How to Save Money on Air Conditioning Costs

Toddler uses her hand to play with the air coming from a room air conditioner as it blows the hair away from her face
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Stephanie Rausser / Getty Images

When the warm summer weather sets in, you may find yourself adjusting your thermostat to accommodate rising temperatures. Flipping the switch from heat to A/C can bring a cool down in your home, but it can heat-up your utility bills. Cutting your cooling costs with these money-saving tips can help If you have central air conditioning or a window air conditioning unit. It's possible to reduce your electric bills significantly, especially in hot climates, by following these energy-saving cooling tips this summer.

Selecting a Unit

When buying a window air conditioning unit, more is not necessarily better. Base the size of the air conditioning unit on the size of the room, the other factors that affect the temperature in the room, such as how many windows it has and whether it faces south, north, etc. An air conditioning unit that is too big for the room will work harder and cost you more.

When you're shopping for a central air conditioning system, make sure the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) number is 13 or better—14 in warmer climates. A less efficient system will cost you more to run. Look for an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 11 or higher for room air conditioners. A high-efficiency unit costs more, but if you live in a hot climate, it will pay for itself in a few years by reducing electricity bills.

Maintenance

Perform regular maintenance on your air conditioning unit. Replace the filter monthly during the cooling season and have a professional service your system at the beginning of each cooling season. Specifically, the service person should check to make sure the unit is operating correctly, that no hoses or moving parts that need to be replaced, and that no debris is obstructing the outside unit.

A cooling system is one of the biggest energy guzzlers in your home (second only to your heating system, depending on where you live). If you have an old air conditioning system with a SEER rating of less than 8, it may be worthwhile to consider replacing it with a more energy-efficient system. You may be able to recoup the cost in just a few years in the form of reduced energy usage and lower utility bills.

Automation

Leaving the A/C running all day and all night is a guaranteed way to blow your utility bill budget for the month. You can avoid that by installing a programmable thermostat, which allows you to vary the temperature according to when you're home. Set it to 78 degrees when you're home, for example. If you are be gone for more than a few hours, it could make sense to set the air conditioning at 85 degrees while you're gone. Just remember not to go too extreme with temperature swings as your unit will have to work that much harder to cool your home when you're ready to reduce the temperature.

Location

Make sure your air conditioning condenser is located in a shady spot and has room to dispose of the heated air it removes from your house. Don't crowd it with shrubs or anything else and keep leaves, dirt, and other debris away from the base.

Plant shade trees and shrubs around your house to help reduce the heat of the sun, especially on the west and south sides. It can reduce your cooling costs by up to 30%.

In Your Home

Saving money on energy costs over the summer goes beyond A/C maintenance. You can also use these tips to slash your energy bills even further:

  • Close drapes on the sunny side of your house.
  • Install awnings on the windows on the sunny side of your house.
  • Sealing up air leaks in your house will reduce your air conditioning costs as well as heating costs.
  • Check where utilities come into your home—plumbing, electricity, dryer vents—and caulk or seal these places.
  • Fill gaps around chimneys and install weatherstrip around windows and doors.
  • Make sure the cooled air coming from your air conditioning vents is not obstructed by furniture or draperies.

Install energy-efficient ceiling fans and run them on hot days. If it's just a little too warm for comfort, use the ceiling fan without air conditioning. If it's hot enough to require air conditioning, using the ceiling fans at the same time allows you to raise the temperature setting by five degrees, which will reduce your costs. Use the ceiling fan only when you're in the room because running the fan doesn't lower the temperature. The moving air increases the amount of evaporation from your skin and helps cool you off.

The darker the color of your home, the more heat it will absorb. So, if you're building, buying, or repainting, choose lighter colors for the exterior. Also, 30% of the heat in your house is absorbed through the roof. Make sure your attic is properly ventilated. Vents in the eaves allow cooler air to enter. A ridge vent or an attic fan can significantly reduce your cooling costs. Consider putting a reflective window tint on your windows to reduce the amount of heat that passes through.

Any heat generated inside your home has to be removed by your cooling system. Avoid generating heat inside your home whenever practicable. Cook on an outdoor grill as often as possible, or use a crockpot and microwave oven. Use the 'air-dry' setting on your dishwasher.

Turn off lights when not in use. Lights produce heat, which makes your air conditioning system work harder—and cost more. Finally, Your computer and other home office equipment also generate heat. Turn them off when not in use.