Cut Air Conditioning Costs, Cool Down, and Save Lots of Energy

If you want to cut air conditioning costs, you may have to think outside the box to stay cool this year! In years past, many people enjoyed the cool luxury but it's increasingly gotten a lot harder to pay for! With the recent rise in costs for operating electricity, its good to know a few ways to beat the heat without breaking the bank!

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Energy costs in our county/state went UP 8 percent this year, and the power company promises to raise it 2 percent every year for the next 5 or 6 years. This is said to keep in line with new federally mandated solutions to conserve energy! I'm sure it's about the same where you live! If this makes you angry, it should! There are many like-minded citizens who think that lawmakers have NO REAL CLUE about regular folks who are struggling to pay their bills!

It's so much easier to live without heat in the winter. You can keep adding layers of clothing until your body becomes warm. In the summer though, there’s only so many clothes you can take off and there are laws on the books for public nudity. Short from running around naked all summer, (or spending all summer in jail where it's probably cool!), there are many ways to beat the heat without cranking up the A/C so much, that you spend all your hard earned cash.

Air conditioning costs can eat up 60-79 percent of your total electric bill in warmer regions, so you'd better learn how to lower your air conditioning costs so you can chill without guilt.

Unconventional Ways to Cut Air Conditioning Costs

  • Drink something hot! I know that sounds counterintuitive but it's true. When your hot and drink something hot, it signals your body to cool down faster. You can read more about it here.
  • If you have a backyard, put in an above ground pool. Even the small ones are sufficient.

  • Keep a water spritz bottle nearby. Use it every time you get hot. If you have a fan blowing on you, it'll feel even cooler!

  • Go to the grocery store and hang out around the freezers for a while.

  • Go to museums. Learn something while you stay cool.

  • Go to the library and use the computer.

  • Go to a friends house (who has A/C) and catch up on the latest gossip.

  • Get a job in an office.

  • Have fun with the water hose.

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

  • Take a cold shower before bed or anytime really.

  • Wear your underwear only around the house. Who cares right?

  • Find a nice shady tree and take cover!

  • Go to the beach for the day or take a trip to a nearby lake for a swim.

  • Use an umbrella when you go outside.

  • Buy vented clothing.

  • If you've got long hair, wear it up, off your neck. Or not...

    Here's the thing. In a typical home, air conditioning uses more electricity than anything else during hot summer months. You'll need some practical advice if you expect to beat the heat, especially this year!

    Conventional Ways to Cut Air Conditioning Costs

  • The best way to cut air conditioning costs is to NOT use as much energy/power during peak hours. This becomes even more important as temperatures soar. During the summer, peak hours are from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays so turn your thermostats UP during those hours. In other words, if you normally set your A/C on 80° during the day when you're not home, try setting it to 82° instead, and then turn it back down after the sun has set. You'll be sure to enjoy at least some savings on your next bill. Prices during those hours vary based on demand but you can always check the website of your power company as they usually list days of high energy consumption.

  • If you use a central A/C all summer, think about installing a few window units instead. An A/C window unit uses 500 to 1440 watts, while a 2.5 ton central system uses about 3500 watts. That's a huge difference. Look for A/C units that are energy efficient which will cut air conditioning costs even more! Be sure to measure windows before you buy them though. If your windows aren’t big enough for them to fit, you'll have to repackage them and take/send them back! Talk about painful!

  • Make sure your A/C is sized properly. If your house needs a 3 ton unit to cool efficiently and you have a 2 ton capacity, you are fighting a losing battle and won’t save money on air conditioning costs. Conversely, if your unit is too large, you are using more energy than is needed. Make sure the unit you have/buy, is right for the size of your house. In some cases, for larger homes, you may need 2 central units to cool your home efficiently.

  • If your present A/C needs fixing, don't put it off! The more you run a faulty unit, the more it's going to cost electrically. As Andy Taylor used to tell Aunt Bea; "Just call the man!." So stop procrastinating and contact an expert to make A/C repairs, asap!

  • Shade your central A/C or window unit. Air conditioners in the shade cut air conditioning costs up to 10 percent more than those not in the shade.

  • One of the coolest (literally) new ways to cut costs and cool your home is to use swamp coolers. (also called evaporative coolers) They are recommended for dryer climates like Arizona or California (if you're in the USA) but can be used anywhere there's less humidity and excess heat is a problem. You can buy them pretty cheap or make your own swamp cooler. If your vehicle's A/C isn't working, you can even make one for your car!

    Here's a video on how to assemble a swamp cooler for your car!

    I want to experiment with this method (since its a little less complicated) and see if I can make this a home model. If I get it right, I'll post it:o)

  • A floor fan uses only 100 watts on the highest speed, and ceiling fans use only 15 to 95 watts depending on speed and size.

  • Mini air conditioners are compact and will fit more window sizes. You can also cut air conditioning costs using portable evaporative air coolers. (mentioned above)

  • Poorly insulated attics can lose up to 40 percent of a house's cool air. The average home built from 1985 - 1990 has R-11 to R-15 insulation but needs R-49. Increasing the level of insulation from 2-3 inches (R5) to 8 -14 inches (R30) can save $95 to $145 per year for every 1,200 square feet of ceiling area.

  • When you leave the house, turn off fans and turn down the A/C to save on air conditioning costs. It is a myth that you will burn more energy trying to cool the house down again after you’ve been gone all day. It actually uses less energy to re-cool the house.

  • Raise the temperature on the thermostat. Each degree below 78° will increase your energy use by 3 percent - 4 percent. See if you can get by with the A/C on 80° and run fans to help circulate the cool air. My son and I get by most of the summer with the A/C set on 80° (or higher) and we live at the beach where it gets really hot. I am determined to cut air conditioning costs and save my money for other more important things!

  • Install ceiling fans in every room you can. Fans can make the temperature seem 10 degrees cooler, which reduces your need for A/C and cuts air conditioning costs. Ceiling fans are cheaper now than they used to be. You don’t need anything fancy. Just a basic fan will suffice. Most people are able to install them themselves using the instructions provided, or call a friend who has experience with them. Ceiling fans use only 15 to 95 watts depending on speed and size. A typical 36"/48"/52" ceiling fan uses about 55/75/90 watts of electricity respectively, on high speed.

    Make sure you turn ceiling fans so that the wind flow blows down on you, not up into the ceiling. There is a switch on most ceiling fans to change the air flow. It's an up/down or left/right switch located on the side of the fan (between the light and the fan blades), which usually doesn't have a label. Make sure the fan is off (not spinning) before you flip the switch or you can damage the motor or your head.

    Hint: In the winter, you want to set it to blow toward the ceiling.

    In the summer though, you’ll want that air flow to blow down on you. For most fans, when you're standing under the fan looking up, counter-clockwise blows down and clockwise blows up. It’s easy to tell if you’ve got the fan turning in the right direction. Simply stand under the fan while its on. (Obviously!) If you can feel it, it’s blowing down on you. If you can’t, you need to turn off the fan and reset the button so it does.

  • Put solar screens on windows. Solar screening is a special mesh screen that reflects much more sunlight than regular screens. It's available at home improvement stores, and can block 60-70 percent of the heat from sunlight. If you've got a lot of windows that face into the sun, you can cut air conditioning costs just by replacing a few screens.

  • Install Gila window film on your windows. Up to 30 percent of a structure's cooling requirements are due to solar energy entering through glass. Reflective film reflects the sun's heat from your windows, and can block 40-60 percent of heat. Reflective films reflect heat away without blocking light, so you won't be left in the dark. On average sized windows, you can easily install them yourself. On larger windows, it might pay to hire a professional.

    I bought Gila window film and made a video showing you how to install it. I am amazed at how good they look and how well they block sunlight and heat. I will be anxious to see if it helps lower my air conditioning costs over time, as I install more.

  • Most people prefer to sleep with some covers, even though that traps the heat your body creates. You can run an expensive AC to cool the whole house or you can simply use a bed fan. (yes, they do make them!) It's a small, gentle fan that operates right under the covers. Why didn't someone think of this before? This could be great for people who experience night sweats or hot flashes. And you won't have to run an expensive AC all night long.

  • If you have leaks in your ducts or older ducts that are outdated, you are blowing cool air where you don’t want to. If you can check your own ducts and fix them, you’ll save even more money. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, its best to pay it forward and have a professional else check them out and fix leaks or replace older ducts.

  • If you have central A/C, you will need to change your filters before they get totally filled up with dust and dirt. Check/change/clean them regularly, (At least once a month!), to save more on air conditioning costs.

  • For central A/C, install a programmable thermostat with a built-in timer. For window unit A/C's, just use a plug in timer to save energy and keep air conditioning costs down.

    Either way, set the timer or thermostat to turn off about the time you leave each day, and turn back on a half hour before you get home. Programmable thermostats come with instructions, but it's a quick job for an electrician if you're not comfortable doing the installation yourself. Plug in timers for window units start out at $5, and there are more expensive models with more features.

    It's a myth that leaving on the A/C on while you're away from your house uses less energy than turning it on when you get home. Here's why.

    Heat will go to where it's not. Heat from the outside wants to come into your cool home. With the AC off, at some point your house will be so hot it can't absorb any more heat. When you come home and turn the AC on, the AC removes the heat.

    If however, you leave the AC on when you're gone, you turn your house into a heat magnet. By keeping it artificially cool, there's no limit to the amount of heat it will absorb from the outside. It can always absorb more heat and your AC has to remove that heat constantly. You’re A/C turns on and removes some of that heat, then the house is cooler so it sucks in more heat from outside. This process plays out over and over again, increasing energy and air conditioning costs while you're not even home!

    In contrast, with the A/C off all day, your A/C only has to remove one house full of heat when you come home and turn it on. Running the AC all day long uses much more energy than turning it off when you leave and on when you get home. Running your A/C when you're not home wastes energy and increases air conditioning costs!

  • Newer A/C units use 30-50 percent less electricity than older models. Consider replacing your central AC unit with other alternatives or buy a newer unit.

    Whatever system you get, look at the energy ratings (SEER for central A/C systems and EER rating for window units). The higher the number, the better and more efficient the unit is. The EER of window units rose 47 percent from 1972 to 1991. If you replace an old EER 5 unit with a new EER 10 unit, you'll cut your cooling costs in half. As of Janurary 2006, AC's must have a SEER of at least 13, although they go as high as 19. Both the inside and outside units should have a similar SEER/EER for the best efficiency.

  • If you have central A/C you can close registers in rooms you're not using so you're not paying to cool them. However, if you close too many of them, the added pressure on the system could cause leaks in your ducts. Check with an A/C professional first to see how many and/or which registers are safe to close at the same time.

  • Using central A/C is wasteful because you have to cool the whole house, rather than just the parts of it you're using. There's also energy losses through duct work running through a hot attic, especially if your ducts aren't up to par. Window units let you cool just the rooms you're using, so there is less energy loss.

  • Install a whole house window fan. (I swear the models today look just the same as when we used to have in our house 40 years ago!) when I was growing up and are especially great if you have 2 or more stories in your home. In our home, we had a very large fan located in a central upstairs window. In the evenings, mom would turn it on HIGH and we would all raise our second story bedroom windows. The fan blew the hot air from the day out of the house, cooled it off, and then pushed it back into the upstairs bedrooms. A whole house window fan will do the same for your home!

    The unit we had was a very large unit and made a bit of noise when it was set on high but we all got used to the humming and slept very well. We also stayed cool even in the sultry heat in July and August, where temps were regularly in the low to mid 90's outside.

    Another whole-house fan is a large fan that mounts in your ceiling. It draws in fresh air from open doors or windows into the attic, where it's then pushed out through attic vents. This creates a cool breeze through your house, and at the same time gets the super-hot air out of your attic.

  • Install a Geothermal system. A geo-system is a loop of piping under the ground that circulates water. The heat is extracted from your home and runs through the pipes and then the earth absorbs the heat from the water. (Basically, the heat is taken out of your home and put into the earth.) This isn't so different from a traditional A/C system, which extracts heat from your home and puts it back into the air outside your home. A geo-system is just a lot more efficient and cheaper to run.

    A geothermal system uses 30-60 percent less energy than a typical HVAC system, runs quieter, and requires less upkeep. They can also heat your water too. In the summer, your water is heated for free since it's using heat that's already been extracted from your house. Geothermal heat pumps meet the EPA's Energy Star guidelines if they're labeled at least COP 2.8 for heating and EER 13 or for cooling.

    These can be expensive to install though. Depending on the geology of your area and the availability of local contractors, a geo-system could cost a lot more than $2500/ton to install.

  • Install a simple attic fan to push the hot air out of your attic. Attic fans can easily attach it to the gable vent that's already in your attic so you won't even have to cut any holes. It'll cost about $1/month to run 24/7, or you can attach it to a solar panel and run it for free. Simply reducing the attic temperature by 10° or more can save up to 10 percent on air conditioning costs. Solar controlled attic fans are even better!

  • Adding a layer of aluminum foil-type material or painting a special paint across the underside of the roof in your attic, blocks up to 95 percent of heat radiated into the roof. Besides decreasing the amount of attic heat that radiates into the living space. Doing this might also reduce attic heat enough that you could consider turning the attic space itself into a living space. An attic radiant barrier (aluminum foil sheeting) stapled across roof rafters can reduce energy use 3-8 percent.

  • Have your ducts tested for leaks. The average home in 2006 lost 27 percent of its heating or cooling from leaky ducts. Past studies have also shown that 25 percent of homes lose up to 1/3 of their heating or cooling from leaky ducts. See if your local utility will perform a free or rebated duct test, and then have any leaks repaired. People living in very hot climates, (like the Southwest U.S.), should use mastic sealant on all duct work because regular duct tape will dry out.

  • Paint the exterior of your home a lighter color to save money on air conditioning costs. Lighter colors reflect heat. Darker colors absorb heat. If you have a house with a darker color, consider painting it with a light color. Dark paint colors increase cooling costs by 20 percent compared to light colors.

  • Metal roofs reflect heat away from your home than do regular shingle roofs. If you don't like the way metal panels look, there are newer metal shingles that look like wood shingles. Another benefit is that metal roofs are permanent so you never have to replace your roof again!

  • Well-positioned shade trees can reduce indoor temperatures by up to 20 degrees and energy use by up to 40 percent. Of course, if you live in areas where hurricanes or tornado’s are a constant threat or consideration, placing a shade tree near your home could cause more damage than do good.

  • If you let the cool air from inside escape outside, you’ll increase air conditioning costs. Weather stripping for doors and caulk for windows is easy to install and very cheap to buy. Also make sure to caulk around the holes where pipes go into the wall or under your sinks.

  • Use drapes or blinds to block the sunlight. Allowing direct sunlight into your home can raise the temperature of a room by 10-20°. The less heat gets into your home, the less you have to pay to remove it and the more you'll save on air conditioning costs. Drapes block sunlight and heat better than blinds do.

  • Use storm windows and doors to save money on air conditioning costs. If you're driven to save more money, have storm windows and doors installed. They can reduce the amount of cooling or heating lost through single pane glass by 50 percent.

    There are so many different ways you can cut air conditioning costs during the hot summer months. Do your part to save money and energy today!

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