Hose down your outside air conditioning unit during extremely hot days.

Install your HVAC unit in a shaded area or plant shrubs 2-3 feet around the unit after installation.

Keep the drapes inside the house closed during the hottest times of the day between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Turn the thermostat down at bed time for extra cooling time overnight.

Change or clean filters regularly.

Grill outside, order takeout, or dine at a restaurant to avoid using the oven or stove.

Much of the population in 17 states across the U.S. are being encouraged to slow down and avoid over exertion during the current wave of extreme hot weather that has hit this week.

Demanding more out of air conditioners is one way to beat the heat indoors, but this can also take its toll on the HVAC unit, leaving you with a worn down or broken system before the end of the season.

Keeping cool and keeping your HVAC running smoothly is possible by keeping in mind a few simple tips.

“When it gets really hot and the unit can’t keep up, take a garden hose and cool the unit down several times a day. That is the best tip to make it work better and work beyond its capacity,” Clayton Cornell, president of Reliable Heating and Air Conditioning in Chattanooga, said.

Cornell says the evaporating water will help it cool and suggests turning on a sprinkler near your outdoor unit to be sure the entire unit is drenched.

“That will give you a couple extra degrees of cool,” he said.

There are also plenty of simple, common sense things that can be done inside the house or apartment that will make it easier for the air conditioner to work more efficiently.

While some people are in the habit of turning their thermostats up, and others suggest using less AC and turning it completely off when leaving home, local experts say leaving it between 76 and 78 degrees is a good average so you do not overwork the unit when you come back home.

“We recommend keeping the thermostat at 78 degrees for the best energy savings,” Greg Epperson, an engineering technician with the Electric Power Board (EPB), said.

Epperson, who also conducts free residential energy audits for EPB customers, said it is best to set your inside temperature and leave it alone, regardless of the time of day or if you leave the house during the day.

“If you keep it set, it won’t run continuously but it will maintain that temperature. For every degree cooler you keep your home it is costing 4-6% more,” Epperson said.

Epperson admits that 78 degrees is not comfortable for everyone but it is one place to start. 

For those who can’t resist turning down the thermostat, Cornell suggests actually turning it down low overnight. Keeping the home cooler at night will help reduce the overall temperature of the walls and floors, allowing the system to operate and cool better during the heat of the next day, according to Cornell.

While the system will operate more efficiently after dark when the outside temperature is in the 70’s, this method will also drive up your energy bill.

Keeping the fan running at all times, making sure your filter is clean, keeping drapes pulled and doors closed are other common sense ways to help an air conditioner do its job in extreme heat.

“A lot of people neglect their air filters which means the airflow is restricted and the system has to work harder. Make sure your shrubs around the unit are 2-3 feet away so you are not blocking air flow on the outside as well,” Epperson said.

If you have an outdoor grill for cooking or can take the family out to eat you will stop adding additional heat to your air conditioned home. Using the cooktop and oven can generate a tremendous amount of heat that stays in the house. 

“The more you cook in your house the more heat you put in your kitchen. Grill outside or order pizza,” Cornell said.

Doing what you can to give your AC a hand can also save you money for an unnecessary service call. Cornell said his entire team of 12 service technicians are averaging 100 calls a day in total.

“Most of it is the just that the unit will not keep up. Most units are designed to cool properly at 95 degrees. A lot of our service calls are for things we can’t do much about,” he said.

When the heat of the summer is in full swing, most people simply want to be comfortable, regardless of cost. While higher bills are typical in Chattanooga through the summer months, EPB doesn’t want anyone to be without because of a high energy bill.

“If you have trouble, stay in communication with us. We can work anything out. There is no shame in it. We do it all the time. We want to help customers get through this. It’s rough this time of year,” Danna Bailey, EPB’s vice president of marketing and communications, said.