September 27 2014

Shred Your Home’s AC Power Bill and Go Green

Contrary to what you might think, you do not have to allow the rising cost of energy to eat a big hole in your budget in order to keep your home reasonably cool in the summer. Some of the ‘old-fashioned’ remedies to ‘beat-the-summer-heat, like dressing cool, sipping iced-tea and sitting outside in the shade are OK, and even enjoyable, but there’s more proactive and effective things you can do too. Here’s a few thoughts on that subject.

You’re probably aware that lowering your thermostat will reduce your energy consumption but were you aware of exactly how much? The difference is amazing. Studies show that reducing your thermostat setting by only 1 degree can mean a 3% to 5% reduction in your air-conditioning (AC) bill. That’s worth considering, right?

Studies show that most people can be comfortable at 78˚F. Try it and pay more attention to how it actually feels rather than how you think it feels based on the number itself. Use a timer to make sure the temperature setting comes down at night and/or after you leave for work (if nobody is home).
Insulation is relatively cheap but very effective and easy to put in properly. Pay special attention to doors, windows and ducting throughout your home. A little money invested here will pay big dividends…. usually paying for itself in a year or three depending on how much you use.
Use fans as much as you can. They come in many different types, capacities and costs and they can make a big difference in the comfort of your home. Studies show that a good attic fan can reduce home cooling cost by by to 30%. The only environment which is not optimal for a fan is areas where the humidity is very high… although lots of people in those areas still like to use fans.
Don’t cool areas of your home if you’re not there. If you’re not using a room, either close off the ventilation or close the doors. Just be careful where your master thermostat is because if it’s in the room that you closed off, it will think it needs to keep working and you’ll keep on wasting money.
Keep your AC equipment clean. The filters are the primary element to pay attention to here and luckily cleaning them is very easy to do for most types of AC systems. You can usually do it yourself.
For some types of systems you will need a professional to clean the condenser unit. Also be aware that refrigerant levels need to be maintained and if they fall below whatever the recommended minimum is, you could be wasting up to 20% of your energy.
There’s also a fire safety and health safety factor to have keep your AC units clean too. Dirty systems are more susceptible to fires plus they can be a source of harmful mold.
If you’ve got older appliances in your home, be aware that they might be emitting more heat than the newer appliance on the market now. Check that out because cumulatively it could could be costing you money because of the increased load on your AC system. This applies to the types of lighting you use too so check that out.
Next, did you know that the color of your house has a lot to do with its cooling cost? It does. Also, the types of siding or roofing you use could be a factor. Check that out and make changes if you should and can.
Also, be aware that those drapes and curtains that some homemakers fuss over also can have a lot to do with insulating your home, especially on the sunward side of the house. Keeping them closed does help conserve energy because it traps insulative air.
Next, it’s more of a long term tactic but you should use outside trees, large and/or small, to insulate your home from the sun. Trees not only can save you money on your AC bill but they also look nice, they give you a place to enjoy (i.e. under them) outside and they’re good for the environment in general…. and they’ll help reduce the load on any AC equipment that they shade too.
If and when you go shopping for any type of AC related equipment, understand and look for the “Energy Star” rating. It does mean something. Better ratings will save you more money in the long run. There’s also another type of rating called an EER rating and another one called a SEER rating. Find out what they are if they’re relevant to your planned purchase.
As you probably know, Freon refrigerant gas is no longer allowed to be used (for environmental reasons). Now what’s used is usually R-410. Just to be sure, check to be sure you’ve got R-410, or whatever is the proper specification, for any new equipment you buy. Whatever is recommended for your equipment, that’s what you need to use because using anything else could be dangerous, could damage your equipment and probably won’t work as well anyway.
If you need to buy a new airconditioner, be aware of the major types of units and what their pro’s and con’s are:

  1. Room or window units
  2. Central units
  3. High velocity units
  4. Heat pumps
  5. Evaporative coolers (an older type system but one which can work very well in some situations.
  6. Hydronic systems (for heating or cooling)

Choosing the proper type of AC system has significance beyond just your comfort. Home AC costs represent approximately 5% of total electricity used in the US today. Plus generating that energy accounts for about 140M tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. Choose your AC units wisely.
Don’t think that ‘bigger is better’ in selecting a good AC unit. It’s not. Make a careful determination on what you need and buy quality. That’s all you need to do. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from dealers but just ask lots of questions. And certainly talk to your friends about their experiences with different kinds of units.

Once you do make a decision, and you’ve bought quality, be sure you have it installed and set-up by someone who’s qualified to do so. There actually are people who are ‘licensed’ to do such things. Don’t spend money on good equipment and then have it screwed up by trying to save a few bucks by having a non-professional or local part-timer install it.

Get it done right the first time also be sure you have a clear understanding of what your specific responsibilities are to maintain it. Maintenance contracts are a good idea if you can afford them and/or they are appropriate for your lifestyle. Also be aware that you should be able to get a reasonably accurate estimate, from the licensed equipment and/or installer of how much it will cost you to operate that particular unit in your home per year. It shouldn’t be a ‘wait and see’ deal, right?