The Complete Guide To Reducing Air Conditioner Running Costs – Without Cutting Out The Air Con!
Across the world the use of air conditioning is increasing.
This is due to a number of factors including rising standards of living, lower cost of air con systems and more people living in hotter climates. Generally hotter temperatures across the globe may also be a factor but that’s a discussion for another day!
The US Department of Energy has released figures which estimate that 43% of the country’s energy consumption on a hot summer’s day is used on air conditoners. A growing percentage of these are portable AC units, which if not operated correctly can be less efficient.
Air con accounts for about 17% of a household’s electricity usage over the course of a year. That’s a lot of money coming out of your pocket just to keep your home cool!
You’ve found this article because you want to cut your air conditioning bills, but still enjoy living or working in a home that’s full of cool, refreshing air. You may also be concerned about the environmental impact of using all this energy and are interested to see what you can do to play your part.
Well, there’s some great news. There are some simple, cost-effective steps you can do to help cut those monthly energy bills, even starting today.
Use the links below to jump to a specific part, or read on for the full cost-saving story!
- 1 The 5 Part Air Conditioner Cost-Saving Model
The 5 Part Air Conditioner Cost-Saving Model
Part 1 – Heat coming into your house
First of all you need to think about why your home heats up. There are 2 basic reasons. Firstly, heat comes into your house from outside, mainly from the sun. Secondly, heat is generated from inside your house from cooking, TVs, computers etc.
Part 2 – The cost of the electricity to run the unit
This one is more obvious. Cut your energy costs by paying less for your electricity.
Part 3 –The efficiency of the air conditioning system or unit
All air con units run at a different efficiency level. This is a measure of how much energy it takes to cool a certain amount of air. f we can increase the efficiency we can therefore get more of the same amount of cooling power for less cost.
Part 4 – Cool air getting out of your house
If you spend money cooling the air, we want to make sure that the cool air stays in the house. A well-insulated home can stop valuable cool air escaping.
Part 5 – Heat we produce within our homes
During the course of day-to-day living we produce heat within our homes. This heat has to be removed and it’s your air con unit’s job to do this. Limit this additional heat you put into your home and your unit will have less work to do and cost less to run!
The Solutions – How to address each part of the Air Con Equation
If we can address some or all of these areas then you can make a significant dent in those monthly outgoings, leaving you more money to spend having fun, treating yourself to something nice or saving for a special occasion or vacation.
Part 1 – Stop Heating Getting Into Your Home
The sun and its solar energy is obviously the biggest source of heat entering your house. So it stands to reason that if you can stop the rays getting into your house then you can stop it heating up – and then ultimately stop having to cool it down.
(a) Add a bit of window dressing – Solar Screens
They also come with the added bonus of reducing glare if you’re watching TV, stop fading on surfaces, and also stop bugs getting into your home (if you have the window open).
(b) Use Nature – Plant Trees, Vines and Bushes
The windows are dealt with – now what about the rest of the house? Another way to reduce the amount of sun hitting our homes is to use Mother Nature’s helpers – trees, vines and shrubs. Some well-placed greenery can have a massive shading effect.
Trees – As little as 3 or 4 well-placed trees to the south and west of our home can naturally shade out the sun’s rays and help keep your home cooler. The US Department of Energy suggests that this could save between $100 and $250 a year on energy bills.
Try to buy trees which are fast growing, native to your area and also choose a variety which casts its leaves in autumn to allow the sun to reach your home when it’s colder.
Trees are also said to offer massive health and environmental benefits – check out this article on trees if you’re interested in learning more about this particular topic.
Vines – Another option is to grow vines on one or more sides of your home. Vines are cheap to buy, grow quickly and act as an excellent buffer to stop the sun’s energy entering your home. They can be grown on trellises attached to your outer wall.
Remember to leave a 6-10” gap behind them to let the air circulate through and also protect the outer wall. You’ll also need to consider the current state of your walls as vines could damage them if they are already in need of repair.
Bushes and Shrubbery – These can help to protect the lower areas of your home from the heat. Use a local nursery or garden center to get some advice on which type is best suited for your area.
Try to get some that grow to a fixed height and size to cut down on maintenance and gardening effort if you’re not a keen gardener. Even if you enjoy gardening they can get out of hand if you choose the wrong variety of shrubs and bushes, so be careful in your selection and seek advice if you’re not sure.
So, that covers the first part of the equation – stopping heat getting into your home in the first place.
Next we’ll look at Part 2 – Reducing your Electricity Tariff
Switching electricity suppliers can be one of the quickest and easiest methods of saving money on your air conditioning bills.
It also has the added bonus of reducing the cost of running all your other electrical appliances. Making a switch is very easy these days, with companies like power2switch.com and saveonenergy.com making it simple to compare your current tariff with what is available on the market and make the switch.
What you need when switching:
- Check your current contract to make sure you don’t have a fee for cancelling. Some deals have fixed tie-in periods with penalty fees if you cancel before the fixed period has been reached.
- Get a hold of the latest bill from your supplier and know your current tariff name. Many of these are available online these days.
- Know your total monthly and annual cost and usage in kWh.
Most reputable energy companies or switching services will walk you through the process and most people find it very easy. Rest assured that the following myths are not true:
- You won’t be given poorer service from the infrastructure provider if you switch electrical provider.
- Your electricity will not be cut off during the process.
- You will still get the same emergency response during power cuts.
- Other companies don’t normally make up for cheaper rates using hidden charges.
The vast majority of people don’t switch. Even those that do switch are advised to run a comparison every 6-12 months as providers are always looking for new customers and offering new deals. You could easily save a $100 – $500 plus a year through simply switching supplier.
Part 3 –How you Run your Air Conditioning System
This part looks at how you run your air conditioner. If you make some simple adjustments you can shave a few extra dollars off your bills each month.
(a) Lower the thermostat setting
Most of us like to feel cool and comfortable but what is the boundary of that comfort? Setting a temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect for most people but you might try setting it a little higher to see how you feel.
If your portable or central air conditioning system has the functionality, use a timer to switch off or increase the set temperature of your air con at night and when you’re not around.
Our complete guide explains how these timer features work and has some recommendations and reviews of some current top models.
(b) Cool only the areas you spend the most time in
If you have a large home then only cool the areas that you spend the most time in.
For example, the is no point in cooling upstairs bedrooms during the day when no one is using them. Equally there is no point in cooling downstairs living rooms, dens and kitchens during the night.
If you are using a portable air conditioning unit this is not an issue as you can move this with you. However, if you have central air conditioning then make sure you switch on and off each unit. Some of the modern control systems will handle this easily, even letting you set it through your phone or tablet.
(c) Make sure your AC units are in tip-top condition
Check that you have carried out all the recommended maintenance on your ac units.
Consult your user manual to find out what maintenance they recommend and instructions on how to carry it out properly. If you don’t have the manual then you can normally find a copy online.
The main thing you can do is clean or change the air filters. This is normally as simple as giving them a wash in warm water. This will make sure that the flow of air through the unit is not restricted in any way and increases the unit’s efficiency.
If you have a very old unit then consider upgrading your ac unit with a more efficient one. This can make a huge difference. Technology improves each year and the energy efficiency of air con units gets better and better. The Department of Energy suggests that replacing older units with new could cut bills in half for some people.
Look for the Energy-Efficiency ratio or EER number. It’s a ratio of the power to run the unit to the cooling capacity in BTU. The higher the ratio the more efficient the unit is.
For example, if the BTU is 12,000 and the power rating is 1,200 watts the EER is 12,000 / 1,200 = 10. If a similar unit runs at 1,000 watts then its EER is 12, so it’s more efficient. Anything above 10 is considered good.
Also, look for the Energy Star symbol. This is an indicator that the unit has exceeded efficiency levels set by the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Check out energystar.gov for more details.
If you are interested in learning more about reducing your use of air con and helping the environment, I’ve written this article with 7 green alternatives to reduce your air conditioning use.
Part 4 – Keep the Cool Air IN Your House
The good news is that a well-insulated home is something that will benefit you in both the summer and winter months.
Cold air is always trying to take the place of warm air. It’s a basic law of physics. So during the winter this means your warm air is looking for ways to escape out of the building into the colder air outside, while during the hot summer months the warm air is looking for ways to get into your house. The more hot air you let into your house, the more your AC will need to work to cool that air down.
Here is a list of 8 simple, low-cost things you can do to insulate your home:
- Shut all doors and windows. AC will run and run while they are open – you can’t cool the world!
- Fix tight fitting seals around your doors and windows and any other holes such as cat flaps or mail boxes.
- Fit thick, full-length curtains.
- Block up your chimney. You can do this during the summer months with a device called a chimney balloon. They are easy to install and can be removed when the weather gets colder and you want to use the fire again.
- Use a draught excluder at the foot of doors.
- Shut the internal doors to unused rooms.
- Add loft insulation. Roofs can become very hot and draw cooled air up into the loft and away from your rooms. Loft insulation can help to prevent this.
- Seal the loft hatch. Placing some simple self-adhesive strips around the hatch (these can be used for doors too) will help make sure the hatch doesn’t become the weak link in the insulation chain.
As you can see, there are some fairly simple steps you can take to insulate your home and stop cool air escaping.
Remember, most of these steps will also stop warm air escaping in the winter too so are well worth a little investment of your time and money.
It’s worth noting that the natural leaks and drafts in homes can actually be a good route of fresh air circulation in and out of your home. If you insulate your home well then you’ll need let fresh air in from time to time to reduce the risk of poor air quality build up which can start to affect your health.
Check out my article on 5 easy ways to improve the quality of your indoor air. I’ve also created a quick guide if you’re interested in learning more about the indoor air purifiers.
Part 5 – Reduce the Heat Produced Within Your Home
Lots of day-to-day tasks and activities we carry out in the course of our lives create heat, mostly through the use of electrical appliances. This heat then has to be removed from your home. This in turn means extra work for your air conditioner and extra cost to you.
Lighting – If possible switch to energy efficient light bulbs. The facts are clear. For normal incandescent light bulbs almost 95% of the energy used is turned to heat. Energy efficient light bulbs cost more to buy upfront – however they last for years, give off 90% less heat and cost 75% less to run that their incandescent equivalent wattage.
Cooking – Cooking on a gas or electric stove or using an oven will normally result in a load of heat being released into you home. Try using the BBQ outside or make more use of your microwave. These produce very little heat when running.
Laundry – Washing and drying your clothes is not something I recommend you stop doing, at least if you want to keep your friends and job! Running washers and dryers generates heat. Line drying your clothes is an obvious solution to indoor drying.
Also if you have a laundry room keep the door closed and well sealed and vent the humid air outside. If you don’t have a laundry room you can try doing the washing at naturally cooler times of the day i.e. morning and later at night.
Dishwasher – Hand wash your dishes. Yes, that’s right! A dishwasher cycle can last several hours and during that time the appliance is producing heat which all needs to be removed. If you really can’t stand the idea of hand washing your dishes then perhaps wash only full loads. And again, run this at night or early in the morning when it’s cooler anyway.
Hot Water Tank – If you have a hot water tank it really makes sense to properly insulate it. The water in the tank is not constantly heated. The heating system only runs when the water falls below the thermostat level. So from a heat production and heating cost point of view it pays to stop as much heat loss as possible. You can buy simple-to-install and inexpensive blankets to wrap around your tank and help reduce the heat loss.
Computers and TVs – We all love to watch TV and play games or surf the web. However, these devices do generate additional heat. Remember to switch them off when they’re not being used, particularly if you have a powerful computer as the processor in these can run at very high temperatures.
Summary and Final Thoughts
As you can see there are 5 parts to the air con bills cost reduction equation.
Part 1 is to reduce the heat coming into your house. The 2nd part is to reduce the cost of your electricity and get a better deal from your supplier. The 3rd element is making sure that your air conditioner units are working to their maximum efficiency. Stopping cool air from escaping from your home is the 4th part. And finally, limiting the heat sources from within our homes is the final part of the equation.
Most of thesse tips are low-cost and only need to be done once so won’t take up lots of time. Take a few simple actions in each of these areas and you’ll be sure to notice a reduction in your energy bills over the coming months and years, giving you extra money to treat youself and your family or to save for that special something you’ve always wanted!