Checklist: In the garden, around the house

Published: Saturday, Jun. 23, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8CALIFORNIA LIFE

Summer annually puts extra strain on one major household appliance – the air conditioner.

This year, air conditioners nationwide got an early workout. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the just-concluded spring weather cycle (March through May) ranks among the hottest in United States history.

That prompted many people to switch on the AC weeks before usual. That is, if the units worked. More than 3 million residential air conditioners fail every year, according to Emerson, the cooling and heating experts.

If you're in the market for a new air conditioner or thinking about replacing an older model, Emerson offers these tips for air conditioner repair or replacement:

• Check the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating of the unit. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the system. It will use less energy and lower monthly bills. A SEER rating 16 or higher is considered great.

• Check your refrigerant. If the label on your outside air conditioner reads "R-22," you're going to need to upgrade. Linked to depletion of the earth's ozone layer, R-22 has been phased out in favor of environmentally friendlier R-410A.

• Keep your compressor clean and free of debris. Leaves and grass clippings often get stuck on the coils and restrict airflow. This causes the unit to work harder – and use more energy. That means your cool will cost you more money.

• Invest in a programmable thermostat. Don't waste money and energy cooling rooms while you're not home. Programming the thermostat around your work schedule can save hundreds of dollars a year.

• Know the right questions to ask an air conditioning contractor, such as how much energy will a new unit cost for a house your size. Many apps – such as Emerson's e-Saver – are designed to help you choose the best system for your home with enough power to keep you cool but not so much that it wastes power and money.

The Emerson e-Saver is available to download free online for Androids and iPhones. Go to www.emersonclimate.com and click on the link to "Mobile Apps."

– Debbie Arrington

• It's finally summer! Help your garden cope during hot weather with a layer of cooling mulch around plants. It saves water while keeping roots comfortable.

• Some vegetables can still be planted now, including corn, lima beans, pole beans, cucumbers, okra, parsnips, pumpkins, squash and watermelon. Make sure your seedlings stay hydrated.

• In the flower garden, plant seeds for alyssum, celosia, marigold, periwinkle, sunflower and zinnias.

• Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to promote a second bloom in fall.

• Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Make sure to water well before fertilizing.

– Debbie Arrington

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