Simple steps for cutting AC costs down to size
No doubt about it, electric bills rise during air conditioning season, especially if your home has central AC… and you’re fighting back!
Knowing that AC is the most expensive part of your electric bill and a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, you’ve set the thermostat to as high a temperature as is comfortable, right? And, you’ve maintained your air conditioning system by changing filters, sealing air leaks in ducts and taking other efficiency-boosting measures, yes?
Good work. You’ve taken crucial steps to lowering your electric bills. Now it’s time to fight on, and look for other, commonsense and inexpensive ways to not only save your money, but also help the planet by reducing the environmental impact of electricity generation.
Fans – cheaper to run and very cooling
We’ve all heard the TV weather people talk about “wind chill.” Moving air simply makes actual air temperatures feel cooler to your body. Harness this effect indoors with fans. Fans draw less electricity than AC and can be used exactly where needed on a room-by-room basis. Ceiling and standalone fans are both great for getting the air flowing, allowing you to bump up the AC thermostat setting.
Take advantage of cool night temperatures
Open the windows at night or late afternoon to allow cooler air temperatures in, then close them in the early morning to retain the cool air. By adopting this natural cooling technique, your AC will have to run less.
Deflect the greenhouse effect
Sunlight entering through windows creates heat! The California Energy Commission says that this solar gain is responsible for up to 30% of a home’s cooling needs. There are simple ways to block sunlight and reduce heat build up.
• Use window drapes. They block sun and insulate to retain cool air. Darker living space is the only downside. However, light-colored drapes help brighten things up. Note that drapes are more effective than blinds.
• Use reflective film. Available at hardware and home improvement stores, this tinting film adheres to window glass and reflects about 40 to 60% of sun-generated heat while allowing light in. A tinted window will also stop about 99% of UV rays that can fade furniture. The cost? About $2 per square foot for do-it-yourselfers – which could prove a wise investment if electricity costs continue to rise..
• If your windows have ordinary screens, you can replace them with solar screens. They are made of a special mesh that reflect up to 70% of heat-producing rays and are available at hardware/home improvement stores.
• It’s a major expense, but if it’s time to replace your windows, make sure they’re today’s “low-E” models. You can specify glass with just the amount of solar blocking (or gain) that works for your climate.
• Plant trees, especially on the south-facing side your home. Deciduous trees (their leaves drop in the fall) provide cooling shade in the summer while allowing in sunlight in the winter – when solar gain can be a good thing!
Properly managing windows, drapes and shades throughout the day can make as much difference as more expensive things such as additional insulation.
Insulate and cool your attic
Did you know that un-insulated attics allow the hot air that builds up there (easily reaching over 100 degrees in summer months!) to transfer into your home through ceilings? This makes the AC work harder. Add insulation (loose-fill cellulose and fiberglass are popular choices) to stop the heat transfer.
If you don’t have an attic fan, you should consider one. With gable vents, retrofitting a fan at the vent is easy. By blowing hot air out the vent, you reduce heat transfer into your home and create less work for your AC. You could even power the fan with a solar panel mounted on the roof or exterior wall with minimal installation and… no charge for electricity!
Stop air leaks
Don’t cool the great outdoors. By sealing doors and windows with weather stripping you ensure that you’re only cooling indoor air. Holding a lit match next to window and door edges is a good way to test for air infiltration.
Paint — a simple solution
Are you going to paint your house? Use a light color to reflect rather than absorb heat. You could cut cooling costs by about 20%.
Techniques for cooking and lighting
When cooking with the stove or oven, turn on the vent hood to remove hot air. Whenever possible, use the microwave! Microwave ovens don’t generate much heat. Bonus — they’re cheaper to operate than gas or electric ovens.
Outfit your entire home with cool-running compact fluorescent bulbs. Not only are they just as bright and use considerably less electricity than conventional incandescent bulbs, they generate about 90% less heat. Because the less heat that is generated, the less need there is to cool the air.
Saving here and there adds up
By applying as many of the measures in this article as possible you help optimize your home’s ability to stay cooler and reduce the load on your air conditioner – a commonsense solution for lowering electric bills and environmental impacts.