VANCOUVER -- Summer is already in gear with record-breaking temperatures already having been felt in British Columbia and there is more heat to come. If your air conditioner is struggling to keep things cool, the experts at Consumer Reports have some advice for when Mother Nature turns up the heat.

Start with the air filter. A dirty filter is a common problem for window and central air conditioners. It restricts the airflow, which reduces the AC’s ability to cool a room. You can clean or replace a filter yourself; there’s no need for a service call. 

Window units typically have a reusable filter that you should vacuum gently and then wash with soap and water about once a month during peak periods. For central ACs, check the manual to see how often the filters need replacing. You’ll most likely need to replace your filters more often if you have pets because their hair can clog them faster.

Another way to maximize efficiency is to use weather stripping around window units. This keeps the cool air from escaping outside and warm air from sneaking in.

Location can also affect the performance of a window AC. It has to work harder if it’s placed in a very sunny spot. Keep your shades and curtains closed during the day to keep the sun from adding extra heat to your house. In addition, if the temperature seems off with your central AC, make sure the thermostat isn’t exposed to direct sunlight, which may cause it to register the wrong temperature.

You also want to be sure that your AC has enough cooling capacity or power. The size of the room is a major factor. If your unit is too small for your space, it will never keep up, especially on those super-hot days. On the other hand, if your unit is too large, it might cycle too quickly and not dry out the air, leaving your space a little humid.

If none of these moves works, compare the cost of a repair with a new window unit. If your air conditioner is more than eight years old, it’s probably time to replace it. For central ACs it may be worth the fix, CR says. Installing a brand-new central AC can cost thousands. However, in its member surveys, Consumer Reports found the median price paid to repair a broken system was only $250.

With files from Consumer Reports