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Air conditioners: Save money by making yours work more efficiently

With temperatures reaching into the 90s, it's likely your air conditioner will run constantly through September.

I've gone through my files from the past 20 years or so and tried to figure out what people often do that drives up their summer energy bills. You might have heard all these before, but each of them is a common problem that could be avoided and would result in big energy savings.

• Many people keep their thermostat on the "fan" setting when their air conditioner is on, mistakenly thinking this will cool off the home. When it's on the fan setting, air is constantly being blown through the ducts as the compressor cycles on and off. Between compressor cycles, the moisture taken out of the air while the compressor is on gets blown back into the house when it is off.

Instead, you should use the "auto" setting, which will keep the home comfortable but at lower operating cost.

• Energy experts say the optimum setting for a thermostat when the air conditioner is used is 78 degrees. Every degree lower than this drives up energy costs 2 to 10 percent.

What often happens is that you feel too warm at the setting you've chosen, so you adjust the thermostat down a few degrees and forget to raise it back to the recommended level when you're comfortable. This usually occurs when people go out for a few hours and raise the air conditioner setting a few degrees. But when they return home, they set the thermostat to the lowest possible level to "cool it off quicker." The problem is that the air conditioner won't cool any quicker by doing this, and you'll probably end up leaving the setting super-cool until you remember to change it back.

• Many people don't know how to use fans efficiently. Fans keep you more comfortable by blowing cool air over your skin, making you feel about 3 degrees cooler. The way to make this energy-efficient is to raise your thermostat about 3 degrees when you're near a fan. If you don't raise the setting, the cost of operating the fan's motor just adds to your energy bill without giving you any savings for the lower thermostat setting.

• Finally, keep the filter on your cooling and heating equipment clean and changed on a regular basis. If your filter is dirty, the air can't flow properly, and your cooling and heating equipment won't operate efficiently.

There are many more things that can be done to stay comfortable without paying huge energy bills, but these problems are easy to correct.

Ken Sheinkopf, a communications specialist at American Solar Energy Society, can be reached at


AC basics

Learn how your air-conditioning system works to cool your house at

Air conditioners: Save money by making yours work more efficiently 06/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 19, 2009 4:30am]
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