Do you hear that? It’s the sound of millions of air conditioning units and fans whirring across the country. During the summer electricity use spikes for the sole reason of space cooling.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s recently released report on U.S. residential sector electricity consumption by major end uses for 2018, space cooling accounts for 14.7% of total use. It’s the highest single use just ahead of space heating, which accounts for 14.2%.
If you’ve already noticed your electric bill getting larger, you aren’t alone. Keeping things climate controlled inside can be expensive, especially if things aren’t optimized for energy efficiency. Don’t worry, you don’t have to swelter this summer to keep electric bills in check. Try these 7 tips to reduce energy use while keeping your house cool.
Get the HVAC System Serviced
Machines that aren’t well maintained wear out and become less efficient. Professional HVAC servicing is an upfront cost that pays for itself over time because an annual tune-up ensures everything is in peak condition.
The technician will check the AC system’s coils, filters, fins, drains, fans, terminals, belts, motors, sensors, thermostat and ductwork. They’ll also check the refrigerant level and top it off if it’s low. If there’s a leak causing the low levels the tech should be able to find and fix the problem.
Get a Programmable Thermostat and Set It at the Optimal Temperature
Old HVAC systems had a thermostat that let you set the temperature, but that was about it. Most of today’s thermostats are programmable. That means you can do a lot more than set the temperature. The other benefit is that once a programmable thermostat is set up you don’t have to worry about making adjustments multiple times a day.
Here are a few programmable thermostat best practices that can help you save energy during the summer:
- Read up on your thermostat’s functions. Most are pretty straightforward but there could be handy functionality that isn’t obvious.
- Program the thermostat to bump the temperature up 7-10 degrees when no one is home for at least 3-4 hours. Doing so for just eight hours a day can reduce electricity use by 10%. If you adjust the temperature higher you’ll get even better savings because it slows heat flow into the house from the outside.
- Try to keep the temperature 78 degrees or higher while you’re home. If you need it a little cooler try a fan (see below).
- Set the thermostat to lower the temperature about a half hour before you get home so there’s time for it to cool down and you aren’t tempted to lower the setting.
- Don’t drop the temperature lower than you want in an attempt to cool things off quicker. That trick will only result in excess cooling that makes the HVAC system work harder and use more energy.
- Most digital thermostats will let you create a schedule for each day of the week. Creating a unique schedule for each day maximizes efficiency.
- Make sure the thermostat isn’t in direct sunlight, doorways or in front of a vent.
- Avoid placing furniture, artwork, etc. in front of the thermostat.
Smart thermostats take things up a notch by giving you the ability to monitor and control the thermostat from anywhere. They also learn your preferences over the course of a few days to help you create ideal settings.
Weatherize Around the House
You may be letting cooled air out of your house without even knowing it. Most every home has cracks and small gaps around doors, windows, pipes and outlets that allow conditioned air to flow outside. Research from the Building Science Corporation estimates that up to a third of the energy used by air conditioners is wasted due to air leaks.
All it takes is a container of caulk and a roll of weatherstripping to prevent air from leaking out. Start by caulking around all doors that lead outside and replacing worn weatherstripping. Next, fill in any gaps around the windows. Finally, use foam insulation spray behind the electrical cover plates of outlets on exterior walls.
Clean Out the Air Filter
The simplest way to improve the energy efficiency of an HVAC system is to clean out or replace the air filter. In the summer filters should be cleaned or replaced at least once a month. Doing so can reduce the HVAC’s energy use by as much as 15%. One thing to watch out for is the size of the air filter. It needs to be the appropriate height, width and depth to do its job.
Use Fans Properly
Fans are a simple machine, but they are misunderstood by many folks. For starters, fans don’t actually cool the air in a room. What they actually do is make it feel cooler by creating a wind chill effect.
This is when moving air blows against bare skin giving the perception it’s up to four degrees cooler.
In order to generate a wind chill effect with fans they have to be turning in the right direction. During the summer the blades should turn counterclockwise. This draws warm air up and pushes cooler air down.
As you may have guessed, fans are only beneficial if someone is in the room. Leaving the fan on all day when no one is home does nothing but waste energy.
Check the Air Ducts
Leaky air ducts could be wasting 20-30% of the energy consumed by an HVAC system. Instead of all that cooled air pumping into the living spaces it’s being lost in the attic or wall cavities.
It may sound like an intimidating fix, but repairing air leaks isn’t too difficult when the ducts are accessible. First, check the ducts to look for tears, folds and gaps at the connection points. Then use metallic foil tape to cover the tears, holes and gaps. Once that’s done, use duct mastic over the tape to ensure the air leak stays sealed.
If you get your HVAC system professionally serviced the technician should check the air ducts and let you know if they find any major issues,
Dehumidify the House
The humidity inside your house also plays a role in terms of how warm it feels. When humidity is high more water vapor is present in the air and it can feel stuffy. High humidity can also make the air conditioner less efficient and potentially cause health problems.
Air conditioners actually help remove humidity from the air, but if the humidity is still over 50% additional measures need to be taken. The easiest solution is to use existing exhaust fans when you shower or cook and avoid boiling water when you can. If there are any water leaks in the home get them fixed ASAP so there’s less moisture in the air. If it still feels muggy indoors get a dehumidifier to dry things out.
We can’t service your AC system, but we can help you find a great electricity rate this summer. See if Spark Energy offers fixed rate energy plans in your area!