by Ruby Bayan
Summer is when you really feel the heat -- from Mother Nature and from the bottom line on your utility bills. There's not much you can do about Mother Nature but you can certainly do something about shaving off a few dollars from your monthly bills.
The formula is rather simple: energy efficiency plus energy saving equals dollars saved. Here are a number of tips on how to keep your cool during the summer months.
The Best Equipment
Investing in the most efficient cooling units is your first step to saving money. Most air conditioners are certified by the government for efficiency, as indicated by the Energy Star label, so you don't have to take the word of the salesman. Don't settle for an uncertified, refurbished, reconditioned airconditioner because you will initially save on a rock-bottom sale, but end up paying dearly for the poor performance of the unit.
Choose the appropriate cooling unit for the size of the area it is meant to cover. If the cooling capacity of the unit is too high, you're wasting money. If too small, you'll lose money on maintenance because the unit will be overworked, aside from the fact that it will never cool the area adequately.
Given the choice, opt for air conditioning units with energy saving features like automatic timers, change-filter indicators, and fan-only options. These little savings add up.
Proper Installation and Maintenance
The next energy-saving thing to do is to install your airconditioner where it won't have to work too hard to cool the air. Install wall- or window-mount airconditioners where it will remain shaded especially during the hottest hours of the day. The north wall is ideal; the south wall is the next best.
The same is true for central airconditioning compressors -- set them up where they will get least exposure from the sun and from falling debris that could jam the unit.
Proper maintenance is just as important as proper installation. Have your airconditioning units cleaned and inspected by a professional every two years. Change the air filters monthly.
Keeping the Cool
No matter how efficient, or how well placed your airconditioning units are, if the coolness within the enclosure is not maintained or allowed to dissipate, energy (and dollars) is wasted. There are many ways to ensure that the cool air the airconditioners generate lasts as long as possible, such as:
Energy Saving Tips
- Seal in the cold air. Air leaks are a major cause of dissipation of cool air. Check your air ducts, air handler cabinets, wall-unit mountings, windows and doors for air leaks; seal them off with weather-strips, caulk or appropriate sealants. Use draft guards under the external doors.
- Minimize heat-generators. Replace incandescent bulbs because they give off more heat than fluorescent lights; turn off lights when they're not really essential -- use natural lighting as much as possible. Operate your dishwasher, dryer, and other heat-generating appliances during the cooler hours of the day. Minimize the heat seeping through the ceiling by making sure that proper insulation is installed, especially in around the attic.
- Keep the heat out. Block sunlight, especially through windows facing east and west, with reflective tints, blinds, or curtains. Light-colored shades reflect the light, and heat, back outside. Keep them closed during the hottest hours of the day.
Here are other energy-saving ideas that could save you a lot of money in the long run:
- Set your airconditioner thermostat to 78 degrees. According to the Memphis Light Gas and Water, each degree below this setting adds 6% to your cooling costs.
- Use ceiling fans because they can help move the air and lower the temperature by as much as ten degrees.
- Shut off the cooling vents in rooms you are not using. Consider central airconditioning systems that allow specific settings for individual rooms in the house.
- If you're leaving for the day, turn up your thermostat a couple of degrees. Do not turn your cooling system off unless you'll be gone for an extended period of time, suggests the Carolina Power and Light Company. Cooling systems work best when they maintain a steady temperature, instead of making large adjustments.
- Keep heat sources, like lamps, away from the thermostat because they will mislead the sensors and cause the cooling units to erroneously kick in.
- If there's a breeze, open windows and vents and use the airconditioner only during the hottest hours of the day.
- Consider planting shade trees around your house for their cooling effect.
- Wear light clothing and use light bedsheets, instead of lowering the thermostat setting.
- Use your appliances with energy-conservation in mind. Run the dishwasher and clothes dryer only for full loads; you'll save on the electricity that heats the water and runs the appliances. Try washing clothes using cold or warm, instead of hot water. Refrain from opening the refrigerator door too often.
- Avail of home energy program incentives like the Energy Efficiency Rebate Program of the Orlando Utilities Commission -- inquire from your local power provider about rebates on similar energy-saving or energy fix-up programs.
For more information:
Utility and Energy Conservation Tips (The Cheapskate Monthly)
Energy Cost Calculator
The Utility Connection (links to electric, gas, water and wastewater utilities, utility associations, organizations, news, magazines, utility financial resources, and related state & federal regulatory and information sites)
[First published in New2USA.com, 2000]