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Illinois Country Living

Doug Rye, licensed architect and the popular host of the "Home Remedies" radio show

Energy Solutions

Give your air conditioning system some air
Doug has a solution for a system that leaves you sweating

It's hot outside. When you receive this copy of Illinois Country Living magazine, which should be in early August, it could be the day of my wedding anniversary.

Several years ago in early August, I was on my way to a Baptist church in Jacksonville, Arkansas. I was driving a blue 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a 40-horsepower motor and no air conditioner. I was marrying the prettiest and sweetest girl in Jacksonville. I thought, “It can’t get any better than this.” But it was hot.

There was a large group of folks in the church. It appeared there were many who wanted to see the lady who would marry a nut like me. The reception was held in the Willie Wiredhand room at the First Electric Co-op where my new father-in-law worked and later retired as a lineman.

Did I mention it was hot? The cooling systems at both locations could not keep up with the demand.

Just after our wedding, I began to be involved in heating, cooling and energy efficiency and I am still doing that today.

Each August, I can count on receiving many calls about cooling systems that can’t keep up. Two months ago, I discussed some of the reasons why some systems have problems. Many people have questions about whether or not they can enlarge the size of the return air system, a few have more technical questions. But one question that really got my attention was from a lady who had recently had a new system installed and it was not cooling her house. Our phone conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello. How may I help you?

Caller: We live in an older house and a few months ago we had a local company install two new package units.

Me: What is the size of your house?

Caller: It is a two-story house with about 1,000 square feet upstairs and 1,600 square feet downstairs. They installed two 3.5-ton systems. Does that sound about right?

Me: I haven’t seen your house so I do not know what it needs for heating and cooling, but 7 tons is probably plenty of capacity.

Caller: I just finished reading your column, “Thou shalt provide adequate air.” If I understood correctly, you said each unit needs 7 square feet of return air.

Me: No, each unit needs about 3.5 square feet of return air. However, the return air filter grille does need to be 7 square feet.

Caller: No wonder my house isn’t cool. My upstairs return air filter is 11 by 16 inches.

Me: How about the downstairs?

Caller: That filter is 20 by 24 inches. I removed the grille from the wall and there was no ductwork at all. All you see is a 2 by 4-inch wall with a hole about 3 by 14 inches chiseled out for the air to go through.

Me: You have 3.5 tons of cooling equipment, which means you need 504 square inches of return air but it only has 42 square inches available. You are probably getting only a ton of cooling from the 3.5-ton unit.

As I have thought about her situation, I came up with this demonstration to help illustrate it.

Raise your hand and touch your thumb to your first finger. That should form an O with a diameter of about 1.5 inches. Blow one breath of air through the O. Now, make the O smaller and blow another breath into it. Repeat this process. Notice that every time the hole gets smaller, it takes more energy and more time to move the air. The air sound also gets noisier. A cooling system with an undersized return air has to work harder, longer and is noisier, none of which is beneficial to the equipment or the energy bill.

The solution is to get a reputable and knowledgeable heating and air company to check your system for ductwork leaks, proper sizing of the return air, etc. Also, many local electric cooperatives will do free energy audits of your home as well.

See you next month when it will still be hot during the day, but cool at night.

More Information:

Doug Rye, the “Doctor of Energy Efficiency-the King of Caulk and Talk” can be heard on several different Illinois radio stations. Or you can go to his Web site at, e-mail him at, or call 888-Doug-Rye or 501-653-7931. You can also sign up for a free newsletter and order his “how to” videotapes.


© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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