The arrival of June brings the start of air-conditioning season. Over the next four months, Nebraska homes consume 10 to 12 percent of their average annual energy usage to keep cool.
Considering 98 percent of these households rely on a heat pump, a central air-conditioner or window air-conditioners to manage indoor comfort, nearly all of us can benefit from knowing how to optimize cooling efficiency while minimizing cooling costs. It all comes down to two simple concepts: #1 - Keep as much heat as possible outside and #2 - Deal with the remaining excess heat using the minimum amount of energy needed.
Inspect, Seal, Insulate. Keeping hot air out and cool air in will require taking some time to inspect your home for air leaks and poor attic insulation and/or ventilation. Spotting daylight, and therefore leaks, around exterior door and window frames is easy.. Leaks through cracked caulk or windows that do not close tightly are harder to recognize. Be thorough.
Block out the sun. While you may prefer natural sunlight to turning a lamp on in the middle of a beautiful day, consider this: A Department of Energy (DOE) study found 76% of sunlight that falls on standard double-pane windows enters into your home to become heat. What does that tell you? On hot days, keep the shades or blinds closed on sun-facing windows. Highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by 45 percent. For even more efficiency, use dual-sided shades that are reflective (white) on one side and heat absorbing (dark) on the other. These can be reversed with the seasons. Remember, the reflective surface should always face the warmest side.
Vent it. When you shower or bathe, use the bathroom fan to remove heat and humidity. Let it continue to run for about 15 to 20 minutes after you have finished. But, don’t forget to switch it off thereafter, or you will be needlessly removing cool, conditioned air. Installing a timer switch is an easy way to assure fan doesn’t operate longer than needed.
Minimize activities that generate a lot of heat. Examples are washing and drying clothes in hot water, running a dishwasher, or using hot devices such as curling irons or hair dryers. Even stereos and televisions will add some heat to your home. If you can, wait until after dark to run these and other appliances,
Learn to love your microwave and grill. Outdoor grilling and microwave cooking are two ways to prepare food without generating extra heat inside. When only baking will do, consider making smaller portions and using a toaster oven.
Get a cooling system tune-up. According to the Air Conditioning Contractors of American Association, the average system loses 5% efficiency a year as it becomes dirty and requires maintenance. Your local utility may have a $30 EnergyWise℠ incentive available for a professional to provide a tune-up.
Keep your vents clear. Your air conditioner can’t work efficiently if your vents are blocked by rugs or furniture. Check all vents to make sure they’re open, free of dust and directing air toward the center of the room. Balancing the flow of air is essential for optimizing your system’s efficiency.
Check and change your filter regularly. Different filters in different homes require changes at different frequencies. If you are not sure about yours, check it monthly for one year until you understand how often and after how much use changes are needed.
Use ceiling and pedestal fans. According to the DOE, fans allow you to raise your thermostat four degrees without any reduction in comfort. Just make sure your ceiling fans are turning counterclockwise for summer and that you don’t leave fans running in empty rooms. Fans don’t cool air, just people!
Upgrade to a smart thermostat. The latest thermostats can be controlled from anywhere with the tap of a smartphone, making it easy to warm things up a few degrees when you’re away from home. Many smart thermostats can even learn your heating and cooling habits and anticipate your home comfort needs to save you money. Again, check with your local utility to see if you qualify for a $25-$100 EnergyWise℠ incentive available for installation of a qualified smart thermostat.
Don’t crank it! Avoid setting your thermostat to a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and unnecessary expense.
Free cooling. If you have a day where it cools off at night, turn off your cooling system and open your windows while sleeping. Do not forget when you wake in the morning to shut all your windows and blinds before it gets hot again, or your air conditioner will have to make up for your temporary amnesia.
Your local utility and Nebraska Public Power District want to help you make the most of the energy they provide you. That includes keeping your home cool this summer. For more ideas on how you can make your home EnergyWise℠ , contact your local utility.
When looking for ways to make improvements, first consider light fixtures. Without realizing it, you could be losing more than 30 percent of the heat in your home through your ceiling.