How to keep cool without going broke

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by WFAA Project Green

wfaa.com

Posted on February 5, 2010 at 4:22 PM

By JAMES and MORRIS CAREY / For The Associated Press

 

You don't have to pay through the nose to keep cool this summer. Here are some steps you can take to lower your bill, improve comfort and help save the planet.

 

DEHUMIDIFY

An air conditioning system does more than just cool the air. It lowers humidity and removes dust and dirt by moving the air through filters. One of the most appealing aspects of having less humid air is that it actually feels cooler to the skin, thus allowing you to raise the thermostat.

If you don't already have one, you may want to consider adding a dehumidifier if you live in a particularly humid climate. It can result in significant energy savings, a lower utility bill and less wear and tear on your cooling system.

 

CHECK THE FILTERS

When filters become clogged with dirt, the system must work harder to do its job. This wastes energy and inflates utility bills. Disposable filters should be checked every two months (once a month during peak use) and replaced when necessary. Stay away from cheap, fiberglass mesh filters. A pleated filter will cost three times more, but normally last three to five times as long and do a better job of protecting your system.

If your air conditioning system has either a permanent or electronic filter, it should be cleaned or replaced according to the manufacturer's instructions.

 

GO WHOLE-HOUSE

If you live in a dusty area or suffer from allergies, kick up your air cleaning horsepower by installing a whole-house air cleaner. You'll get the best of all worlds: a clean system and fewer allergens that make you wheeze and sneeze.

 

MONITOR YOUR REFRIGERANT

Air conditioners use a refrigerant gas that is circulated throughout the system to produce cool air. Minute leaks in the system can allow the refrigerant to escape. When this happens, more electricity is used with less cooling effect. Have a heating and cooling contractor check the refrigerant level every year or two.

 

GO HEAVY ON METAL

If those funny paper-thin metal separators on the exterior portion of the system (the condensing unit) are bent, efficiency is reduced because air flow is diminished. Use an old dinner knife or thin-bladed screwdriver to straighten out bent fins. It isn't important that the fins look nice — only that air passes freely between all of them.

 

SHUT IT

Some people like to "help" their air conditioner by opening doors and windows on warm days. But doing so lets all the cool, dehumidified air rush outside and lets in the hot, humid air. The more your home seals out heat, humidity, and dust, the more efficiently your system will do its job.

Insulation, weather-stripping, window coverings and shade trees are a few things that can be used to help your home beat the heat.

 

PROGRAM

A programmable thermostat can save energy and money. Programmable thermostats automatically change the thermostat's set temperature between comfort levels and energy-saving levels at specified times, according to the programs you set up. Generally, to save energy, you would set up four program periods for each day — two comfort (cooling) programs and two energy saving (idle or higher temperature) programs.

 

GET EFFICIENT

When an air conditioner begins to show its age, it is usually a major component such as a motor or compressor that wears out. In the short run, replacing failed components will usually cost the least amount of money. But the government-backed Energy Star program recommends replacing your air conditioner with a new, more energy-efficient model if it is 10 years or older. Eventually, the more efficient unit should pay for itself through decreased utility bills.

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