All modern air conditioning systems, even small window package units, are equipped with internal air filters. These are generally of a lightweight gauze-like material, and must be replaced or washed as conditions warrant. For example, a building in a high dust environment, or a home with furry pets, will need to have the filters changed more often than buildings without these dirt loads. Failure to replace these filters as needed will contribute to a lower heat exchange rate, resulting in wasted energy, shortened equipment life, and higher energy bills; low air flow can result in iced-over evaporator coils, which can completely stop air flow. Additionally, very dirty or plugged filters can cause overheating during a heating cycle, and can result in damage to the system or even fire.
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
It's always changing: Some newer thermostats take advantage of wireless technology. You can adjust your thermostat remotely so that if you leave and forget to adjust it, or if you are going to be home later than you thought, you can adjust it via your smartphone. Some can even give you reports on how efficient your system is performing based on usage. These are very efficient models, but they are also very expensive with some costing over $250.00.
Asbestos removal tip. Don’t trust any HVAC installation company that says that they will remove asbestos for you. They will do either one of two things: remove it and do a horrible job because they don’t know how (an illegal act in California, finable by up to $250,000), or they will say they did and never actually do it, which is dangerous to your health. Any HVAC contractor worth their weight will know not to touch it. Call an asbestos abatement company – it should cost around $500-$1,000, and your HVAC installation company will come in right after them and do the installation to decrease cost and inconvenience.
Since the 1980s, manufacturers of HVAC equipment have been making an effort to make the systems they manufacture more efficient. This was originally driven by rising energy costs, and has more recently been driven by increased awareness of environmental issues. Additionally, improvements to the HVAC system efficiency can also help increase occupant health and productivity. In the US, the EPA has imposed tighter restrictions over the years. There are several methods for making HVAC systems more efficient.
They are also often harder to install. A proper location on the roof must be selected that can support the weight of the unit. Then a platform must be built and a drain pipe for the unit must be run along the roof to avoid problems with mold and corrosion. A crane must be used to lift the unit onto the roof while a team guides it into place and hooks it up.
I'm very glad that I found another guy to come replace the circuit board and put it away from the water, fix the water leak, and also find and fix another impending failure. All of that was for much less than HVAC Service wanted to charge for repair or replacement. The other guy did a great repair, so I'm confident it will not break down again, but if it does, I will not call HVAC Service. Don't get suckered by their Yelp Deal.
At the state level the rebates are still substantial. For example, switching to a zoned system can get you a $100 rebate from various A/C companies, and state rebates are also included. In Pennsylvania a high-efficiency air conditioner alone can get you up to $300, and a high-efficiency complete HVAC system can see up to $1000. Maryland's incentives get up to $1,250, with a $100 rebate on a tune up of an existing system.
Fuses -- Anyone who has worked with electrical systems knows all about fuses and how they fail. They can burn out over time, may just be loose, or can blow out during an electrical storm or due to overload from another failed component. Of course, that's what they're supposed to do; they stop surges from going through and damaging the rest of the system. When a fuse fails, whatever system it was protecting will stop working.
In addition to the information below, see these two articles for the general care and maintenance of your air conditioner: Preparing Your Air Conditioner for Summer and How to Replace Furnace & AC Filters. Most noteworthy, you should replace the filters at least twice a year, before the heating and cooling seasons. For information on furnace problems, please see Furnace Not Working.