It may be hard to believe, but American homeowners spend $11 billion a year on air-conditioning their homes. Two-thirds of American homes use AC, and although it’s a blessing to your comfort level, it can be a curse to your wallet. Air conditioners account for about 5 percent of all electricity produced in the U.S., according to the Energy Department. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cut costs.
Make sure your air conditioning unit is in a shaded area. Direct sunlight will reduce efficiency. Better yet, find a shady spot on the east or the north side of your home.
Regular maintenance can extend the life of your unit and make it run more efficiently, ultimately saving you money. The most important thing to remember is to change air filters regularly — at least every three months, but monthly in summer. If it looks dirty, change it: A dirty filter may mean the unit has to work harder to pump air into your home. Replacing a clogged filter could decrease your AC’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent, according to Energy.gov.
If you’re buying a new unit, keep in mind that improper installation can reduce your air conditioner’s efficiency drastically, which translates to wasted money. For example, it's very important that you choose the right-size unit. Many people assume a bigger AC will cool your home better, but that's not necessarily true for smaller home. And the biggest potential for energy loss is to duct leakage. Energy Star says you could lose 15 percent of cooling to improperly sealed ducts.
Most of us know to close windows and doors before turning on the AC, but you should also close blinds and curtains. This will shield rooms from the sun and trap cool air inside. There’s no sense cooling empty rooms. Close doors and air vents in rarely used rooms like a guest bedroom. That way your air conditioner can focus its energy on cooling the rooms that count.
Another way to save on your summer energy bill: Take advantage of those extra hours of summer sunlight and keep lights off, especially if you haven’t made the switch to energy-efficient light bulbs. Not only do CFL bulbs use less energy, but they also produce 75 percent less heat than incandescent lighting — they can actually cut costs related to cooling your home.
No air conditioner? Then the fan is your best friend. But remember: Fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you leave. And if you’re lucky enough to have both, then it may pay off to use them in tandem. Using a ceiling fan while the AC is running should allow you to comfortably raise the thermostat a few degrees.
Speaking of thermostats, programmable thermostats have long been touted as a way to save money. Energy Star says if you properly use one, you can about $180 a year in energy costs. There has been much debate about this, but saving really hinges on whether you program it effectively. It's recommended that you set it to use the air conditioner at 78 degrees F when you’re home. Each degree below that will use about 3 to 5 percent more energy.
Some gas and electric companies offer special summer pricing programs. These programs typically will give you a discount or credit on summer energy costs in exchange for paying a surcharge or using less energy on peak days and times. These peak times are typically the hottest summer afternoons when electricity is most in demand and therefore costs more. A typical program might choose 10 to 15 days throughout summer and discourage you from using electricity from 2 to 7 pm. That would mean avoiding the use of air conditioners, dishwashers, washers and dryers, stoves/ovens, and other major appliances. Again, like the thermostat, these programs have the potential to save you energy, but they won’t magically do so. It’s up to you to monitor those peak times and adjust your energy use accordingly.
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