Sunny days and warmer weather are fast approaching and that means a switch from heating to cooling is upon us. Space conditioning tops the list of largest energy loads for homeowners, which means there are opportunities to reduce your utility costs by being proactive with the following energy saving tips.
Regular maintenance is crucial for optimal performance and over the months when your AC is inoperable, your system can lose refrigerant charge or the outdoor condenser unit can get clogged by dust, debris or animals using the space as a winter rental, reducing its effectiveness.
One of the best opportunities for improving system operation is to regularly check and if necessary, replace your air filter. Not only will your indoor air quality improve but the fresh filter will ensure proper air flow occurs, reducing the strain on the system to deliver cool air.
The building thermal envelope (insulation and air sealing) is the largest contributor to cooling loads but internal gains, such as those from inefficient lighting can increase your operational needs. Many utility companies and/or states offer subsidized energy audits that will provide an independent third-party consultant to identify opportunities to reduce your heating and cooling loads.
During hours when no one is home or sleeping, give your air conditioning system a break by setting the thermostat back and when people are home, find a temperature that’s comfortable and relative to the conditions outdoors. Smart thermostats are becoming increasingly popular and many state and local programs, including utility sponsored efficiency programs offer subsidized ”smart thermostats” that allow you to better manage the various daily cycles of cooling and periods of setback.
While fans don’t impact temperature, they change the “real feel” of the space by circulating air within the space, giving a sense of a cooler environment. The circulation creates a “wind chill” effect, allowing occupants to feel more comfortable at a higher set temperature. In order to benefit from this effect, the fan needs to operate in a counterclockwise direction, forcing the air downward onto occupants.
Windows with southern and western exposure are subject to significant solar heat gain throughout the day. Quality shades and or curtains can curb this effect and limit internal gains from the sun. Northern exposed windows aren’t subject to the same solar heat gain effects and can be left open to provide natural lighting.
The primary cause of discomfort in summer months isn’t in fact the temperature of the space but rather, the relative humidity in the space. Higher levels of humidity decrease our ability to utilize evaporative cooling (shedding heat from our bodies through sweat). In hot, humid climates, it may be prudent to add an energy efficient dehumidifier during periods of high exterior humidity to take the burden off the AC system. All air conditioning systems provide dehumidification but under extreme conditions, they will not be sufficient alone. If you’re system has been checked of operational issues and you’re still uncomfortable, consider a dehumidifier.
Appliances such as washing machines, clothes dryers and dishwashers generate a lot of heat, adding to your cooling load via internal heat gain. Think about utilizing these appliances early or late in the day when the solar heat gain from the sun is minimized and spread the internal heat gain to times of day when the exterior temperature is cooler.