Producing cool, crisp air with the flip of a switch is almost like magic, but it can be expensive, especially if you live in an area where summer’s heat is unbearable. In those areas, you can’t live without air conditioning, but you really don’t want to fork over hundreds of dollars a month for the privilege, either. What is a homeowner to do?
There are lots of simple ways to save money on your air conditioning. You can make some investments that may be costly initially, but that will pay for themselves in the long run. Read on for ways to save money while you stay cool this year.
The best thing you can do for your air conditioning system is to keep it maintained. That includes changing filters frequently and keeping debris out of the condenser unit. However, it’s important to keep in mind that even the best maintained air conditioner can use a little help during the worst heat of the day. Simple things you can do to help your air conditioner run less include:
Turning up the thermostat. Turning up your thermostat by five degrees can reduce your energy usage by 40 percent. That’s an incredible savings. If you can take a little more heat, let your home warm up a bit more between air conditioning cycles.
Covering the windows. Close to 30 percent of uninvited heat comes in through your windows, raising indoor temperatures 10 to 20 degrees. That’s a lot of heat for your air conditioner to combat. To make your air conditioner rest easier, block the heat with heavy curtains or thick shades. If you’re on a budget, focus your efforts on south facing windows — where the hot sun comes in most directly.
Reducing indoor heat sources. You might be surprised how much heat everyday household devices like stoves, dishwashers and dryers contribute to your home. Limit the use of these appliances by cooking outside, hanging your wet laundry on a clothesline, and skipping the dry cycle on the dishwasher. Or, wait until after dark to do household chores. Another tip: replacing your incandescent light bulbs with CFLs can also help shrink your air conditioning budget.
Rearranging the furniture. Make sure the vents are clear of any obstructions, including furniture. The more room your vents have to blow air, the more effective they can be — after all, you want to cool the room, not just the backs of your favorite easy chairs.
Bringing in fans. Turn your fans on, even with the air conditioning running, to help spread the cool around more efficiently. An added bonus to using fans with air conditioning is that you can often feel just as comfortable at higher indoor temperatures.
Short-term fixes to your air conditioning woes are useful, but they’re only bandages on a bigger problem. If you’re looking for more permanent ways to control your cooling bills, think shade, caulk and insulation. Savings over the long term are possible if you spend a little money now on items that will keep your house cool into the future. Good investments include:
Shade trees. Shade trees not only add beauty to your landscaping, they cool your home and provide refuges for wildlife in the area. Choose shade trees that will grow rapidly, and place them on the hottest sides of your home. Adding a tree to shade your air conditioner isn’t a bad idea, either.
Reflective window film. Reflective window film can bounce a lot of invading heat away from your windows, allowing you to keep the shades open through the summer. Look for window film at your local hardware store. It’s easy to install with a patient hand.
Caulk and door sweeps. You may not realize it, but a lot of air exchange takes place around your windows and doors. For a few dollars a tube, you can caulk all these leaky spots to minimize unwanted heat penetration. Caulk between your window trim and the wall, as well as between the window trim and the window. Do the same for the doors, and make sure the door sweeps are snug.
Programmable thermostats. Adding a programmable thermostat helps you stay on top of your air conditioning use. Program it to allow the indoor temperature to rise into the 80s during the day while you’re away, and begin cooling more aggressively when you’re headed home. Programming the air conditioning to run less at night while you sleep under a fan is another way to save big.
Insulation. If you have less than 12 inches of attic insulation, you probably need more. Both roll and blow-in insulation are easy to install, but they can cost a pretty penny. Caulk the attic well before you install new insulation to ensure it performs at its best. Go ahead and insulate any ductwork in the uninsulated parts of your home as well to prevent cool air from warming up before it gets inside.
Radiant barriers. While you’re in the attic, you may want to add a radiant barrier to the back of the roof decking. This aluminum foil-like barrier helps keep attics cool by blocking radiant heat coming from the roof. The cooler your attic, the cooler your home will be.
Attic ventilation. In Phoenix, the hottest part of your home is your attic. It can be almost double the outside temperature! To help reduce your attic’s temperature, install passive attic ventilation which uses no fans and no electricity. These strategically placed vents can get your attic within a few degrees of the outside temperature. Stop your attic from baking your home like an oven above it.
Unless your current air conditioner has a SEER rating of less than 10, you’ll see a lot of energy savings simply by making your home tighter and shading it more. If your air conditioner is fairly old, however, you’ll see another jump in savings (of up to 50 percent) by upgrading to a model with a SEER rating of 14 or better.
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