. 21:33 IST