If you are relying on your air conditioner around the clock this summer and fretting about your bills, fear not. There are several money-saving steps you can take to stay cool, whether you have a window unit, a central system — or nothing at all.
Maintain your unit
Schedule a yearly checkup with a professional to make sure your cooling system runs efficiently. The most effective tuneup, which doesn’t require a specialist, is cleaning your unit’s filter or, if it’s disposable, replacing it. That can lower an air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5%–15%, according to the Department of Energy.
A 1-inch filter should be inspected every month, and larger filters inspected every three to six months, said Jennifer Amann, the buildings program director at the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
“If people have deferred some of these maintenance issues,” Amann said, “they may want to get in that habit while we’re home more.”
If you have a window unit, use it only to cool the room where it’s installed, and close the door to keep the heat out. To avoid running units in multiple rooms at once, share spaces with your loved ones whenever possible.
If you have central cooling, set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible. Amann suggests having it at 78 degrees if you’re home during the day. To save more energy, raise it to about 83 degrees for four to eight hours at a time, ideally when you’re out of the house or sleeping.
You may also want to invest in a smart thermostat that automatically adjusts to energy-saving temperatures based on your preferences. Many electric utilities offer rebates and discounts to customers if they buy a smart thermostat and allow the utility to adjust its temperature during peak hours, said Dharik Mallapragada, a research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative, a research and outreach arm of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some customers can override the suggested temperature if they feel it’s too high and still reap the benefits.
“In some ways, it’s a program that has a carrot but has no stick,” Mallapragada said.
Draw blinds or curtains to block sunlight. If you have outside awnings, open them to shade your windows.
You can cut back on activities that increase your home’s heat and humidity, like baking or taking hot showers. Try cooking outdoors whenever possible, and turn on the range hood while using the stove. Run your dryer or dishwasher overnight, when it’s cooler outside. Switch out incandescent lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs, and turn off electronics when you’re not using them. Also, don’t place lamps or televisions near the thermostat. They may cause the central air to run longer than needed.
“Over time, all these things add up,” Amann said.
Another vital step: Insulate your home to prevent hot air from creeping in. If you have a window unit, you may have already checked for gaps around the frame. But it’s also important to seal other air leaks in and outside your home.
If you primarily use an air conditioner to reduce humidity, Amann advises purchasing a dehumidifier certified by Energy Star, an efficiency certification program run by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Or you could supplement your air conditioner with a ceiling fan, allowing you to raise your thermostat temperature by 4 degrees without experiencing any discomfort, according to the Energy Department. Other types of fans can also help you cool down, but don’t use them in empty rooms.
“Fans don’t cool spaces,” Amann said. “They only cool people — and pets.”