Summer’s here, and with it comes rising electric bills as you fight to keep your home cool and take refuge from the sweltering heat. Luckily, there are many ways to fight astronomical air conditioning costs. Here are our top five summer projects to help reduce energy costs:
Plug up any holes
The cool air spewing out of vents should be treated like a precious vapor that must not escape. Inexpensive plastic film available at hardware stores can boost insulation around older windows where drafts are most likely. Foam and caulking can also help seal problem areas, as can extra insulation in the attic. Professionals can help with any installation challenges.
If you use window-unit air conditioners, make sure they fit tightly so air can’t escape around the unit. The Energy Department recommends that window units have their own electrical circuits to reduce the risk of overloading the system. The agency estimates that creating a proper “thermal boundary” around your home can shave up to 20 percent off heating and cooling costs. Shutting the doors and vents of unused rooms can also lighten the load of your air conditioning unit.
Maintain cooling systems
It’s not enough to use an energy-efficient AC and install a programmable thermostat. If you don’t properly care for your equipment, it won’t reduce your cooling costs. Dirty AC filters block airflow and make units work harder to cool your home. Cleaning and/or replacing filters once per month will lower an AC’s energy consumption by 5% to 15%. If you have a central cooling system, be sure that floor registers aren’t blocked with dust—or furniture. A unit’s evaporator and condenser coils (located outside) should also be clear of dirt and other debris (fallen leaves, branches, grass). And clip foliage so that it always remains at least 2 feet from the condenser.
Bring in the professionals
Most experts suggest getting your air conditioning unit serviced once a year to check for potential problems such as mold, rusting or grime buildup, all of which can hamper efficiency. “A lot of people don’t do that. They ignore the AC system until something goes wrong,” Godwin says. You can also give your home an overall check with an energy auditor, who can look for any air leaks and other inefficiencies.
Upgrade your systems
The Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes energy efficiency, suggests replacing older light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Doing so saves electricity directly, and fluorescents generate less heat. If you’re buying other major items, such as washers, dryers, dishwashers or even televisions, don’t forget to take energy efficiency into account. The Energy Department’s Energy Star rating helps consumers navigate those purchase decisions, so look for products with the label.
If you’re in the market for a new air conditioning unit, the Energy Department recommends paying close attention to size. Some consumers mistakenly choose bigger units, thinking they’ll be more powerful, but in reality, they can make too much noise and use up excess electricity. A unit that’s the right size for the home will last longer and be more efficient, the agency says.
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