Be Cool AND Save

Aug 13, 2013 by

heat pumpHi Money Counselor readers, I’m featuring a guest post today. Please welcome Jason Wall, HVAC technician extraordinaire!

There’s no doubt that your heating and cooling can take up a huge share of your energy bill every month. Those on a budget will often avoid using their system altogether in order to save money or reduce their carbon footprint in the world. However, with the right practices, throwing indoor comfort out the window isn’t a compromise that you’ll have to make in order to save a buck. Here are a few ideas to help you save some money on next month’s energy bill:

1. Make a deal with nature

It can be too easy for our climate control awareness to extend to just the thermostat. But in truth, there is far much more to maintaining a comfortable indoor climate. First, it’s important to use the outdoor climate to your advantage whenever possible. More specifically, know when to let nature in and when to shut it out. Try opening your windows on cool early mornings, or closing the windows and shades during the heat of day to mitigate the hot sunlight. Making sure to keep windows oriented to the south shaded during summer can eliminate southern exposure, which raises the temperature of your home by several degrees during peak hours. Smart use of your windows during cooler moments of the day can make your environment comfortable enough with touching the thermostat at all.

Also know how to keep nature out while you’re using your system in order to avoid sending your precious conditioned air through gaps in your windows, doors, and floorboards. Particularly in older homes, wood frame construction and boards can become warped and weathered. Apply substances such as caulk, polyurethane coating, weather-stripping, and other adhesives on their appropriate surfaces in order to seal your home. These are all easily available in home supply retailers and certainly don’t require a professional license to use.

2. Know when to adjust your vents and thermostat

It’s important to understand how air conditioners work before touching your vents. Many people think of vents as a way to limit an AC’s exposure from certain rooms, but the use of vents in this way is damaging to your system. In fact, an air conditioner needs to work harder in order to reach rooms with closed vents, resulting in straining the system and worse energy efficiency. Instead of closing vents to limit the air conditioner’s exposure in certain rooms, focus on insulating or ventilating those rooms as necessary by adjusting windows / blinds and entrances. On the other hand, if a room isn’t getting as much conditioned air as you’d like, it may be time to consult a technician to check for blockages or equipment failure.

As for thermostats, the best time to adjust them is only as necessary. Many homeowners think that leaving a thermostat on during all times at a consistent temperature is the best option on energy efficiency, but the truth is that an air conditioner is running at peak efficiency on start-up as it is pushing air full blast. Fluctuating to remain at a steady temperature is actually far more taxing on an air conditioner. Turning off the system and letting windows help your conditioning needs when possible is the better money-saving option. A programmable thermostat can be a very wise investment in keeping your home only conditioned when you need it, and you’ll likely easily earn back the cost of the investment in your energy savings.

3. Keep your equipment clean

Usually, we only tend to call the repairman or break out the tools once something starts billowing smoke or making strange noises. Instead of waiting for disaster, taking care to clean your HVAC equipment can result in huge improvements in your energy efficiency and increase the lifespan of your system’s parts by years. The simplest maintenance procedure any homeowner can do is replacing air filters. The improved air quality and energy efficiency will easily compensate the couple of bucks you’ll spend on it, and some varieties only need to be cleaned rather than replaced. The benefits can be enormous if you haven’t changed your filters for a while.
If you’re an adventurous bill cutter, taking further steps to clean your coils in both your inside and outside units can result in vast improvements in your efficiency. This kind of repair service would cost a few hundred bucks by a licensed technician, but the cleaning solvent they use can be purchased at any home supply dollars for little more than five dollars. As long as you can unscrew the access panels and rearrange parts as they were, it’s a surprisingly simple job.

In addition, cleaning one’s ducts can make a big difference if your ductwork is particularly packed with dust and debris (though surface dust isn’t anything to be concerned about.) A powerful HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner can take care of the job − and usually costs a fraction of a single professional cleaning. Be careful to not handle anything too far out of your caliber when dealing with HVAC equipment, since you could void equipment warranties or cause damage.

What are your experiences in trying to cut down your energy costs? Do you change how you use your HVAC system when money is an issue?

Author bio: Jason Wall is an HVAC technician with more than twenty-three years of experience with Griffith Heating and Air. When he isn’t on the job, he enjoys spending his free time with his kids and writing advice for others online.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antre/6365655015/

Disclosure: Money Counselor received NO compensation for publishing this article.

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  • Luckily this summer has been MUCH cooler than past summers, and has been around 80-90 degrees each day. It has been wonderful for our budget!

    • I totally agree with you, Michelle. But I want it to be over already.

  • Joe

    It’s been cooler here as well. We didn’t even use the fan much. Our very old HVAC is busted and needs to be replaced, but I’m putting it off for now…

  • I think the biggest concern with a/c is when you’re in a humid climate–no dehumidifier can make that go away as well as an a/c.

    I’ve just started accepting that when I’m at home doing stuff, I’m going to sweat as I live in an apartment with window units and it would cost wayyy too much to cool the entire apartment (and possibly throw a breaker). I then use the a/c at night when I truly need it.

    • Jason Wall

      Running your air conditioner a little more frequently can actually help sap some of that excessive humidity out of your system, though it can be taxing. If you’re having humidity issues, you might want to check your copper coils and refrigerant. Good luck!

  • Suburban Finance

    We dont’ have an air conditioner and while it does get warm sometimes, we’re just figuring out how we can take advantage of nature 🙂

  • Travis Pizel

    I’m always surprised at how much closing the blinds makes a difference on a hot day. I live in Minnesota, and August is usually the hottest / most humid month of the year. It’s been a cool summer so far, but the heat is returning at least for a few days this week…as a result of your post I went out and made sure I sprayed off the AC unit outside (it had gotten rather dirty) and changed the filter – and you know I’ll have our blinds drawn during the day! Thanks for the reminder!

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