Saving A Bundle On Air Conditioning

Heating and cooling costs make up 56 percent of the energy bill of the typical American household. And, now that we're in the heat of summer, it's a good time to think about reducing the amount we spend on our air conditioners, to save some cold, hard cash.

On The Early Show Tuesday, consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen shared energy efficiency pointers to help your bottom line.

Koeppen's words of wisdom!:

CENTRAL AIR

Even if your unit is only 10 years old, you may save 20 - 40 percent of your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a newer, more efficient model.

Proper sizing and installation are key elements in determining air conditioner efficiency. Too large a unit won't adequately remove humidity. Too small a unit won't be able to attain a comfortable temperature on the hottest days. Improper unit location, lack of insulation, and improper duct installation can greatly diminish efficiency.

If you have a central air unit, make sure the 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.

When buying a central air conditioning system, make sure the SEER number (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) is 13 or better (14 in warmer climates). The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the system, and as we know, a less efficient system will cost you more to run (get this: upgrading from SEER 9 to SEER 13, power consumption is reduced by 30 percent. It's claimed that this can result in an energy savings valued at up to $300 per year.

Also, (and this goes for window units too), 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.

Finally, check with your state to see if it has any incentive programs for you to buy a more efficient unit.

WINDOW UNITS

It's all about finding an EnergyStar unit (which means that it's at least 10 percent more energy efficient than the minimum federal government standards).

You'll then want to figure out what size AC you need -- that is, how many BTUs you need, and that's pretty easy to figure out. According to the Department of Energy, you'll need about 20 BTUs per square foot of a room. If you get something smaller, you're not going to be able to cool the room appropriately, and you're going to strain the heck out of your AC; if you get an AC that's too big, you're going to be wasting energy and throw money right out the window.

GET A CEILING FAN

Utilize fans as much as possible. If the temperature is just slightly uncomfortable, consider using an oscillating fan, or ceiling fan if you have one. Just a slight breeze or circulation caused by fans can make it feel a few degrees cooler. Even the most power-hungry fan costs less than $10 a month to use if you keep it on 12 hours a day. Good fans make it possible for you to raise your thermostat setting and save on air-conditioning costs. Ceiling fans will push air down toward the floor, circulating the air in your house and helping to cool it more efficiently than running the air conditioner by itself.

INSTALL A PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT

This varies the temperature according to when you're home, and can help you save 10 - 20 percent on your energy bill. Set it for a lower temperature when you're home. If you'll be gone for more than a few hours, it makes sense to set the air conditioning at a higher temperature while you're gone. Use a programmable thermostat that adjusts your air conditioner's setting automatically. That enables you to stop cooling things down so much when nobody's home for long stretches of time, or at night when it's cooler outside. You can program the thermostat to increase the comfort level in your home shortly before you wake up or return home from work.

The Early Show's resident veteriinarian, Dr. Debbye Turner, says it's OK to turn the AC off when your pet is home alone. She says that, if your pet is perfectly healthy, you can let the temperature reach up to 80 degrees, but if your dog is a little sicker or has breathing problems, you'll want to lower that to keep him or her healthy and safe.

CLOSE DRAPES OR SHADES ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF YOUR HOUSE

Typically, the most sunny parts of your house are the south and west; the sun has intense warming effects, and when it's allowed to enter a window without the heat being able to escape, it will act like a greenhouse. Keep as much direct sunlight out as possible to keep your home a few degrees cooler.

TURN OFF THE LIGHTS WHEN THEY'RE NOT IN USE AND CLOSE DOORS leading TO UNUSED ROOMS

Standard incandescent bulbs generate a good deal of heat. Having lights on when it's not necessary just increases the temperature in the house. Consider switching to CFL bulbs, which run cool, and also consume less electricity.

SEAL UP AIR LEAKS IN YOUR HOUSE

Just as cold air can find its way into your house in the winter, hot air does the same thing during the summer. Caulk or seal places where utilities come into your home (plumbing, electricity, dryer vents, etc.). Fill gaps around chimneys, and weather-strip around drafty windows and doors.
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