When you turn on the air conditioner, you can almost feel the surge as your electric meter starts to spin faster – as well as feel your body temperature rise when you imagine next month’s bill.
Across the southern USA, AC is at or near the top of the list for home electricity consumption. Rather than spending money on electric bills, most rational people would rather reduce energy consumption and apply the savings to the OTHER list that might include things like a vacation, college, retirement savings, a new car…
Adding up the bills
The electric company charges by the kilowatt (or kill-a-wallet as some might say). So the more kilowatts used, the higher the bill.
Consider that a typical central AC system uses about 3.5 kilowatts of electricity per hour and a medium window unit uses about .9 kilowatts per hour.
According to the government’s Energy Star program, homeowners in Arizona pay about $212 to run a standard room air conditioner for about 1,000 hours over the summer period. Those cooling their entire home with central AC pay roughly $484. Southern California residents could expect similar bills – and some would consider such bills conservative.
The energy-focused, non-profit Alliance to Save Energy looked at the big picture across the nation and projected average annual household heating and cooling costs to rise to about $1,200. Hotter portions of the country usually pay significantly more, particularly in AC costs.
According to Michael Bluejay, an expert on home electricity use, “air conditioning uses more electricity than anything else — 16% of total electricity used. In warmer regions AC can be 60-70% of your summer electric bill.”
So, the need to make equipment and home as efficient as possible is obvious to all who value their hard-earned cash. Saving even a modest 10% on a conservative $1,200 annual bill means $120 in your pocket instead of the utility company’s. If the annual bill is a not-unusual $3,000, you save $300.
Keeping your air conditioner and other electricity-consuming appliances (yes, clean that dust from your refrigerator’s coils) in peak operating condition will help keep bills as low as possible.
Cost of neglecting maintenance
Since AC can be such a major portion of your bill, you can’t afford to neglect regular tune ups. For each year of routine maintenance you skip, your air conditioner loses about 5% of its efficiency. This means even an efficient Energy Star-rated unit will soon become an energy glutton without attention.
Other social and environmental costs of poor maintenance range from requiring power producers to generate more electricity (which often contributes to more green house gases and the need to build additional power stations) to creating more demand that invariably raises the cost of fuel, such as oil and natural gas, used to power many electricity generating plants.
Ideas for reducing AC costs
- Top of the list: Keep your air conditioner tuned up! A professional inspection is inexpensive and can quickly pay for itself. Regular maintenance that might include services such as balancing the refrigerant level, changing filters, straightening bent cooling fins and sealing air ducts promote efficient operation. Efficiency = Savings. According to the government’s Energy Star program, returning an unmaintained AC system to peak efficiency could cut up to $20 off a monthly electricity bill.
- Keep your home naturally cooler with simple steps such as closing window shades to block direct sunlight, switching to cool-running fluorescent light bulbs and running heat-generating appliances (clothes dryer, oven, etc.) in the cooler morning and evening hours. And, seal your home against air leaks around windows and doors with weather stripping – cheap and effective.
- When no one is going to be home, turn up the thermostat. If you have a programmable thermostat, set it to kick in at cooler temps just before people return. If you don’t have one, get one, because you could save about $180 annually in cooling and heating costs.
- Use fans. They consume less juice than AC, create moving air that cools people, and enable you to set the AC a couple of degrees higher or so.
- If your air conditioner is old, consider replacing it with one of today’s efficient models.
Your bottom line is the bottom line
You have better things to spend your money on than electric bills. Making sure your air conditioner and other appliances are running at peak efficiency is simply part of a smart lifestyle.