If you have been following our latest blogs, you have seen that have we discovered 10 appliances that are hidden energy-guzzlers for the average home owner. The next energy-guzzler we tackled is our air conditioner. We have a 3-ton unit that, when running only four hours a day, costs us a whopping $80.50 a month, which is considerable portion of our $258.00 monthly electricity bill. In our part of the country, we NEED air conditioning-it’s really not an option. Our local utility expert, however, gave me some great tips on how to reduce our monthly bill. Here are fifteen (Yes…15!) areas I was told to check that could shave-off a considerable amount of air conditioning expense:
1. Raise the temperature: It was suggested that I not turn on my AC unless it’s more than 90 degrees outside. Each degree below 78 will increase my energy use by 3-4%. We currently set it at 80 and let it run, a practice which is going to stop.
2. Install ceiling fans and make sure they are spinning the right direction: I didn’t realize that fans can actually make you feel 3 to 8 degrees cooler, allowing you to dial your AC to a higher temperature and still feel just as cool. I was told to make sure my fan is blowing DOWN, to send air past one’s body, removing the hot air that surrounds the body. If your fan is blowing up, it won’t do any good. In fact, it’s worse than no fan, because it moves the warm air at the ceiling back down towards the living area. Who knew?
3. Use a timer: My thermostat has a built-in timer, which I have never used. I was told to program it to turn-off both during those times when we were away from home, and at night.
4. Close registers in unused rooms: It was suggested that we close registers in rooms we’re not using so as not to pay to cool them, but was warned that if I closed too many of them, the pressure in the system could cause leaks in the ducts! I was told to check with an AC professional first to see how many & which registers are safe to close at the same time.
5. Replace an old air conditioner: My AC unit is 8 years old, so I’m good. I was told that the newer units use 30-50% less electricity than 15-year-old models.
6. Make sure the condenser unit is not being blocked: This was something I wasn’t watching. I learned that tall grass and other debris on or around the condenser can restrict air flow and use more electricity. I have bushes growing around mine (to hide it) and the bushes have been trimmed back.
7. Clean the condenser coils at the start of each AC season: I was told that I could wash the fin coils on the outside with a garden hose, but unless I knew what I was doing, have the coils on the inside serviced by an AC specialist.
8. Check my attic insulation: Poorly insulated attics can lose up to 40% of a house’s cool air. The average home built in 1985-90 has R-11 to R-15 insulation but needs up to R-49. Mine was built in 1995 and has around an R-30, so I need some help here. But the following suggestion made even more sense.
9. Install a reflective barrier: This is a high-tech, high performance reflective insulation (sometimes called radiant barrier insulation) which is a strong, thin aluminum foil sheet designed to block radiant heat transfer across open spaces. Installed on the rafters in my attic, it works with the existing insulation to boost the insulating power of my home. Besides decreasing the amount of attic heat that radiates into the living space, it might reduce the heat enough that I could consider turning the attic space itself into a living space. Not a bad idea for the future.
10. Test my AC ducts for leaks: Check this out: Austin Energy tested thousands of home duct systems and found that the average home loses 27% of its heating or cooling from leaky ducts. And over 86% of homes had ducts which lost more than 10%. Leaking ducts and insufficient insulation meant that the average home used 162 kWh/mo. extra electricity per month, or 18% more than normal. This is an extra $233 a year at average electrical rates.
11. Use shades or blinds on my windows: I like a well-lighted home, so I have a habit of leaving the drapes open. But I was told to keep direct sunlight out. Direct sunlight can raise the temperature of a room by 10-20 degrees. The less heat gets into my home, the less I have to pay to remove it. Again, see the following suggestion, which is even better.
12. Install reflective film on my windows: I found that according to the California Energy Commission, 30% of a structure’s cooling requirements are due to solar energy entering through glass. Reflective film reflects the sun’s heat from my windows, and can block 40-60% of heat and modern films reflect heat away without blocking the light too, so I can still have nice, bright rooms. Good idea.
13. Reduce heat by changing my light bulbs: This is interesting. Lights create a lot of heat which my AC system has to remove. I was shown that I could replace my normal lights with (CFL) bulbs, which use 75% less energy and create 70-90% less heat at the same time. Regular lights give off 10% light and 90% heat, while CFL’s give off 90% light and 10% heat. They are more expensive, but are guaranteed to last ten years or more, and will save me in the long-run.
14. Use storm windows and doors: He said, “If you’re ambitious, install storm windows and doors.” Not being in an area that gets snow, I wondered about the logic of this suggestion, but found that they can reduce the amount of cooling or heating lost through single pane glass by 50%.
15. The best suggestion: Get an energy audit by a reputable company who are experts in this area. An energy audit will assess my home’s current and desired comfort levels, energy expenditure, utility bills, and where I’d like to see improvements. It’s like going to a reputable mechanic for a check-up and reduces the guess-work.
I like the idea of an energy audit. Coupled with the above tips and suggestions, it will give me the assurance of covering all bases when it comes to significantly reducing the $80.50 monthly air-conditioning bill that I’ve been paying.