There's a magic yet dreaded date that happens each year for energy watchers, when you finally break down and turn on the air conditioner. Every day you don't turn on the air conditioner is like money in the bank — and free money at that. Our average base electricity consumption is 750 kWh per month, month in and month out. When the air conditioner is on, however, we use an additional 2,000 kWh per month. At an average cost of $0.10 per kWh, that works out to $200 per month, or $6.66 per day, to run the air conditioner.
So we check the weather reports and hope for more cool weather as spring advances and it gets hotter and hotter. The magic date arrived this week, we turned on the air conditioning, and we are now looking at an additional $200 per month on our utility bills. In an effort to reduce that pain, we have taken some steps to ensure that our cooling bills are as low as possible.
ThermostatFirst and foremost, we have set the thermostat as high as we can reasonably stand it:
This is the downstairs thermostat — the upstairs thermostat is set to 77°F. The theory we are testing is that cold air flows downhill and by setting the upstairs thermostat just a little bit cooler, we will achieve an average temperature of 78°F throughout the house.
Furnace FiltersWe learned a painful and expensive lesson this winter — our furnace filters need to be checked every two months at a minimum. Checking the furnace filters shows that they are still pretty clean from when they were changed two months ago, mostly because we turned the furnace off six weeks ago.
I have laid in a stock of furnace filters and will be checking them at the beginning of each month.
Clean Up A/C CompressorsThe next thing we did is cut back the bushes around the air conditioning compressors and clean off accumulated pine needles, leaves, and twigs.
A quick spritz with the hose will knock off any loose dirt and get the compressors ready for the summer.
Spot CoolingIn addition to turning, adjusting, and tightening up the ceiling fans, we have also set up pedestal fans in various rooms to ensure a steady, cooling flow of air. I also set up a portable air conditioner in my wife's room to help ensure that she stays cool at night.
My wife suffers from what I will call a mis-set thermostat. She is always a few degrees warmer than everyone else and only really sleeps well in a cool room. She actually enjoys having the thermostat set low in the wintertime because it helps her sleep. Sleeping in the summertime is another problem entirely. What we have done is set up this portable A/C unit to keep her bedroom cool.
We tried this last year and discovered several ways to waste a whole lot of energy. If you have a need like ours, let me give you some advice:
- These units are not very efficient. Ours uses one kilowatt per hour. Always look for a unit with a higher SEER. Spending more money on a more efficient unit will save you in the long run.
- Don't bother trying to keep the "cold" room cool 24 hours a day. Your insulation is probably not that good and you will just waste a lot of energy. Just run the unit when you need it. We have set up a timer to turn the unit on an hour before bed time and turn if off an hour before waking up.
- Keep a fan running in the room in addition to the A/C unit. The more air flow you have, the cooler the room will feel, and higher you can set the thermostat.
- Our upstairs thermostat is in the "cold" room. Since that room will be much colder than the 77°F that the thermostat is set at, our upstairs air conditioner won't be running at night while the portable A/C unit is running. With any luck, these two factors will cancel each other out and we won't see the same cooling bills we did last summer.