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Helpful tips for reducing summer air-conditioning costs

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's summer time and air conditioning certainly feels good. Paying the energy bill may not feel so good. There are steps that can be taken to make homes more energy efficient and reduce cooling costs. Some require investing time and money in your home, such as adding insulation, but other steps can easily be taken without much effort.

Insulating, weatherstripping and caulking reduce both heating and cooling costs. Inspect existing weatherstripping for wear and possible replacement. Insulation levels as high as R-38 in the attic are appropriate. It is permissible to mix insulation types, such as covering fiberglass with cellulose. Any exposed ductwork in the attic also should be sealed and insulated.

South-facing windows can be a real benefit during the heating season but can add significantly to the cooling load. It is best to block the sunlight before it penetrates the window. Although a drape will delay the solar gain, it's more effective to stop the sunlight completely by using exterior shading or reflective blinds. Deciduous trees provide an excellent means for natural shading in the summer, yet allow exposure of the window in the winter. Removable exterior awnings can provide a similar advantage.

Unventilated attics can reach high temperatures during the summer, contributing to the cooling load in the home. Attics should be properly ventilated by having sufficient openings along the low side of the attic, such as in soffits as well as openings along the high side of the roof for exhaust.

Household appliances can add considerably to the cooling load. Refrigerator condenser coils should be cleaned at least twice annually. The cooking range and clothes dryer should be vented to the outdoors, as should exhaust fans in bathrooms.

Heat loss from a water heater adds both to water-heating costs as well as air-conditioning costs. A water heater that is warm to the touch should be insulated with a water-heater insulating jacket. Thermostats on water heaters should be turned down to provide hot water at the tap no greater than 140 degrees.

An air conditioner needs adequate air flow through the condenser for the unit to operate at maximum efficiency. Plantings and fencing should be no closer than three feet to the condensing unit. The condensing unit should be cleaned annually by carefully removing any debris from the fins of the condenser.

Any type of portable or ceiling fan can help reduce costs if the air movement improves comfort and results in raising the air-conditioning temperature setting. The cooling effect of moving air can compensate for as much as a four-degree rise in temperature.

It is more efficient to leave the thermostat in the automatic position. The fan consumes only one-tenth the energy of the compressor, but when it runs continuously, the fan can cost up to $30 a month.

This amount can be reduced by cycling the fan only when it's needed. Additionally, the air conditioner will dehumidify the air only when the compressor is running. However, if the fan remains on after the compressor cycles off, some moisture on the coil will re-evaporate. This moisture must be removed during the next compressor cycle, which increases the energy consumption.

Taking advantage of these tips from Engineering Extension at Kansas State University can help reduce cooling costs this summer.

Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.