You Can Save Money on Your Air Conditioning and Summer Energy Costs With These Simple Tips

There are a lot of easy things you can do to increase your air conditioner's efficiency and to keep the inside of your home cool during the heat

Save Money on Your Summer Home Cooling Costs
Image: NCCC
August 12, 2019

Even though a good bit of summer is behind us, summer temperatures will still be around for a while. That means that your home cooling system will be working hard to keep you and your family comfortable. But running the air conditioner doesn't have to break the bank. With just a little bit of work and these tips, you can spend your hard-earned money on something other than your home cooling bills.

  1. Adjust your thermostat's temperature up a a degree or two.
  2. Adjusting the thermostat is one of the easiest things you can do. For each degree you raise the thermostat, you can lower your cooling bill by about 1%. Try to aim for a comfortable 78 degrees while you are home. When you are not home, raise the thermostat even higher.

  3. For your whole-house fan, use the 'auto' setting instead of 'on' for power savings of up to $15 per month.
  4. You might think that keeping your system's fan on all the time is helping to keep your home cool. In reality, it's probably causing your home to heat up faster. When your fan pushes air through the ductwork, it will heat up slightly while passing through unconditioned space, such as the attic. Even though the ductwork is insulated and sealed, no system is 100% efficient. So your air conditioner will kick on more often when your fan isn't set to the 'auto' position.

    And don't be fooled into thinking that the furnace filter is doing a great job at keeping the air in your home clean. Most of the dust and other particles in the air settle within two minutes, so your whole house fan really isn't doing too much. You can remove more dust from the air by running your vacuum cleaner for a few minutes to remove the dust that settled before it gets a chance to be kicked up.

  5. Have your central air conditioning system serviced each spring regardless of whether it seems to be fine.
  6. Servicing the unit regularly will maintain efficiency and can help prevent catastrophic failures that are caused by lack of maintenance. Think of it it like changing the oil in your car! If your system hasn't been serviced in a while, you will probably see a rise in efficiency on your first service, which translates into money saved. A yearly service will also help you spot minor problems that can later turn into big headaches. Even better, if these problems are caught early, they might still be covered under the manufacturer's warranty.

  7. Prune back shrubs and remove debris from around your heat exchanger unit.
  8. Proper airflow is required to keep the unit at peak performance. While it is true that a hot air conditioning unit works harder than a cool unit, building a structure to shade the unit or planting shrubs around it do little to improve efficiency and often make it worse. If shrubbery is already around the unit, keep it pruned so that there is between 18 and 36 inches on all sides of the unit and at least 4 feet above it, which will allow the unit to cool itself properly.

    Inspect the cooling fins for grass clippings, splashed dirt, leaves, etc. These things block airflow, so remove them frequently. Be careful not to bend the fins. If grass clippings are a problem, check to see how it's happening the next time you mow and try to prevent it. If splashing dirt during heavy rain is a problem, look into a ground cover to stop it.

  9. Plan your placement properly if building a new home or renovating your home.
  10. Are you currently building a new home or renovating your current home? Consider spending a few extra dollars to move the unit to the north side of the home instead of the south side, which receives a lot more sun and can decrease efficiency by up to 10 percent. Depending upon the extent of your renovation project, moving the unit might not be practical since pressure lines in the walls may have to be moved.

  11. Seal and insulate leaky ductwork.
  12. It doesn't matter that you bought the most efficient system if the airflow distribution system serving your equipment has leaks. Have you ever tried to suck water through a straw with a hole in it? It's hard! Well, the cool air circulating through the system will work the same way if there are holes in your ductwork.

    If your ductwork isn't insulated, you're losing a lot of efficiency. If your insulated ductwork is damaged, replace it. If your insulated ductwork is old, new ductwork may be much more efficient.

  13. Clean or replace air conditioner and furnace filters once a month or as needed.
  14. A restricted filter can drastically reduce efficiency and air quality. Dirty filters can increase operating costs by 20 percent or more and make it harder for the system to do its job.

    There are trade offs to using high efficiency filters versus cheaper low efficiency filters. The high efficiency filters are more expensive, but they help to keep your system much cleaner inside. Cheaper filters allow for better airflow, but they only remove very large particles from the air and can allow dust and other debris to accumulate inside the system.

  15. Install a programmable thermostat.
  16. You're human, which means you sometimes forget things. It's easier to keep your thermostat raised when you leave home by installing a programmable thermostat to do it automatically. Smart thermostats cost a bit more, but they can be connected to your smartphone and automatically raise the temperature each time you leave home.

  17. Open your foundation vents each spring.
  18. If your home has a crawlspace, open the vents each spring and close them in the fall.

  19. If it's time for a new air conditioning unit, make an ENERGY STAR purchase.
  20. ENERGY STAR units cost more on average, but they often pay back the cost within five years or less depending upon how often you use the system. Opt for units with Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings (SEER) levels of 14 or higher.

  21. Get the right air conditioner unit for your rooms and install it correctly.
  22. Not all homes have central air conditioning, so you'll likely have a portable or window air conditioning unit. Window units are generally more efficient, but they are difficult to move. Portable units can be moved easily, but they are generally less efficient since they take some of the air in your home and vent it outside. Always make sure that the air conditioner or vent is sealed in the window.

  23. Don't close off too many rooms in your house.
  24. Heating and cooling units work best with sufficient airflow. Blocking off vents to a large number of rooms in your home could slow down airflow, which would reduce efficiency.

  25. When remodeling, consider replacing single-pane windows with double-pane windows with high-performance glass.
  26. In warmer climates, select windows with selective coatings to reduce heat gain and make sure that they are properly sealed. If you are not remodeling, replace or repair windows that are leaking air.

  27. Add additional insulation to your home.
  28. Insulation can be blown into walls or layered in the attic or crawlspace areas. Doing so can create a thicker blanket for your home. Attic insulation is by far one of the best defenses you can have against heat loss and gain, especially since they heat up so much in the summer. R-19 or higher is recommended. Insulation may also a tax-deductible expense.

  29. Seal air leaks to keep the heat out.
  30. If all the air leaks in the average home were added together, it would add up to having a hole the size of a window. Check the seals around your doors and windows and repair or replace as necessary. Use caulking around baseboards and door and window frames to seal the leaks. A lot of air infiltration can come from outlets and light switches. Seal those areas, too.

  31. Install an attic fan.
  32. If you've ever been in your attic in the summer, you know how hot it can be. Attics are vented, but the heat leaves passively. Installing an attic fan to push out the hot air can lower the attic temperature by 10-20 degrees. If your ductwork runs through the attic, the cooler temperature can help the unit operate more efficiently. If you store things in your attic, it can also help to prevent excessive heat from damaging those items.

  33. Allow ceiling fans to shoulder some of the cooling work.
  34. Using ceiling fans can allow you to raise the temperature on the thermostat. Ceiling fans circulate air, which helps prevent hot and cold spots. But the fans also work to pull cool air up from the floor up through the room, making you feel about 3 degrees cooler. And let's not forget that the simple act of air blowing over you will make you feel much cooler.