In the average home, air conditioning uses more electricity than any other appliance; in fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 43% of your summer electric bill comes from running the air conditioner. So if you're serious about cutting down on your summer energy usage, you should address your cooling energy costs first as they are the main culprit behind budget-busting electric bills. Check out these ways to save on air conditioning costs this summer:
- Get a High-Efficiency Air Conditioning System: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, today's high-efficiency air conditioners use 30%-50% less energy than the air conditioners made in the 1970’s. Even if your air conditioner is only 10 years old, you could save up to 40% off your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a new high-efficiency model. When buying a new air conditioner, be aware that central air conditioners are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Older systems have a SEER rating of 6 or less. Today, systems must have a a SEER rating of at least 13. Consider buying an air conditioner with an even higher SEER rating to get greater savings.
- Adjust Your Thermostat: For every degree you raise your thermostat, you can save 5%-7% on air conditioning costs. Experts have found that you should keep your thermostat set to 78°F when you are home and 82°F when you leave the house. It is a myth that an air conditioner works harder than normal to cool the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been increased, resulting in little or no savings.
- Use a Fan: A ceiling fan can make the room feel 3°F-8°F cooler, which allows you to set your thermostat on a higher temperature and still feel just as cool. On average, it costs $0.01/hour to run a 52" ceiling fan, $0.60/hour to run a three-ton central air conditioning system (a standard size system), and $0.14/hour to run a standard size window unit air conditioning system.
- Change Your AC Filter: A dirty air conditioning filter will wreak havoc on your allergies and your utilities bill. During the summer, change your disposable filter every month. If you have a washable filter, clean it every two weeks by soaking it for an hour in a tub filled with one part vinegar and one part water. Washable filters also need to be replaced every six months. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, keeping your air conditioning filters clean can lower your air conditioner's energy usage by 5%-15%.
- Adjust Your AC's Fan Speed: Keep your air conditioner's fan speed on high, unless it is extremely humid outside. When the humidity level outside is 85% or higher, set the fan speed to low as this slower movement of air through the system will take out moisture from the air making your home feel cooler and more comfortable.
- Plant Shade Trees: The majority of the heat that accumulates in a house is the result of the sun shining through the house's windows or roof. As such, plant deciduous (leafy) shade trees near windows on the west-side of your house to block sun rays from entering the house. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, planting shade trees can reduce your cooling energy costs by up to 10%.
- Use Solar Screens: Mesh-like window screens known as solar screens can intercept up to 70% of sun rays before they enter the house. It is most effective to place solar screens on east- and west-facing windows in your house. However, do not use solar screens that block too much light—if your home gets too dark you'll end up using more lighting inside which generates heat and runs up your electric bill.
- Invest in a Retractable Awning: Windows with retractable awnings block out up to 77% of solar energy.
- Use Heat Control Window Film: If solar screens or retractable awnings are out of your budget or your Home Owner's Association or Condo Association prohibits them, an alternative is to apply heat control window film on your windows to reflect heat from the sun. Heat control film not only blocks about 70% of the sun’s heat to keep your home cool and reduce summer cooling costs but also this film blocks up to 99% of ultraviolet rays to prevent your furniture and decorations from fading. It’s also relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of solar screens or retractable awnings; for example, a 3 ft. x 15 ft. piece of Gila Titanium Heat Control Film is $35.87 at Home Depot.