Summertime is almost here, but hot weather doesn’t have to mean skyrocketing power bills and nonstop air conditioning. We’ve compiled these tips to help you maximize your summer comfort and energy efficiency.
Remember, It’s Summer
Listen up – your home isn’t an arctic retreat for polar testing, it simply needs to be a comfortable living space. Avoid using your AC when you don’t really need it, and set it at a reasonable temperature when it’s operating. HVAC experts suggest 78 degrees as an ideal level to ensure comfort without unnecessarily wasting power.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of a fan. Whether you use a portable room fan or a ceiling fan, it will consume far less energy than an air conditioner. A fan distributes cool air around a room, and the breeze on your skin can let you stay comfortable while relying less on the AC – or even skipping it altogether.
Make Your AC’s Job Easier
Summer heat is enough of a challenge for an air conditioner – don’t make it work even harder than it has to. Have your unit maintained regularly by a pro to make sure it’s operating at its peak efficiency. And you can do your part too, by regularly cleaning or replacing the air filter. A clean filter means less air resistance for the unit, and better air quality in your home.
Don’t Cool An Empty Room
Even though it seems obvious, this one gets ignored all too often: Turn off the air conditioning when you leave the house. If you absolutely must have a cool home waiting for you when you return, use a timed thermostat instead of running the AC all day. Remember that when you come back, turning the unit to its coldest setting won’t cool your house any faster, so set it at 78 and be patient. Also, while you’re at home, close the doors and vents in unused rooms, and consider using an efficient portable air conditioner that will only cool the living space you’re actually using.
Don’t Add Fuel To The Fire
Beware of unnecessary heat sources around the house that compete with your air conditioner. Still using incandescent light bulbs? The reason they use so much power is that only a fraction of the electricity they consume is used for light, while the rest gets wasted in the form of heat (which your air conditioner must then cool down). So that’s another reason to switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, or the even more efficient LED lights. Another common foe of your AC are long, hot showers that raise the surrounding air temperature inside your home, and also add humidity to the air which makes it feel even warmer.
Other appliances can be particularly tough for an AC to work against. Avoid using your dishwasher, oven, and clothes drier at peak heat times of the day, and use settings that minimize their heat output and energy usage (which you’re already doing anyway, right?) For example, disable the air-dry function on your dishwasher, and lower the temperature on your clothes drier – or even better, use a simple clothesline or laundry rack to let your clothes dry in the breeze.
Ironically, refrigerators can be one of the biggest heat sources in the home. Use a thermometer inside the refrigerator and freezer to make sure the temperature stays at the ideal levels, since going colder just wastes electricity and creates more wasted heat in the kitchen. And older models are especially inefficient – do you really need that old fridge you moved down to the basement for extra soda?
Shade Is Your Friend
Shade is nature’s air conditioning, and it doesn’t cost a penny. Low-e windows are great for keeping unnecessary heat out of the house, but a simple window shade will do the job too. On a bigger scale, shade trees can dramatically reduce interior temperatures when planted on the south and west sides of your home. Plus, lawn vegetation has the added advantage of transpiration cooling (the evaporative cooling effect from moisture in the leaves).
In addition to keeping direct sunlight out of your windows, try to locate AC units in shaded locations. An air conditioner basking in the sun all day has to work much harder to cool the air that passes through it. Just make sure that any screens or nearby plants don’t interfere with airflow to the unit.
In freestanding homes, the roof and attic can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to keeping the heat outside and cutting your energy consumption. Consider roof materials and colors that efficiently reflect heat from the sun’s rays, or even use them to provide solar power. Ensure that your roofline and attic are well insulated, and use an exhaust fan to draw collected heat out of your home.
And If You’re Shopping For A New AC…
It goes without saying that if you’re considering a new air conditioner, it’s worth investing in an energy efficient model. It will use less power, which means less pollution and lower energy bills. The new residential evaporative cooling models that use the same principle as skyscraper cooling towers can be extremely efficient, and they’re especially worth considering for residents of hot, dry climates. And though they may be more expensive initially, many high-efficiency models qualify for tax credits as well as rebates from local utility providers. Energy Star models are available everywhere, and remember that the higher the SEER/EER score, the better. Last, ensure that your model uses a non-flourocarbon refrigerant.
We all have better places to spend our hard-earned money than power bills, and summer is plenty hot already without needless pollution adding to global warming. Being smart about keeping cool in the summertime is a win-win scenario for everybody.