This is a guest post by Marcy Tate, a home improvement blogger at Networx.
With summer just around the corner, millions of Americans are getting ready to turn on their air conditioners. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans spend more than 22 billion dollars a year and use 183 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to cool their homes with air conditioning. Summer utility bills are typically higher than winter bills, as it generally costs more to run the air conditioning than the heat. However, there are simple ways you can reduce your air conditioning bills with minimal effort. The two ways to accomplish this are to: 1) learn ways to decrease use of your a/c and 2) learn ways to make your home more energy-efficient. Both will make your system run more efficiently and save you money.
Step 1: Make Your Home Energy-Efficient Insulation
Do you find that you have to run your A/C for hours until your house cools down? Chances are this is a sign of poor insulation. Poorly insulated homes particularly walls and attics, mean that the cool air escapes your home instead of staying inside and cooling you off. The right amount of insulation in your home will depend on where you live. Consult with insulation professional to see if your house is properly insulated.
Seal Your Home
The cool air in your home can easily escape through small cracks in doors and windows. Inspect all doors and windows for cracks. Caulk and install weather stripping around windows and doors even where you don’t find cracks, as small cracks aren’t always visible.
A common mistake that homeowners make is placing furniture or other objects too close or on top of the a/c registers. This decreases the efficiency of the a/c and will cause it to run longer in order cool your home to your desired temperature. Keep furniture, drapes, toys and all large objects away from registers. Additionally, don’t place lamps and televisions near the thermostat, as they can affect its efficiency.
Install CFL Bulbs
CFL bulbs can help keep your house cooler. They emit 25% less heat than incandescent bulbs, and they also last longer.
Gadgets and small appliances that are plugged in but are not in use still generate heat. They also waste a lot of energy. In fact, the average household wastes 5%-10% of its energy usage on unused appliances that are plugged in. Make your house cooler and reduce your bills by unplugging your cell phone charger, microwave, answering machine, stereo and more.
Window treatments can effectively block the sun out of your home and keep it cooler. If you don’t have effective window treatments, install blinds or drapes. Close the blinds or shades during the day, especially for west-facing windows when the sun hits the strongest.
Step 2: Maintain Your Air Conditioning System
Have a professional inspect your a/c system in the spring to make sure it is working to its fullest capacity. An inspection can identify problems such as leaking ducts, which could reduce the unit’s energy efficiency by 20%.
Install Programmable Thermostats
If used correctly, programmable thermostats are an extremely effective way to manage your a/c. If no one is home during the day, program the thermostat to 78 degrees. Then, program it to adjust to a cooler temperature just before you expect to return home. It is a myth that your unit has to work harder (costing more) to cool the house quickly. Save even more by raising the temperature at night and sleeping with the windows open.
Maintaining your a/c system will help it run more efficiently. Take the time to:
- Change or clean the filter once a month or as needed (this will depend upon the type of filter).
- Clean the registers and ducts of dust.
- Clean the outside compressor by spraying it with a hose.
- Cover the compressor for the winter.
New Air Conditioner
If you are in the market for a new air conditioner, select only Energy Star approved systems. Energy Star systems are supposed to use 25% less energy than those made before 2000.
Step 3: In and Around the House
Install Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans are great at making you feel cooler. According to Consumer Reports, they can help you feel up to 7 degrees cooler which means that you will be able to increase the thermostat temperature without feeling too warm. They cost little to run, and a good- quality ceiling fan can be purchased for under $100. Installing a ceiling fan isn’t too complicated, and most beginner DIYers can handle it on their own. Remember to turn off fans when you leave a room.
Spend Time in the Basement
The basement is the coolest place in a home. Avoid running your a/c unit by spending more time in the basement in the summer.
Most appliances emit heat when in use. Run the dishwasher, washer and dryer when it is the coolest outside, such as in the early morning or evening.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, trees and bushes, planted strategically around your home, can reduce the energy a home uses for cooling by up to 25 percent. Trees planted on the northeast-southeast and northwest-southwest sides of your home are most effective. Trees and shrubs planted near the air-conditioning unit can increase its efficiency by up to 10 percent. Place them at least 18 inches away so they don’t block the vents on the compressor.