Imperial Valley is no stranger to gusting winds and while it wreaks havoc with respiratory problems it is just as brutal to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Among the more trusted repair professionals is Vic's Air Conditioning & Electrical Co. in Holtville. Since 1951, residents from here to San Diego, Buena Park or Thousand Palms, have relied on the firm, whose expertise includes heating-ventilation-air conditioning, refrigeration, electrical and sheet metal/fabrication.
It is a family business launched by grandfather Vic, now run by his son Bobby Turner, his wife, Cheryl, and their son, Robert.
The younger Turner returned to the family business after years as a project manager for a Los Angeles high-end home builder and sat down in Vic's conference room on Oct 31 to explain the importance of keeping air conditioners in prime condition.
"Our air quality in Imperial Valley is not that great," admitted Robert. "And I couldn't imagine living without air conditioning (here). You could, but it would be inhospitable."
Yet one of the biggest home expenditures is electricity, and one of the primary consumers of electricity is a home's air conditioner.
"It makes sense to take care of one of your largest expenses to conserve your pocketbook," he said. "The single-family home here can spend $200 to $300 a month on electricity. And I live out in the country. I have an electric water pump (for access to canal water) and I recently peaked out at $430 a month."
Prepare for the Season
Many residential customers wait until they turn on the AC when the mercury rises to notice problems. Without regular service, an air conditioner will still work but with more difficulty. An air conditioning tune up usually costs about $80.
"In a perfect world, everything should be checked by mid-May," and Thanksgiving for heating, said Turner. "The filter needs replacing each month during heavy usage. And typically before the cooling season, check the outdoor coil, electrical and control components. When it works as efficiently as possible it'll never break down in peak season."
Most air conditioners are sold with 10-year warranties and many are choosing extended labor policies for about $5 a month, he added.
Air conditioners are one of the most expensive appliances and that is owing to their increasing complexity as California energy requirements are escalating to reduce the state's carbon footprint.
Vic's also does a lot of ventilation duct work for commercial businesses and government offices. Nearly a quarter of the business is industrial refrigeration, mainly for supermarkets.
"They're very adamant about preventative maintenance," said Turner. "They're trying to mitigate expense. Obviously, for supermarkets, they can lose a lot of product if refrigeration fails."
When to Replace AC
But like the Energizer bunny, some residential ACs can go for 20 years such as one Vic's replaced a month ago. Although a homeowner may be reluctant to purchase a unit, replacing it can substantially reduce the cost of operation.
"Nobody enjoys having an air conditioner not working in the summertime," said Turner. "Replacing a unit brings peace of mind that it will work when you want it to."
But savvy planning beyond AC maintenance can pay off for the energy consumer handsomely as well. It all comes down to sun penetration, Turner explained. It is often recommended to create some sort of shading to reduce the heat load of the home and planting trees is advantageous. Triple-pane windows supplemented with blinds also reduce energy costs.
For the weekend tech geek Turner advises adhering to utility company motto: avoid blasting multiple appliances as soon as arriving home from work.
"Obviously, people don't want to be told they can't use their conveniences," said Turner. "But the utilities suggest waiting until after 7 p.m. to load up the dishwasher, washing machine or dryer. It can save a lot of money."