How To Go Green and Save Money On Your Air Conditioning

by heather

lemonade-cl-1086988-xAh, summertime. Lemonade, lightening bugs, and barefeet. We’ve all been looking forward to this, especially after a long cold winter.

With the advent of summer comes, you guessed it, air conditioning. And, the astronomical energy bills that come with it.

We Love Our Air Conditioning…

According to ConsumerReports.org, Americans spend a whopping $22 billion on air conditioning every year, which averages out to 183 billion kilowatt-hours. The environmental impact of all this energy use is high: our addiction to A/C puts about 129 metric tons of Co2 into the atmosphere every year.

It’s safe to say that as a nation, we like things cool. And we’re not afraid to pay for it.

Air conditioning is expensive, both financially and environmentally. And if you live in the South or Southwest, it almost ranks up there with air and water in terms of survival requirements. But, are there any ways to save money on air conditioning? Is it possible to lesson your carbon footprint and actually go green with your A/C?

You bet.

So, let’s find some easy ways to go green, and save green, on our air conditioning costs this year.

Reduce Your Need For Air Conditioning

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) suggests that one big way to lower your air conditioning costs is to reduce your need for air conditioning in the first place.

Sure, you think, say that when it’s 90 degrees out with 100% humidity.

Wait, stay on board with me here. What they mean is that there are ways to prep your house so that you use less energy to keep it cool.

  • Seal doors and windows just like you would in the wintertime. Leaks allow hot air inside, which forces your air conditioner to work harder to keep things cool. So, use caulk and weatherstripping to make spaces air tight.
  • If you’re painting or re-siding your home this summer, choose a light color like white to reflect the sun away from your home. According to ACEEE, this can reduce your cooling costs by 10-15%.
  • Same goes for your roof. If you’re putting on a new roof this summer, choose a lighter shade shingle to reflect light instead of soaking it in.

Now, I have to throw in a disclaimer with these tips. If you live in Southern Louisiana or a place like Phoenix, then these tips are fine. Here in Michigan, however, it’s colder far longer than it is hot. People living in a cold climate might want to do the opposite in order to get more heat out of the sun during the winter months.

It’s important to consider your specific climate before making major changes like these.

Save Energy With Ceiling Fans

One of the best ways to save money and energy on your cooling costs is to use a ceiling fan. How?

Well, ceiling fans don’t actually lower the temperature of a room. They just make people feel cooler, usually 5 degrees cooler. So, you can save money with ceiling fans by raising your thermostat and turning on the fan.

Progress Energy estimates that for every degree you raise your thermostat above 78 degrees, you save 3% to 5% on energy costs. Thanks to ceiling fans, though, it won’t feel like 78 degrees.

Make sure you turn off your fans when you leave the room, however. Fans cool people, not spaces. So you waste energy by keeping it running in an empty room.

Save Energy By Planting Trees

Yeah, we’ve all heard this one a million times, right?

Well, there’s a good reason. It works! And, I’ll prove it to you.

My own home was built in the early 1900s. It has no air conditioning (I can hear your collective gasp from here…).

Do I want air conditioning? Not a bit. I don’t need it! My house is almost completely shaded by trees. During the summertime I throw open all the windows, and use a fan. And, I’m rarely hot. My energy bill in July and August is usually no more than $20.

According to MSN, planting trees on the west and east sides of your home can reduce your air conditioning costs by up to 20%. Fabulous.

Save Money and Energy By Going Without

Lots of people don’t have air conditioning at all. If it’s a mild day, why not just open the windows and go without your A/C? You could save big, and air out your home in the bargain.

Choose Your Air Conditioner Wisely

Consumer Reports says that Energy Star rated air conditioners use 25% less energy than those made before the year 2000. So if it’s time to upgrade, it pays to buy an Energy Star model.

Where you put your A/C unit is also important. CR says that choosing a shady spot will increase your unit’s efficiency by up to 10%.

Save Money With Your Programmable Thermostat

Raising the thermostat during the day while the house is vacant is a great way to save money. Most people do this in the wintertime, but it’s surprising how many people forget to do it in the summer.

You could also save energy by raising the thermostat at night. Once the sun goes down the atmosphere is cooler anyway. You could even shut it off and sleep with the windows open.

If you have a window unit, you can still regulate your A/C while you’re away. Simply use a plug-in timer, which you can get at any hardware store.

And, you can save a lot of money by completely turning off your A/C during the day. Many people think that this actually wastes energy, since your unit has to work harder to cool things off once you get home.

But, listen to what Mr. Electricity has to say on the subject…

It’s a myth that leaving the AC on while you’re away at work uses less energy than turning it on when you get home. Here’s why:

Heat goes to where it’s not. That’s why heat from outside goes into your cooler home. With the AC off, at some point your house will be so hot it can’t absorb any more heat. When you come home and turn the AC on, the AC removes all that heat.

But if the AC is on when you’re gone, then you’ve turned your house into a heat magnet. By keeping it artificially cool, there’s no limit to the amount of heat it can absorb. It can always absorb more heat. And your AC has to remove that heat constantly. Your AC kicks in and removes some of that heat, then the house is cooler so it sucks in more heat from outside, so your AC kicks in again and removes that heat, and so on.

This means that throughout the day, your house has absorbed way more than one houseful of heat. And your AC had to remove it all. By contrast, with the AC off all day, then it has to remove just one houseful of heat when you come home and turn it on.

If you’ve never heard of Michael Bluejay, aka Mr. Electricity, then you should go check out his site. It’s full of great tips to save energy in your home. You can follow this link to get there.

Watch Where You Put Your Lamps

MSN suggests keeping an eye on where your lamps and TVs are placed. If they’re too near your A/C’s thermostat, this can affect its efficiency.

You can also save by changing your lightbulbs to CFLs, which emit 25% less heat than a regular bulb.

Save Energy With Drapes

Close your drapes during the day to block out the sun. Especially if you work out of the house, this is an easy, cheap way to keep things cool.

Block Summer Sun With Plants

You could also consider growing plants on trellises in front of windows. Plants like jasmine, honeysuckle, and ivy can all help keep the sun out, and beautify your home at the same time.

Save Energy By Procrastinating On Chores

We can all cheer for this one! Appliances like your washer, dryer and dishwasher emit heat when they’re in use. Why not line dry your clothes, and run the dishwasher at night? You’ll keep your house cooler, and save money.

Go outside and have a glass of lemonade instead.

Last Word…

I love summer. To me, it’s not summer unless I’m hot. So, I don’t mind not having A/C at all. If you’ve never tried it, why not turn off your A/C and see how you like it? Throw open the windows, hear the birds, and get some fresh air. To me, that’s the best part of summer. You’re bringing the outdoors in, and saving money and energy at the same time.

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June 8, 2009 at 11:01 am
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Aya @ Thrive May 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm

It’s ridiculous how much money we spend for some cool air! We’re hoping that as we develop our budgeting tools on Thrive that we can try to get people to budget their bills to an extent; one way would be by using their ACs less! Saves money and the environment 🙂

In addition to your “use ceiling fans” tip, it’s a little less green but greener than blasting the AC – turn on a ceiling fan and AC together for a few minutes so the fan spreads the cool air around the room. Then turn the AC off; once you cool the room off it should be managable! It’s what I do since I hate the AC too.

Brian Fitzpatrick June 3, 2009 at 6:23 pm

If you have and older model air conditioner, and cant afford to replace the unit, you may want to look at a/c pre-cooling. Its a ultra fine mist that is sprayed around the outside of the unit onto the coils. This can save up to 30% on your cooling costs. For more info. check out my website at http://www.arcticbreezemist.com and click on the a/c pre-cooling tab.

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