Heating and cooling accounts for about 48 percent of all the energy used by homes, making it the single biggest energy consumer for homeowners. The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) recommends establishing a service agreement with a reputable contractor. This will ensure HVAC equipment receives regular spring and fall maintenance for maximum efficiency and help catch problems early, before they can become bigger and more expensive. A service agreement also gives homeowners priority during the hottest and coldest months, when problems are most likely to emerge. Homeowners that properly maintain heating and cooling equipment will help central air conditioning and heat pump units last at least 12 to 15 years.

Spring is the ideal time to prepare cooling equipment for the hot summer months and ensure it operates at its highest efficiency. AHRI offers homeowners tips to keep their central air conditioning and heat pump units running efficiently.

Get rid of debris

Remove any leaves, grass, weeds, plants, and other debris that may have collected on your outdoor condensing unit (the large metal box in your yard next to your home). Any debris on the unit's fins will block airflow and reduce its efficiency. Common offenders include grass clippings thrown by the lawn mower.

Keep units clean

Clean your outdoor condensing unit occasionally by spraying it with a water hose. Do not use a pressure washer, as damage could occur.

Check the filter

Check your air filter and change it if it is dirty, or according to the manufacturer's recommendation, to keep dust from collecting on the evaporator coil fins. A clean filter can cut energy consumption 5 to 15 percent. Turn off the power to the air handler before pulling out the filter so that the fan does not turn on and blow dust throughout your home. Be sure to position the new filter according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Give vents room to breathe

Check to make sure air vents inside your home are not obstructed by furniture. If air cannot circulate freely through the vents, your air conditioner will work harder.