It’s not just summer; it’s one of the hottest summers in a century, and your air conditioner is running overtime. Since cooling is the single biggest energy user in your home, that can take a bite out of your budget.  Looking for a way to save money and give the old A/C a break?  The most important thing you can do is to have your air conditioner tuned up by a professional every year.  This ensures it’s running at peak efficiency and can pinpoint any potential problems that need to be addressed before you’re spending a 100-degree day with an emergency AC repairman instead of a working air conditioner.

Help Your Air Conditioner Outside Your Home:

  • Plant shade trees, especially on the south and west sides.  The shade will help reduce your cooling costs by 30-40%.
  • Make sure your condenser is shaded, but not blocked.  It needs good airflow to work properly and efficiently, so clear away debris and don’t plant shrubs or plants too close. Shaded condensers use about 10% less electricity than those in direct sunlight.

Help Your Air Conditioner Inside Your Home:

You will need to decide where your loyalties lie: comfort or savings. There are tricks you can employ to save money, but you won’t always enjoy perfect comfort on the hottest days.

  • Find the highest indoor temperature you’re comfortable with. You may be surprised. Start by setting your thermostat at 78 for a few hours when you’re home.  If 78 is too warm, lower the thermostat by one degree for several hours. Repeat until you find your comfort zone. Ensure you’re using fans, as they allow you to feel cooler at higher thermostat settings. Every degree below 78 raises your cooling bill by about four percent, it’s worth a try. Of course, in the 100-degree-plus weather we’re currently experiencing, may actually want to lower your thermostat by a few degrees to ensure your air conditioner can keep up.
  • Use ceiling fans wisely.  Run them only when you’re in the room, as they don’t lower the temperature, they simply help you feel cooler.  Make sure you’ve switched the direction the blades spin so that the fan is pushing air down to you, making you feel three to eight degrees cooler and allowing you to turn up the thermostat without sacrificing comfort. A ceiling fan costs only a few cents an hour to run, while an air conditioner costs closer to a dollar an hour.
  • Use a programmable thermostat to raise the temperature a few degrees when you are asleep or at work, and lower it a few degrees when you’re home and awake. However, in extreme heat, when it’s 98 degrees or more, keep the setting constant or risk your air conditioner having a hard time keeping up.
  • Close your drapes to keep out direct sunlight, which can raise a room’s temperature by 10-20 degrees.  Drapes are more effective than blinds, but blinds are better than nothing—just make sure to tilt them to block out direct sunlight.
  • Make sure your attic is properly ventilated and insulated.  This keeps all the heat that is absorbed by your roof from making it down into your living spaces.
  • Seal air leaks. Use caulk and weather stripping anywhere hot air may come in.  As a bonus, you’ll also keep cold air out in a few months.
  • Perform an energy audit, or have one done by a professional, to see where there are leaks or inefficiencies in your heating and cooling system, ducts, and attic.
  • Avoid generating heat: Try to use ovens sparingly, air dry dishes and clothes, and change incandescent light bulbs to CFLs or LEDs.  Incandescent light bulbs emit 10% light and 90% heat. CFLs and LEDs produce almost no heat.

A few simple changes this summer can keep your Raleigh, NC area home cool without heating up your utility bill.