Tips for lowering your cooling costs in the heat of summer

Monday, July 2, 2012
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As summer heats up, air conditioning bills can rapidly rise. As homeowners feel the heat, many are looking for ways to save money and stay cool.

"In a home, about 60 percent of your utility bill is for air conditioning," says Chris Janet, division manager of sales and services for Dutch Enterprises.

With that information, Janet says, it is easy for an air conditioner specialist to do an energy analysis for costumers based on the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio). The higher the SEER rating, the greater savings the homeowner will see. "The lowest (SEER) allowed is 13, but you can go up to 23 SEER," Janet says.

Older cooling units may have a SEER that's lower than 13, however. "Some homeowners with older systems need to realize there a lot more costs involved," Janet says. If you replace old units "with high-efficient systems, you'll see a good return on the investment with the monthly bill."

But if replacing your air conditioner isn't an option right now, there are still things you can do to stay cool and save money.

"First, make sure your system is maintained," Janet says. "Maintenance on an air conditioner will lower utility costs. You don't want one running that's clogged with dirt. Have it serviced to operate at full efficiency."

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting the thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The smaller the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.

"If you have a programmable thermostat, utilize its functions," Janet says. "Increase the temperature settings in evening and early morning so the system isn't running."

If you don't have a programmable thermostat, Janet says installation of one runs about $200.

Windows and doors are also places that hot air can get into your home. "A lot of people ignore insulation and weather stripping," Janet says. "In the heat of summer and cold of winter, any infiltration of air coming in affects your heating and cooling."

Keeping the windows covered can also help lower your utility costs.

"Most window treatments do have insulating value, but there are some that are better than others," says Dan Phillips of Budget Blinds. He says cellular shades, solar shades and plantation shutters provide the best insulation. But just having window coverings isn't enough.

"The whole key is how you use them," Phillips says. "If you have east exposure with a lot of morning heat, you need to have shades down (on those windows) before you go to bed. The object is keeping heat and sunlight out of the house when it needs to be." Conversely, for west-facing windows, you want the shades down from around noon until after sunset. "It's not just purchasing a shade," Phillips says. "You have to understand it takes a little work on the consumer's part."

Here are some other tips from the Department of Energy's website,

* Avoid setting your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and unnecessary expense.

* If you use air conditioning, turn off ceiling fans when you leave the room. Remember that fans cool people, not rooms, by creating a wind chill effect.

* When you shower or take a bath, use the bathroom fan to remove the heat and humidity from your home. Your laundry room might also benefit from spot ventilation. Make sure bathroom and kitchen fans are vented to the outside (not just to the attic).

* On hot days, avoid using the oven; cook on the stove, use a microwave oven, or grill outside.

* Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes. Consider air drying both dishes and clothing.

* Take short showers instead of baths.

* Minimize activities that generate a lot of heat, such as running a computer, burning open flames, running a dishwasher and using hot devices such as curling irons or hair dryers. Even stereos and televisions will add some heat to your home.

* Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120 degrees Fahrenheit). You'll not only save energy, but you'll avoid scalding your hands.

Did you know?

A ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about four degrees with no reduction in comfort.


Seek the SEER

Central air conditioners are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Many older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less. The minimum SEER allowed today is 13. You can consider using air conditioning equipment with higher SEER ratings for greater savings. A SEER of 13 is 30 percent more efficient than the previous minimum SEER of 10.


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