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Are there things I can do to help lower my power bill?​

Yes. Here are a few:
  • Change your filters monthly! This helps to maintain the proper airflow and keep the indoor clean too. When airflow is hindered, the proper amount of air can't pass through the indoor coil, where heat transfer takes place. When the air passes through the coil, heat is picked up by the refrigerant from the air in the house and carried outside. If that can't take place as it should, the unit has to run longer, causing more power consumption, and you are not kept comfortable.
  • Keep vegetation trimmed back from the outdoor unit. If you have anything growing near the outdoor unit, make sure to keep at least 2 feet of clearance from the unit. Again, this is where heat transfer is being conducted. The heat picked up inside is now being transferred to the air outside; if that is hindered, the unit again runs longer but also the unit is put under stress because the pressures of the unit are elevated. Think of the compressor like your heart – the more stress you put on it, like high blood pressure, the more likely there will be a failure before its normal life expectancy.
  • Don't blow grass clippings toward the outdoor unit when cutting grass. While it can't be prevented completely, a buildup of grass or other debris will cause poor heat transfer. 
  • Use a programmable thermostat to set the temperature back a few degrees when the home is unoccupied. WARNING: only set it 2-4 degrees higher than you want it when you are home. Any more of a difference and the unit will not be able to recover during the extreme heat we sometimes experience.
  • Have the unit serviced before each season. This will ensure the unit is kept clean and running properly to aid the unit to run efficiently.

Do I really need to have my system serviced each year?

Would you drive your car 300,000 miles a year and not have it serviced? That is the equivalent distance a car would go running 50 miles an hour, when compared to the amount of time the heating and A/C units run during a year.
Having a system serviced twice a year, once for cooling season and once for heating season, will ensure efficiency of the unit is kept, any issues are fixed before they become catastrophic, and any safety issues are found and fixed before something bad happens – not to mention it will prolong the life of the unit, much like servicing a vehicle will.

My unit will not keep cooling when it gets above 95; is that normal?

Unfortunately, it is normal. The state-mandated design temperatures for the Raleigh/Durham area are 93 outside and 75 inside. This average high is based on a 30-year average of the average high temperatures during the summer for 99% of the time. So when we get above the 93-degree mark, which usually is only about 1% of days in the summer, the systems are not designed to keep the house at 75. It then becomes a "sliding chart," so to speak, and most will maintain 15-20 degrees cooler inside than outside. This could mean at 100 outside it may reach 80-85 degrees inside.
Some factors that will help this spread to widen, and help the house stay cooler are:
  • Keep curtains and shades/shutters closed during the day, especially east- and west-facing windows.
  • Try to keep traffic in and out to a minimum.
  • Set the thermostat to a setting that is comfortable and don’t vary it during the hottest days. It will maintain a temperature better than recover from being set back to a higher temperature during the extreme heat.
  • Make sure the unit has been serviced and coils and filters are clean and there is enough refrigerant.