7 ways to get the most from your air conditioner
By Cris Carl, Networx
It's hot out and it can be a hard decision to let go of or reduce the use of air conditioning. For whatever reason, if you have decided that you can't live without air conditioning, there are still ways to minimize environmental impact and optimize power efficiency.
Air conditioning has become ubiquitous and at times over-used, especially in commercial settings. However, your home is one place where you have a certain amount of control over the temperature.
A few things to consider in your decision to use air conditioning are usually related to simple comfort, cost, environmental or health-related reasons. Cranking up the AC not only boosts your electric bill, but depletes natural resources. For some, it can exacerbate asthma, allergies, or sinus problems.
Mary Biddle, Director of Professional Development at Northeast Sustainable Energy Associates has plenty of simple and sound suggestions. Biddle is also a fully trained energy auditor. "First of all, it's all about your comfort. You have to know what's right for you – try to find the comfort balance," said Biddle.
"All of these suggestions seem like common sense, but sometimes we all just need to be reminded or have it brought more clearly to our attention," said Biddle.
1. "Replace all your old air conditioners for those rated as Energy Star," Energy Star is an 18-year-old government backed program that has become the nationally accepted symbol for protecting the environment through superior energy efficiency. Energy Star is becoming the gold standard for any type of appliance. "The people who have created the Energy Star system know that energy efficiency is critical to our country and to the earth's environment," said Biddle.
2. "Have the air conditioner fit the size of the room. If you have a small room and a huge air conditioner, you are wasting money. Conversely, if you have a huge room and a small air conditioner, the unit will be strained and inefficient."
3. "If it's cool at night, open the windows and turn off the air conditioning."
4. "In the morning as it begins to warm up, close the windows and close the shades on the south side of your home."
5. "Turn the air conditioning (thermostat) up a couple of notches. You can be comfortable at 76 or 78 degrees. Try to go as high as you can reasonably tolerate."
6. "Close the doors of rooms that not using, or using very little."
7. "Use a fan!" said Biddle with a laugh.
Biddle also suggested ductless mini-split air conditioners for their high efficiency and ability to both heat and cool.
General maintenance to get the most out of my air conditioner:
- Tune up your air conditioner annually, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional.
- Clean evaporator and condenser coils.
- Check refrigerant -- especially in central air systems. Too much or too little refrigerant can cause the unit to work less efficiently.
- Clean and adjust blower components. Air-flow problems can reduce efficiency up to 15 percent.
How would an energy audit help keep my home cool?
Many utility companies across the country are offering free or low-cost energy audits and low-cost loans for remediation where there are problems. Check with your local electric company for offers. Many now offer a deep energy retro-fit for your home.
One of the more common home energy solutions is to seal your house. Sealing your house is often paid for or subsidized by utility companies. "When you have cracks around your windows and doors, hot air gets pulled in," said Biddle.
Ideas for renovations and new construction:
Biddle said that many home builders and architects are starting to get on board with "green" building techniques.
Lance Hodes, owner of Haydenville Woodworking and design in South Deerfield, Mass., recommends similar methods for cooling your home as heating. "A tight house and insulation keeps both the cold and the heat in," said Hodes. If you want to get the most out of your air conditioning, Hodes recommends using cellulose insulation. "It's a little more costly than fiberglass but is sustainable and effective," he said. Hodes also suggested having thermally insulated exterior doors, double or triple-hung windows, and a well-ventilated attic. "Besides keeping your home cooler, when it gets too hot in your attic it degrades your roofing materials," said Hodes.
Lastly, Hodes recommends a whole house fan. He explained that this type of fan is installed in the attic and draws cool air up through your house. "It can be put on a thermostat so that it turns on and off automatically," said Hodes. Hodes said that whole house fans come with an insulating cover that opens and closes with use to keep unwanted hot or cold air out. "If you don't have AC, this is the next best thing," he said