Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Save Money by Reducing Your Air Conditioner Usage

  I live in Central Texas, where three of the seasons; Spring, Fall, and Winter, are mild and short.  Summer dominates the year with high humidity, daytime temperatures well over 100 degrees, and nights rarely cooler than 85 degrees.  Last year, it was common during the peak months (May, June, July, and August) for my electric bill to exceed $250 each month.  Like in most cities, the local power company has no competition, and you are required by law to have the utility, so there is little recourse.

 A friend of mine here in Texas is a true energy miser.  He LOATHES air-conditioning, considering it an extravagant waste.  He somehow goes the whole summer without air-conditioning.  Personally, I love having my home cool enough that my wife and I can curl up in a blanket during the summer.  I am all about extravagant waste, but I do not enjoy the bill attached to it.

 So, I have begun doing some of the things he does to keep cool in order to reduce how hard my AC has to work.  So far, these tips (along with some other energy savers) have helped cut my bill in half.

 WINDOWS:  The biggest waster of energy are windows.  Cool air and heat escape through the tiny spaces in the imperfect window frame and the sunlight streaming in heats the air during the day.  One of the easiest ways to reduce your windows impact on your AC bill is to install a set of good blinds or simply hang some heavy, dark fabric over them during the day.  Keeping your home dark, especially during the hours when no one is home, helps keep the space cool.

 Another cheap and simple trick is to install some caulking strips along the window's frame.  The strips are inexpensive, easy to use, and cut down on the amount of air exchanged through those spaces in the window frame.  The downside is they may not allow you to open your windows without removing them, so be prepared to install them for the season.

 Somewhat more expensive is do-it-yourself window tinting.  Like the dark fabric, the tint blocks out the light, in particular UV rays, that heat the air in your home.  A potential hazard could be that while you are home, it will seem darker outside earlier in the day and you will be inclined to turn on your lights earlier, potentially losing the savings gained by the window tint.

 RUNNING YOUR AC:  There seems to be some debate between to AC strategies; run all day vs. turn it off when no one is home.  My friend put it to me this way; AC has to cool a certain volume of air to a set temperature.  Even if you set the temperature when you leave your home at 90 degrees, this means that during a 100 degree day you AC is going to kick-on many times to reduce the whole volume of air in your home back down to 90.  If you come home and turn the AC on to 75, then the AC just kicks-on and runs to reduce your temperature down to 75.  Your AC works harder during the day because it is hotter during the day.  You are better off just shutting it off and keeping your house dark during the day.

 My advise:  If you have something to do just before going home for the day, go inside and turn the AC on, run your errand, and then come home.  Your home will have time to cool down while you take care of whatever it is you need.

 GET OUT MORE:  This should be a no-brainer.  The more time you stay out of your home, the less you need to run your AC.  Go see a movie, see the sights, enjoy the parks, grill outside.  Make the most of the warm weather!  

 BECOME NOCTURNAL:  In Texas, we have a large Hispanic community.  What I have observed is that their families tend to do things at night, outdoors, especially on the weekends.  They take the kids to the local park at night, barbecue at night, and basically socialize all in the cover of darkness.  The only reason I can think of for this is that it is cooler to be active at night.  It is not unusual to hear children playing outside as late as 11 at night.

 The downside is that if you need light to do anything, then you are increasing your bill running your electronics into the wee hours of the morning.

 SECTION OFF YOUR RESIDENCE:  In my home, there are certain rooms that we rarely use.  Using the AC to cool these rooms simply doesn't make any sense, so we cut these rooms off.  We close the vent to the central-air and shut the door.  The result is the AC has a smaller volume of air to cool, and we lower our bill.

 WINDOW UNIT vs. CENTRAL AIR:  Speaking of central air, it is a true luxury.  Window units often cost much less to run.  One strategy is to have window units in your bedrooms, and shut down the central air at night while running the window units for just the rooms you sleep in.  Again, you reduce the volume of air being cooled and therefore your bill.

 USE YOUR FANS:  Fans do not actually cool you down, but help circulate the air around you. Ceiling fans are very effective at lowering the apparent temperature by making use of evaporation of the perspiration on your body to pull heat away. The more evaporation through circulation of the air, the cooler the apparent temperature. This allows you to set the AC temperature higher while still feeling cool.

 Most ceiling fan run both ways, with counter-clockwise typically being a downward flow and clockwise typically being an upward flow.  During the summer, you want the ceiling fan to move air downward, but in the Winter, having the air move upward helps move warm air down from the ceiling and around your home.

 CHANGE YOUR DIET:  Just hear me out.  Instead of eating a hot meal, eat meals that require no heating to prepare; cold-cut sandwiches, breakfast cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, ice-cream... whatever, as long as you don't have to turn your on oven or stove.  Most electric ovens work by heating elements to a "cooking" temperature, and when you turn them off those same elements have to cool down.  All that heat spreads into your living space, making your AC work harder.

 I have a seasonal diet; cold foods in the summer, and bake goods in the winter.

 My friend, who manages to live without AC in central Texas all summer long, uses one other trick that I am too much of a snob to pursue.  He spends time in his home in a wet T-shirt, rung-out, stepping up the evaporation process of his fans.  Personally, I am just not that desperate... or single.

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