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The Definitive List of Air Conditioning Myths

Air conditioners are a staple in modern homes, but many homeowners misunderstand several common concepts regarding air conditioning equipment.

The Definitive List of Air Conditioning Myths

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Joshua Rodriguez


August 7th, 2020

Misinformation is everywhere. It’s in our news, it’s in our workplace, it’s in our day-to-day lives. It can also concern our home and the systems that help to maintain it.

We can’t tackle all of those things. But we do know HVAC, and we pride ourselves on providing thorough information on a variety of topics to our customers.

We’re also tired of seeing “myth” articles that arbitrarily cut themselves off at some low number. HVAC equipment and processes are complicated, and it’s not something people have to think about too often. So when they do, they often have a lot of misconceptions about how the equipment works, and how to get the most out of it.

So this isn’t a top 5 or a top 10. It’s every common air conditioning myth we have encountered. Collectively, our experts have hundreds of years of experience in the HVAC industry. By leveraging that experience, we hope to dispel as many myths as possible, and answer them as thoroughly as possible.

Heck, if you know of a common A/C myth that we missed, reach out to us! If it’s verifiable by our experts, we’ll include it here. As technology changes, so too will the bad or outdated advice surrounding air conditioners, and we want to stay on top of those changes.

Ok, it’s time to bust some myths. Let’s jump in.

A flower next to an air conditioner.

A/C Equipment Myths

Myth: When it comes to air conditioners, bigger is better.

Fact: HVAC contractors should perform a Manual J Load Calculation when they first visit your home to determine the correct size for your home. More size (referred to as tonnage) will not equate to better cooling or reduced energy bills, and may in fact be worse in both of those areas due to starting and stopping more frequently.

Myth: Air conditioners only cool the air.

Fact: Air conditioning is an effective humidity removal system, which in turn affects your overall comfort. The evaporator coil in an A/C unit absorbs moisture and transmits it to the outdoor air conditioning unit. From there, it’s expelled into the air. As a result, running your air conditioner can reduce and control humidity levels in addition to keeping you cool.

Myth: Air conditioning and heating operate as separate systems.

Fact: The two systems share a number of features. Primarily, the blower fan in your furnace is what moves air throughout your home for both heating and cooling. As a result, the settings on the fan need to match the available settings on your air conditioner, or the A/C won’t function efficiently. This is referred to as “equipment matching,” and is a big reason why it’s often recommended that you replace your air conditioner and furnace at the same time.

Myth: SEER Rating is all I need to worry about for efficiency.

Fact: SEER Rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is a good gauge of potential efficiency, but it’s far from the only factor. A bad installation compared to a good installation is a far bigger differentiator of efficiency and expected lifespan than the SEER Rating. Additionally, many other factors contribute to efficiency, including the status of your equipment, how clean (or dirty) ductwork is, and if your filter is clogged enough to inhibit airflow in the system.

Myth: My refrigerant has been banned, so I need to replace my air conditioner right away.

Fact: The R22 refrigerant that is common in many systems has indeed been banned by the federal government, but only for new production and installation. If your existing system uses R22, you’re under no obligation to replace it immediately.

That said, since there is no new production of the refrigerant in the country, “topping up” your system with R22 will get increasingly expensive in the coming months and years.

RELATED: The R22 Ban: How It Affects You

Myth: Price is the most important factor when purchasing an air conditioner.

Fact: This is wrong on a couple of accounts. Whether or not you are looking for the cheapest option or the highest-end option, price is only one factor to consider. The quality of the installation is the most important factor in whether or not you’ll have an efficient, quality system. This, in turn, makes choosing the right installer more important than the sticker price.

Getting the proper size, making sure corners aren’t cut during the install, and the support you’ll receive from your HVAC partner are all factors that will determine the long-term cost and long-term value of your system.

RELATED: 7 Things to Look For When Choosing an HVAC Contractor

A technician working on an air conditioner.

A/C Maintenance Myths

Myth: I don’t own pets and keep my house clean. I can go a year without changing my air filter.

Fact: Air filters can indeed clog faster in homes with pets, smokers, or other environmental considerations, but there are particles in your HVAC air supply that won’t be caught by regular house cleaning. Typically, one-inch filters need to be changed every 30-90 days. For four-inch filters (which is what we typically install here at Fire & Ice), the average is six months. That rate can fluctuate slightly from home to home, but that range isn’t going to widen much regardless of your circumstances.

Myth: Maintenance is only important when I’m having problems with my air conditioner.

Fact: This is one of the more dangerous myths we encounter, because it’s easy to believe when everything seems to be going well. But air conditioning should receive yearly maintenance regardless of its operational status. The reason for this is that maintenance is (and should be) proactive, not reactive. To wait for problems is to react instead of prevent, and it will cost you comfort and money.

Additionally, if you’re within your warranty (usually 10 years), there isn’t a major brand out there that will honor that warranty if it isn’t being serviced yearly. Make sure you’re reading the warranty carefully; this language is sure to be in there.

Lastly, you’re losing efficiency and, long-term, taking years off of the life of your system by ignoring regular maintenance. It’s the difference between a system that will last you 8-12 years at best, and one that can easily last 15-20 years.

Myth: I’m wasting money if I replace my A/C unit before it dies.

Fact: If your air conditioner is on its last legs, chances are you’re hemorrhaging money (and comfort!) because it’s not operating anywhere near maximum efficiency.

Second, the time air conditioners are most likely to break down is the first time you use them in a year, which is almost always the first unbearably hot days of the spring or early summer. There’s a rush for installations and service during these days, and it can result in delays of days or even weeks while you’re waiting for service. It’s not worth the risk.

If it’s close to dying, you’re going to have to replace it eventually anyway. Why not start saving on utility costs now instead of later? HVAC equipment only gets more expensive year to year, so you’re costing yourself more with each passing year. Having a conversation with a trusted HVAC partner can help you figure out when it makes the most sense to replace your existing equipment.

RELATED: Cost of an Air Conditioner Replacement

A woman on the couch with a fan.

A/C Comfort Myths

Myth: Setting the thermostat lower will cool the house more quickly.

Fact: If your home’s temperature is 80 degrees and you set it to either 72 or 70, it will cool to 72 degrees just as quickly in either case. Setting it to 70 just means it will stay on longer to reach 70 degrees once it’s at 72.

This myth may come from the fact that variable-speed air conditioners can operate at hundreds of different speeds, so they won’t always be at 100% output. This doesn’t allow for the home to cool down more quickly, but is better at maintaining a consistent temperature level once it reaches the desired temperature.

Myth: Turning Off the Air Conditioner When You Leave the House Will Save Money

Fact: This is false, but the reasoning can get a little tricky, since the potential costs will depend on things like the type of equipment you have and how long you're away from the home. There are sophisticated variable-speed air conditioners that often make sense to leave on indefinitely during the summer months. Conversely, if you work long hours on some days, at least reducing the air conditioner’s output during those hours can sometimes save money.

A recommended strategy is to use your programmable thermostat to make the temperature five degrees warmer when you’re not at home. Rather than trying to go from “really hot” to “comfortable” within minutes of your arriving home, you’re able to save some money while also avoiding the risks associated with turning off the unit entirely.

Another reason to avoid turning off the unit entirely is humidity. Humidity can cause all kinds of problems in the home, and your air conditioner is adept at managing humidity levels. By leaving it on, you’re often avoiding long-term problems due to high humidity in the summer months.

Myth: The thermostat can go anywhere and will work the same.

Fact: Exposure to things like airflow and sunlight can drastically affect a thermostat’s readings. Furthermore, you want to place it in an area that will be representative of the temperature throughout your home. If you’ve ever had a cold basement at the same time as a hot upstairs, you know the importance of even cooling throughout a home.

Installing a thermostat on an interior wall, not exposed to the sun, is recommended. Additionally, many systems allow for sensors to be placed throughout the home, which increases the accuracy of the readings taken by the thermostat and allows the system to cool your home better.

Myth: Closing vents can save money on cooling costs.

Fact: Since the cool air from an air conditioner is mixed with the warm air in your home, all this does is create hot and cold spots while the air mixes to arrive at the desired temperature.

For clarity, this is different from “zoned” houses, which do have separate areas, and can save money by providing air to only certain sections. However, this is something that is set up deliberately. Often, zoning only applies to commercial properties. While it can be set up in residential homes as well, closing vents is not a good way to try to recreate its benefits.

Myth: Air conditioning can make you sick.

Fact: There’s some nuance here, because the air conditioning itself won’t make you sick, but if your home has irritants, pollutants, or diseases, not managing your HVAC system properly can allow them to stay in your home.

Proper filtration is the first step. Investing in a high-quality air filter and changing it appropriately will go a long way toward this goal. Proper humidity control can also help to avoid molds that can develop in humid months. Lastly, air quality products can proactively eliminate contaminants and many diseases.

Not running your air conditioning because of this fear can lead to other problems, not to mention a drop in comfort. Rather than worrying about this, it’s far better to make sure your HVAC system is working for you in the fight against sickness.

Myth: Ceiling fans can reduce my air conditioning energy costs.

Fact: There’s a nugget of truth here, but as written just above, it’s false. Ceiling fans move air but do nothing to cool it. So your air conditioner will be working just as hard to get to the desired temperature with or without the use of fans.

Where fans can work is in helping us feel comfortable at slightly higher temperatures. If you’re in a room with a fan, perhaps you’ll feel comfortable at 74 instead of 72, so you’re able to dial back your thermostat. In this way, you can definitely get some savings out of them. They can also circulate heat in the winter, since heat will rise to the top of your home.

However, they’re just an energy sink if you’re not in the room or not at home. Intelligent fan use can contribute to energy savings, but in and of themselves, they’re not cooling the air.

You Have Questions, We Have Answers

Is this list comprehensive? No, of course not. We couldn’t include every question we receive, but we did try to boil them down to the ones we hear most frequently, as well as the ones that have the biggest implications for your HVAC equipment.

Misinformation is the enemy of good decisions, though, so it remains one of our ongoing goals to provide educational materials and resources for every residential HVAC topic. We may never succeed in covering every topic, but that won’t stop us from trying!

In the meantime, when it’s time for you to make your next HVAC investment, you’re going to have questions, and no HVAC contractor is going to be able to predict them all. That’s why it’s important to sit down with a trusted HVAC partner to resolve all questions and concerns, to make the best decision for you, your home, and your family.

If you’re in Columbus, OH, or Central Ohio, we’d love to be a part of that conversation. We’d love to make your day even better!

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