Keeping Your Cool with Rising Utility Costs
Tips to Keep In Mind With Hot Climate and Associated Rising Utility Costs
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), eleven percent of the average American utility bill goes toward home cooling. That number can be significantly more depending upon climate. Irregardless of what percentage of your total utility bill goes toward cooling, you don’t need to be a victim or suffer through another hot spell. There are steps that you can take that will lower your bill, improve comfort and help save our earth.
An air conditioning system does more than just cool the air. It lowers humidity, and also removes dust and dirt by moving the air through filters. One of the most appealing aspects of having less humid air is that it actually feels cooler to the skin, thus allowing you to raise the thermostat. This can result in significant energy savings (and a lower utility bill) and less wear and tear on your cooling system without sacrificing comfort. If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider adding a dehumidifier if you live in a particularly humid climate.
When filters become clogged with dirt, the system must work harder to do its job. This wastes energy and inflates utility bills. Disposable filters should be checked every two months (once a month during peak use) and replaced when necessary. Stay away from the cheap fiberglass mesh filters. They do little to protect your system. A pleated filter has more surface area and will trap more minute particles. A pleated filter will cost about three times that of a mesh filter, but will normally last three to five times as long and, more importantly, do a better job of protecting your system. If your air conditioning system has either a permanent or electronic filter, it should be cleaned and/or replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you live in a dusty area or suffer from allergies, kick up your air cleaning horsepower by installing a whole-house air cleaner. You’ll get the best of all worlds – a clean system and fewer allergens that make you wheeze and sneeze.
Air conditioners use a refrigerant gas that is circulated throughout the system to product cool air. Minute leaks in the system can allow the refrigerant to escape. When this happens more electricity is used with less cooling effect. Have a heating and cooling contractor check the refrigerant level every year or two.
If those funny paper-thin metal separators on the exterior portion of the system (the condensing unit) are bent, efficiency is reduced because air flow is diminished. Use an old dinner knife or thin-bladed screwdriver to straighten out bent fins. It isn’t important that the fins look nice only that air passes freely between all of them.
Some people like to “help” their air conditioner by opening doors and windows on warm days. But doing so lets all the cool, dehumidified air rush outside and lets in the hot, humid air. The more your home seals out heat, humidity, and dust, the more efficiently your system will do its job. Insulation, weather-stripping, window coverings and shade trees are a few things that can be used to help your home beat the heat.
A programmable thermostat can save energy and save you money on utility bills. Programmable thermostats automatically change the thermostat’s set temperature between comfort levels and energy saving levels at specified times, according to the programs you set up. Generally, to save energy, you would set up four program periods for each day – two comfort (cooling) programs and two energy saving (idle or higher temperature) programs.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a programmable thermostat can reduce cooling costs by up to 25%. Your savings will largely depend on the length of your energy saving program periods and the temperatures set. For example, an energy saving period of 10 hours with the temperature set back 10° will save more than a 5 hour energy saving period with the temperature set back 5°.
When an air conditioner begins to show its age, it is usually a major component such as a motor or compressor that wears out. In the short run, replacing failed components will usually cost the least amount of money. But, in so doing, an opportunity to greatly improve the overall efficiency of the system could be lost as most aging system are energy guzzlers. According to Energy Star, a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through energy efficiency, you should consider replacing your air conditioning system with a new, more energy-efficient model that bears the Energy Star label if it is 10 years or older.
In recent years, air conditioner manufacturers have made dramatic progress in increasing the efficiency of the units they produce. In addition, government standards for minimum energy efficiency for air conditioners have increased by 30 percent. Therefore, it might make more economic sense to put the cost of repair into a new, more efficient unit that will bring down operating costs. Eventually, the more efficient unit should pay for itself through decreased utility bills. What’s more, the new unit will be more reliable and offer warranty protection.
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