Clean Up Your AC

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It’s that time of the year again, when most people are feeling the rising temperatures as summer comes crashing in. It’s fun in the sun, but it’s not always a party when you receive your electric bill. So, what is the best way to beat the heat?

Home is where it’s at

When the summer temperatures start rising, many of us take retreat into our air-conditioned homes. But have you ever wondered if you were being as energy efficient as possible? One of the ways many consumers miss out is by not properly maintaining their air conditioning units or switching out their old energy hogs for something more eco-friendly. In terms of maintenance, it’s important to:

Photo: Associatedcontent.com

Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use. Photo: Associatedcontent.com

  • Replace the air filter – The standard recommendation is once a month, but if you have pets or live in a dusty area, it’s better to do it more frequently. The clogged filter will cause poor air circulation, thus making your unit work harder.
  • Clean the coils – Over time, the coils collect dust, thus reducing the airflow and insulating the coils, which reduces their ability to absorb heat.
  • Hire a professional – Before you turn on your air conditioning, consider hiring a professional to come out and do a thorough inspection. Ensure that they check the refrigerant to ensure it is not leaking and that it is filled to manufacturer specifications.

Another thing to consider about your home air conditioning is efficiency. During the winter, many experts drive the point home that you need to have a house that is properly insulated, but there are other things to consider:

  • Pull the shades – Closing your blinds on your house can make a world of difference during the day. Furthermore, having insulted windows and blinds helps keep the cold air out in the winter, but it also helps keep out the heat in the summer.
  • Abandon the kitchen – The bottom line is, your oven and stove generate a lot of heat. That heat causes your AC to turn on more frequently. Consider cooking outside on the grill to help keep the heat where it belongs, outside. If you must cook indoors, either choose to cook in a microwave which produces less heat or turn on the over-the-range hood to vent the heat.
  • Air it out – Open those windows at night when it cools down outside. It will help vent the air that has been in the house all day. A cool evening breeze will help you cool things down without the AC. However, if it is too humid out, it is recommended that you use the AC. Too much humidity can cause mold to grow inside your house.
  • Seal it up – So much air is lost through energy zappers such as open or leaky windows and doors and poor insulation. It’s ideal to have your windows and doors properly sealed to cut down on air leakage. It’s also a good idea to insulate the duct work in your home. If it’s in the attic, heavily insulate it. If possible, run duct work through cooler parts of the house, such as the basement. Also, have a professional check for leaks in the system and seal them.
  • Fan it out – Turn on the ceiling fans or a free-standing fan. Fans are great for moving the air and can generally make a house feel cooler by producing a breeze.
  • Lighten it up – Switch out those standard incandescent bulbs for compact florescent bulbs (CFL). Not only will this save you energy, but CFL’s burn cooler, helping you keep the temperature in the house down. Another great way to reduce heat in the house is to turn off your computers. You might even want to consider opting for hang drying your clothes outside instead of using the dryer.
  • Add some shade – Another great way to cut down on the heat is to add some shade. Plant some trees on the side of your house that receives the most sun. It may take some time, but when these trees grow up, they will provide shade for your house during the summertime, which will cut down on energy costs. Be mindful of how close you plant your trees to your house because roots can cause problems with your foundation.
  • Go digital – If you can, put in a digital thermostat. It’s a better way to manage your household temperature. You can set the house for a higher temperature when you are not home and a lower temperature when you arrive home from work.
    Photo: Typepad.com

    Don’t set your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and unnecessary expense.Photo: Typepad.com

Cruising around town

So, you are sitting in traffic, and it’s hot and humid. You turn on your AC and wait impatiently as nothing happens. Then you remember that you promised yourself at the end of last summer that you would get your car’s AC unit charged.

Keep in mind that the average consumer cannot charge their own AC unit in their car. It’s important to take it to a qualified mechanic who can charge it for you. Many of today’s cars have complex systems in which dumping more Freon (not commonly used anymore in vehicles due to it’s negative environmental impact) is not an option.

Aside from charging your AC, does using your AC consume more gas? Should you have the windows down? Many people have tested the windows down versus AC on theory. The general finding for modern vehicles is that window down is more efficient for city (low speed) driving, and the AC is more efficient for highway (high speed) driving.

The theory is that having your windows down at high speeds creates drag. Modern cars are designed with aerodynamics in mind, and when you drop the window, you disrupt the flow of air around the car, thus causing drag and burning more fuel. However, when you are driving at lower speeds, it does not create as much drag and is thought to be a better option to keep the windows down.

Also, when you are just hopping in a hot car after leaving work, put the windows down for a few minutes to help the heat escape, enabling the AC to cool the car down faster. Also, use the recirculation feature (often called max AC) to recirculate the air.

Beat the heat

So what happens when you have a busted AC system, cannot afford AC or are just out and about? Well, there is more than one way to beat the heat.

  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water and reduce consumption of alcoholic beverages and caffeine, which dehydrate you. It’s also a good idea to avoid drinks high in sugar content, such as fruit punch.
  • Eat healthy – One of the best ways to help keep hydrated is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. They are high in water, taste great and are good for you!
  • Have a treat – Sometimes the best way to beat the heat is to enjoy a nice ice cream cone or sorbet. If you want to eat healthy, go for sugar-free organic options (to avoid artificial sweeteners).
  • Take a swim – Go take a swim in your local pool to help cool down. Another idea if you don’t want to hit the pool is to take a cold shower.
  • Hit the mall – If anything else, go somewhere air conditioned. Visit the mall, a restaurant, coffee shop or anywhere else that is cool.

There are plenty of ways to not only cut costs this summer, but also to just cool down in general. Maybe it means opting to open your windows at night, planting a few trees,or drinking lots of water. Regardless there are numerous ways to cool down. So don’t think about this summer as another season of high electric bills, think of this summer as another opportunity to go green!

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