During the summer cooling season, there is a compromise to make between comfort and energy consumption. We want to relax at home in a comfortable environment, but we don’t want to deal with the high energy bills. It often seems that there is no way to reconcile these two polar opposites, but that isn’t the case. With a little planning and implementation of the tips in this article, it is possible to remain cool at home without breaking the bank.
Summer Thermostat Settings
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends that the optimal thermostat setting for summer should be 78ºF. This is the best balance of comfort and energy efficiency, but many people would consider this temperature to be too high (more on this later). Cooling experts also recommend a temperature adjustment to 88ºF when the home is empty. But, if there are pets at home this should be lowered down to 85ºF with plenty of drinking water available to keep them safe.
What if I Want a Cooler Home?
For many of us, the 78ºF recommended temperature is simply too high to keep cool. But, that’s because we tend to use our AC systems incorrectly and we don’t support the equipment in other ways. Cranking the temperature up and down during the day places extra stress on the equipment and it raises the energy bills. Keeping the temperature at a consistent level is more effective if you follow a few simple tips:
1. Use the Ceiling Fans
Many homes have one or more ceiling fans that tend to be overlooked after an AC system installation. But, these fans are a great way to move the treated air (cool or warm) around the rooms and other spaces. In summer, a ceiling fan spinning at a moderate speed in a clockwise direction can create a “wind chill” effect.
In real terms, this could make the room feel 3ºF or even 4ºF cooler. A ceiling fan is less expensive to run than turning the thermostat down by the same temperature margin. So, if you were to follow the DEO advice with a thermostat set to 78ºF and you use ceiling fans it will feel more like 75ºF or even 74ºF.
2. Understand the Limits of Your AC System
Many people have the mistaken belief that there is no limit to the cooling capabilities of the AC system. But, even the best systems can only make the air feel cooler by 15ºF or 20ºF depending on the specific make, model, and age of the equipment. As an AC system ages, it will lose performance and energy efficiency with every passing year. This can be offset to a certain extent with regularly scheduled maintenance. That said, the upper limit for an AC system is usually 12 years or older and after this point the running costs become prohibitive. So, if you’re struggling to cool your home, it’s important to honestly assess the state of your system. Upgrading to a new high-efficiency AC system can certainly solve a lot of cooling issues and the energy bills will be much lower.
3. Understand Passive Ways to Lower the Temperature
When the hottest summer days arrive, there isn’t anything that we can do about the temperatures outdoors. Inside it’s a different matter and we don’t have to rely on our AC systems to do everything. There are some passive easy to lower the temperature and support the AC system at the same time.
First, consider the power of sunlight and how it can heat things up quickly outdoors and in the home. When sunshine is streaming through a window, it can heat up the air and soft furnishings. This heat can remain for hours after the sun goes down and the AC system will have to overcome this to make the room cool. To reduce the AC workload, close the drapes, blinds, and curtains in rooms that are not in use during the day.
Next, check the window and door frames for air gaps where the treated air can escape. These window gaps can be sealed with caulk and the door frames can be sealed with weather stripping. This will ensure that the air that you paid to cool isn’t simply flying out of the door or window.
There is no need to keep the indoor temperature at 78ºF when you’re not at home. It’s tempting to turn off the AC system entirely, but that can lead to other problems and it’s not an effective way to save money. But, the temperature could be raised to 88ºF during the peak cooling times and this could lower the cooling bill by 5-15%. If there are pets in the home, it’s better to set the thermostat to 85ºF and leave out plenty of drinking water. This will ensure that the pets are hydrated and that the temperature is comfortable for them.
One of the best ways to keep the heat out in summer and the warmth in during the winter months is insulation. Adding insulation to attics, crawl spaces, the basement, garages, and other key locations will lower the energy bills. This is a truly passive approach, once the insulation is installed there are no power requirements to worry about. Most homes have some insulation, but it’s likely that more could be added to change the thermal profile of the home to your advantage.
Regularly Scheduled Maintenance
All HVAC equipment is a considerable investment, we want it to perform well, without failing, excessive repairs, and the energy bills need to be affordable. These are complex systems with electrical, electronic, and even mechanical moving parts. If one component starts to fail, it can have a knock on effect on the rest of the system, making the problem much worse. Many people are running AC systems that are underperforming and yet their energy bills are higher.
So, it makes good sense to invest in a regular health check for your AC system before the start of each cooling season. Check with your local heating and cooling specialist to see if they have a maintenance program that you can join. This will save you money on servicing costs and you will automatically get a reminder when it’s time to get the equipment inspected.