How to Save Money on AC Bills in Your First Home
Staying cool is a costly proposition, especially if you've never owned a home before. With energy bills running high, people these days are looking for ways to cut down on their AC bills. If that sounds like you, don’t worry because you can still lower your power bills without spending a lot on green power gadgets or losing your peace of mind. Remember that cooling costs can differ a lot within regions and even within the same neighborhood. So, it won’t be surprising to find you cooling costs to be $800 while your next door neighbor may just need half the amount to keep his home cool.
From using an inefficient AC to battling with leaky doors, windows and attic, to having standard incandescent bulbs that give out a lot more heat than the CFLs, the reasons for your skyrocketing cooling costs could be many. Since your AC bills form a significant part of your cooling costs, finding ways to lower such bills will help you keep your cooling costs within a reasonable limit. So, how do you do it? We bring you some efficient solutions that would help.
Choose the AC based on your room size
Split and window air conditioners are available in a wide variety of capacities, from 0.75 to 2 tons. The tonnage refers to the rate at which an air conditioner can cool a room. You need to get the right unit for your room based on its floor size. To save on the capital cost, you may be tempted to get a smaller AC unit but that would involve increased electricity consumption (due to a capacity less than what’s required to cool the room) and decreased lifespan of the unit.
The opposite scenario where you buy an air conditioner with a capacity higher than what’s required isn’t ideal either because you would have to shell out a large sum to buy it and even deal with huge power bills. So, it’s important to get an air conditioner with the right capacity. According to a rough estimate, a 1 ton air conditioner would be good for cooling 120 to 140 square feet of area, while air conditioner's with 1.5 ton and 2 ton would be needed to cool 150 to 180 square feet and 180 to 240 square feet of area respectively.
Look for energy ratings
With the mercury rising steadily these days, it pays to invest in an energy-efficient air conditioner. Every modern air conditioner comes with an energy efficiency rating, which lists how many British thermal units (BTU's) are used every hour for each watt of power the air conditioner draws. This rating is the EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) for room air conditioners. You can find these ratings posted on the Energy Guide Label of air conditioners, which should be compulsorily attached in a place that’s easily visible.
Since an Energy Star labeled air conditioner indicates high EER ratings (more stars mean lesser consumption of electricity), it pays to buy an air conditioner with a high star rating. A lot of leading air conditioner manufacturers voluntarily participate in the Energy Star labeling program and buying from them would help you to save money on your air conditioner bills.
However, you should remember that more energy-efficient air conditioners come with a higher price tag than their non-energy-efficient counterparts. Also, air conditioners with similar capacities may not always have the same power consumption, which is why you may find two air conditioners with identical tonnage where one sports a better EER rating than the other. Of course, it pays to invest in an air conditioner with high energy rating (especially if your usage is 8 hours or more per day) since the initial steep cost would be recovered in 2-3 years by way of reduced power bills.
Clean the AC filter and vents
If you thought that lowering power bills stops at buying an energy-efficient air conditioner, think again. If you have dirty air filters, they will reduce the airflow and make your air conditioner work hard to cool the room. So, you should check your air conditioner’s air filter monthly and change them every three months. However, some air conditioner filters may need to be changed every month. Decide when you need a change of filters after your monthly inspection because changing them on time will help lower your energy consumption by anywhere between 5% and 15%.
Get rid of debris (branches, fallen leaves, grass etc) and dirt from your air conditioner’s evaporator and condenser coils (positioned outside) and clip foliage to ensure a minimum of two feet gap is there between them and the unit’s condenser.
If you use central air conditioning, make sure to see the vents are all open and no furniture or dust is blocking the floor registers. Some people believe closing the vents would help reduce their power bills by preventing the need to cool a specific room, though this is just a wrong notion as doing so would actually increase the power bills.
Get an annual checkup
Did you know 90% of air conditioners malfunction due to poor maintenance? If you don’t maintain your air conditioner well, it would have a shorter life and end up consuming 10% to 30% more energy. On an average, central air conditioner compressors work well for almost 10 to 12 years but you can extend the period to almost 20 years with proper maintenance. So, it pays to get your air conditioner checked yearly by a professional who would be able to find problems and inefficiencies, thus helping you avoid paying a lot by way of escalating power bills. Such a professional would
- clean the condenser and evaporator coils
- check and tune up all electrical controls and components to ensure they are working efficiently
- find leaks, if the unit is showing low refrigerant levels, and repair it immediately
- clean, check and/or replace air filters
- calibrate thermostat to make sure your unit isn’t working overtime
With such annual checkups, you can ensure optimal cooling with reasonable electrical consumption (and thus affordable power bills) apart from enhancing your unit’s lifespan. You will also need less frequent repairs and can enjoy high quality in your home.
Close your blinds
Sunlight coming in through your doors and windows raise the indoor temperature, making your air conditioner work harder to cool the room and make it comfortable. You can help your air conditioner by closing your blinds, curtains, and shades to avoid solar heat gain. When you use reflective blinds that are completely closed or lowered on a window facing direct sunlight, you could reduce the heat gain by almost 45%. Using curtains and shades with lighter hues (that reflect sunlight unlike their dark colored counterparts) and keeping the shades closer to window panes (which would let them block outdoor heat from spreading out inside) are other helpful steps that can help you air conditioner. You may even consider installing insulated shades or planting shade trees outside windows to completely prevent or offer some blockage to the intruding sunlight. The more heat you can block out, the lesser will be your AC’s power consumption since it won’t need to work hard to cool the indoors.
Use a programmable thermostat
You can save considerably on your cooling bills by investing in a programmable thermostat. With it, you can reset your thermostat automatically according to a predetermined schedule when you are away from home or asleep.
Since such thermostats are capable of storing and repeating as many as six or more temperature settings every day, you can adjust the times when you need to turn up or down your air-conditioning. For instance, when away from home, you can use the programmable thermostat to keep your house warmer than the usual level.
Once you are back and need the indoors to be cool, you just need to set the thermostat to 78°F. To reduce your overall cooling bills, make sure the difference between the outdoor and indoor temperatures is as minimal as possible by setting your thermostat to as high a temperature as is possible without sacrificing the comfort quotient.
Though you can also buy thermostats that can be adjusted manually, the programmable ones are better since they return the temperatures to comfortable levels before you return home or wake up, thus letting you avoid any discomfort.
Use ceiling fans to promote air flow
Did you know ceiling fans can use just 10% of the energy that a central air conditioner uses and yet make a room feel anywhere between 3 and 8 degrees cooler? At higher thermostat settings, ceiling fans would keep you comfortable by promoting air flow, which in turn would help the sweat evaporate from your skin to let you cool off.
So, for each degree above 78 degrees that you set your thermostat at, you can save 5 to 10% on your cooling costs. No wonder using ceiling fans with air conditioner is an option worth exploring. It pays to use Energy Star-rated ceiling fans since their efficiency is almost 10% more than their standard counterparts. You may even use smart ceiling fans, which you can control by using specific apps. Be it switching them on or off, or controlling their speeds, such apps let you operate the ceiling fans without leaving your bed or sofa.
Replace your old air conditioner
If your old air conditioner isn’t working efficiently, replacing the inside blower fain/coil or outside condenser won’t help much. It pays to invest in a new energy-efficient AC unit. This is especially true if you have a unit that’s over 10 years old.
In fact, you can reduce your cooling costs by 30-50% if you decide to bring home an Energy Star model to replace your central AC unit that’s 10 years old. So, even when the initial cost of acquisition of a new air conditioner is steep, it would be a wise decision since the unit will pay for itself over time by lowering your power bills significantly.
If you are in a dilemma about replacing your old air conditioner, you can visit energystar.gov to use the Energy Star savings calculator and check if such replacement would make sense financially. If it does, you should find what the most energy-efficient air conditioners are in the market to decide which one would be good to buy.
Remember these steps that would help you shop smart and even take care of your air conditioner well to ensure you stay cool even when it’s scorching outside without burning a big hole in your pocket due to huge air conditioner bills.
Aron Rogers works as content editor for RBM. He has around 5 years of experience writing about household appliances and gadgets. He is also your typical geek with love for latest gadgets and comics.