Ten Ways to Keep Cool in a Hot Climate
Savings Vs. The Cost Factor
Staying cool has become very expensive over the years, especially if you live in a hot climate like Oklahoma, the average family spends about $600 yearly on cooling. Cost can vary greatly regionally and even within a neighborhood. Your home may cost $700 to keep cool while a similar home next door costs half that. This article will help you make your home the low-cost energy leader on the block. The focus is on cutting cooling costs, but many of these tips will save you money on your heating, too. To include upfront costs and payback for each of these tips, the actual figures depend on your individual house, region, climate, living habits and electric company's charges.
1. CFLs Can Become Your Best Friend
You already know that compact fluorescent light bulbs cut lighting costs, but they cut cooling costs, too. That’s because, unlike incandescents, they give off very little heat. Ninety percent of the electricity used by an incandescent bulb is converted to heat rather than light. That extra heat means extra cooling expenses, so dispose of those old incandescents NOW.
Online savings calculator COST: $3 per bulb, but one must usually buy a multipack of 6-8. PAYBACK: Less than a year.
2. Clean or Change Your Air Filters Once a Month
Dirty air filters are the top cause of air conditioning failure and they cost about eight percent more in energy costs (or about $52 a year) in hot climates. Change central AC furnace filters monthly during the summer, and quarterly when the heating and cooling systems are used less. Most window units have a removable filter directly behind the air inlet grill that you can take out and rinse monthly. If they must be replaced, spend a little extra and get the washables.
3. Keep Cool With Shade
Cut AC costs through your own DIY work by shading your house with trees, trellises, awnings, and vines. Shading blocks direct sunlight through the roof and windows, which is responsible for sometimes more than half of the heat gain in your home. Carefully positioned trees and a few quality trellises on the east and west sides can save up to thirty to forty percent of a household’s energy usage for heating and cooling. For an average household, that’s $125 to $275 in energy costs annually.
COST: Three 6-ft. trees, $800; make your own trellis, $50 (for a very simple variety) and up to $400 (for the top shelf); vines for trellis, $50, awnings, $500-$1,200. If you really want to get down and dirty, neighbors might be willing to give you cuttings from their vines. They grow very quickly, but keep in mind that they can end up being rather invasive ad attach themselves to the house.
PAYBACK: On average, a well-designed landscape provides enough energy savings (heating and cooling) to return your initial investment in five to eight years, sometimes better odds.
4. Replace that Inefficient Air Conditioning Unit
Paying higher upfront costs for the most efficient unit possible (SEER 14 or higher) makes sense in hot climates since the initial investment will be paid back in energy savings over time. It makes less sense in cooler climates.
If you replace a 10-year old central or window air conditioner with an Energy Star model, you could easily cut your electrical bill by nearly half. This could offset the purchase price rather nicely in a short period of time, especially if one resides in a hot or humid part of the country. There are stringent government requirements for both window and central air units. If you look on line, you can get the particulars. If you still have your owners manual, you'll see what your SEER/EER ratings are for your particular models.
COST: Window units range from $100 for 6,000 BTUs to $500 or better for 24,000 BTUs. Replacing an old central air system typically costs about $3,000, but it can run as high as $10,000, depending on the kind of system you want. If you go for all the bells and whistles, which you doubtfully need, that will add extra electric and maintenance costs, including additional filters. Consider this very carefully.
PAYBACK: The older your system and the more you use it, the larger your energy savings will be with a new unit. For example, replacing an ancient SEER 7 unit with a SEER 14.5 unit that costs $3,000 will save you about $800 a year and pay for itself in four to six years.
- Air Conditioning Calculator Download - Softpedia
Air Conditioning Calculator 1.0 - A handy air conditioning calculator
5. Use Fans and Replace the Thermostat
Ceiling fans can save you money by keeping you comfortable at higher thermostat settings. Each degree higher than 78 degrees will save you around seven percent on air conditioning costs. The moving air from a ceiling fan increases the amount of evaporation from your skin and helps cool you off.
COST: Ranges from $30 to $800. Energy Star–rated fans are about ten percent more efficient than standard ceiling fans and are usually in the $100 and above range.
PAYBACK: It will vary on how high you set your thermostat and the cost of the fan, which will range from as soon as three years or as long as fifteen years.
How to Install a Ceiling Fan
- Harbor Breeze Celing Fans - How To Install A Ceiling Fan - YouTube
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6. Fix Leaks in the Duct
Use special air conditioning foil tape to seal joints in cooling and heating ducts.
If your home was built in the past fifteen years or so, it probably has well-sealed ductwork. But if you live in an older home, as much as thirty percent of your cooling dollars will be lost through gaps in the duct joints. This cool air is wasted when the ducts run through an attic, crawl space or basement. This can be a challenging DIY project to do effectively since it takes a professional to test for leaks before and after the repairs. If you’re game for sealing the ducts yourself, examine your ductwork for cracks, splits or bad connections and feel for escaping air when your system is on. After you seal the leaks, keep the ducts cool by insulating them with R-6 or better fiberglass duct wrap if they run through a hot attic.
COST: $400 to $1,300 for a professional to test and seal your heating and cooling ducts. DIY duct sealing tape costs $22 for a 60-yd. roll of aluminum tape and $7 for an 11-oz. tube of sealant.
PAYBACK: Three years for professional duct sealing and less than a year for DIY sealing.
7. Clean Your AC Unit Regularly
An unmaintained or poorly maintained air conditioner uses thirty percent more energy and has a shorter life. Central air compressors last around ten years. Proper maintenance can extend that to twenty years. It’s important to have a professional tune, clean and check controls and refrigerant levels on your central AC system every couple years, as your unit can develop leaks. It is better to catch that early. If your refrigerant needs recharging, this might improve efficiency by twenty percent. It’s also important to perform your own yearly maintenance. Several contractors said that most air-conditioner failures are caused by ignoring the unit. Make sure that your twice yearly project is to clean leaves, grass, and other trash from the outside unit.
Also, while you are at the unit, inspect the cooling fins. If any of them are bent, use a plastic fin tool to straighten them. They come in different sizes, so make certain that you have the correct tool for your size fins. That will also improve unit efficiency.
COST: Professional cleaning and servicing a central air conditioner costs $100 to $250. This is well worth peace of mind. You don't want your unit to quit on you when you need it most, and you are waiting in line with other people. Do this during the off season when the HVAC people are not busy.
PAYBACK: This depends on the age of the unit and how dirty it is. If you haven’t had your AC unit serviced in several years, having a professional do a thorough tune-up could pay for itself in less than a year and extend the life of your unit.
8. Check the Cooling Efficiency of Your Unit
To learn if your AC requires a tune up, run your unit for about fifteen minutes with the outdoor temperature at 80 degrees F or better. With a clean filter in place, place a thermometer on the supply register nearest the inside cooling unit. Leave it there for five minutes and see what the temperature is, then do the same thing at the return vent. The air coming out should be 15-20 degrees cooler than what is going in. A unit that isn't cooling could either have leaks or need a refrigerant recharge. A unit that cools more than 20 degrees could be blocked.
9. Block Out the Sun with Cooling Film or Shades
About thirty percent heat comes through your windows, so insulating shades, curtains, or tinted film on the southern and western facing windows can save about ten percent on cooling costs, which could pay for a nice dinner out. Shades and trees together can lower your temperatures close to twenty degrees on a very hot day. Insulating curtains will save you money in all seasons.
COST: Shades $10 per window, low-e film $5 per window, insulating curtains $40 to $170 per window.
PAYBACK: One to four years depending on initial costs and where you live.live
10. Install a Programmable Thermostat
This is another easy upgrade that pays back quickly. Setting your cooling system four to six degrees warmer when you’re away at work or on vacation and automatically lowering it to 78 degrees when you’re home can cut 5 to 20 percent off your energy bill. This simple DIY project takes less than an hour.
COST: $40 to $120.
PAYBACK: About a year if you use it for both heating and cooling.