Air conditioners are expensive devices. Hence, if you are planning to install one for your office or home, you need to shell out quite a sizeable amount from your pocket. Now, if installation of an air conditioning device increases your monthly electric consumption– it will only make matters worse for you. Though the modern air conditioning units are more or less energy efficient, following certain tips to reduce air conditioning bills will further reduce electric consumption. Let us discuss some of the ways to reduce your air conditioning bills.
Maximizing the Energy Efficiency of Your Air Conditioner
Although air conditioning technology has come a long way, A/C units are still notorious as one of the biggest power drains in any house. It takes a lot of energy to keep an air conditioner running all day for an entire summer, which can lead to some pain when you get your electricity bill. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to cut down on power usage and keep your A/C system running as efficiently as possible. We’ve put together some tips you can use to keep your power bill from spiking every summer.
Pick the Right System
In order to truly maximize the efficiency of your HVAC system, you have to start by making sure you have the ideal air conditioner for your situation. There are a ton of different options out there, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, and energy efficiency can vary between them. For the best results, we recommend asking a trusted HVAC contractor to help you out. You’re going to need them to install the new unit anyway, so you may as well take advantage of their expertise and make sure you’re getting a system that will run smoothly and efficiently in your house. A good HVAC technician should be able to visit your house and get a sense of what your needs are, as well as any potential problem areas that could make certain units a poor fit for your situation.
Split-System Air Conditioners
There are quite a few different styles of air conditioner out there, but by far the most common is a split-system A/C hooked up to a central air system. The main thing that separates split-system air conditioners from single-unit ones is exactly what the name suggests: they’re split into two different units, one that goes inside your house and one that goes outside. The outside unit holds the compressor and the condenser coils, while the inside unit has the evaporator coil and the blower fan to distribute air throughout your house. The refrigerant flows back and forth between the units in small lines that run through the wall. In some cases, the coils in the two units can actually swap duties, allowing the air conditioner to operate as a heat pump during the winter.
In most houses, an air conditioner like this will be hooked up to a central air system. The blower fan in the inside unit blows cold air into ducts which carry it through your whole house, distributing it into the rooms through vents in the ceiling or wall. The ductwork is often shared with other HVAC units, like furnaces and dehumidifiers. This is a pretty simple and easy way to distribute air from a single point to every room in the house, which is why central air systems are so popular. However, it can take a lot of power to force the air through all those vents, so it’s not necessarily the ideal choice for every home. In smaller houses or trailers, a central air system is probably overkill.
Ductless air conditioners offer an alternative to the standard central air setup. They’re often referred to as “mini-splits,” since they operate similarly to split-system A/C but the units are much smaller. The biggest difference is that a mini-split system isn’t connected to any ductwork, and instead blows the air directly from the inside unit right into the room. Instead of using the ducts to move air through the whole house, a single mini-split compressor unit can be connected to multiple evaporator units, each one providing cool air to a single room.
While it might seem like a system with multiple evaporator units would use more power than a system with just one, that’s actually not the case. The big difference here is the ductwork. While ducts are a great way to move air around, they’re also the worst offenders when it comes to efficiency loss. It takes a whole lot of power to blow air through an entire house, especially when you lose a little bit for every corner or tiny leak in the ducts. Because mini-splits bypass the ductwork altogether, they tend to use 30% to 40% less power than a central air system, especially in smaller houses that require fewer units.
The biggest downside of a ductless mini-split system is the upfront cost. Each unit costs a pretty penny, and you need to buy a different one for every room in the house that requires cold air. While you’ll make at least some of that money back through energy savings, you have to be willing to drop a hefty chunk of change when you’re getting started – $10,000 or more for a small-to-medium house.
VRF Air Conditioners
Variable Refrigerant Flow, or VRF, refers to an HVAC technology invented in Japan in the 1980s. VRF air conditioners have been a popular choice in Asia for decades, and have recently made the jump across the Pacific into American homes as well. The engineering behind VRF technology can get a little complicated, but the simple explanation is that they have far greater control over the cooling process.
A standard air conditioner works on a binary – it can be either on or off. When the thermostat detects that the temperature is too high, it turns on the A/C, and once the temperature reaches the desired level, it turns the unit off. VRF A/C units, on the other hand, can fine-tune the amount of power that goes into the system at any one time. That means if the temperature is super high, it can turn the A/C on at full blast, but if it’s only a couple of degrees too warm, it can turn the system on just a little bit. It’s essentially the same idea as a dimmer switch on a light fixture, offering degrees of power usage instead of just “on” or “off.”
What this means for you is that VRF air conditioners are significantly more energy-efficient than anything else on the market today. Studies have shown that a VRF A/C system uses up to 55% less electricity than a standard split-system. That’s a huge difference and you’ll definitely notice it in your monthly power bill. VRF systems also have all the same advantages as any other mini-split, including built-in zoning and smart-tech connectivity.
While homeowners will most likely want to pick between the options we’ve already mentioned, there are a couple of other options you can explore that are especially good for smaller homes. If you live in a relatively mild climate, there’s always your everyday window unit. Window A/C units are cheap, don’t require any complicated installation, and do just fine to cool a single bedroom or small studio apartment. Window air conditioners are fairly inefficient, so you shouldn’t keep them running all summer long, but they’re a great choice for someone who needs a little relief on particularly warm days. If you don’t plan on using the unit all that frequently, the increased electricity cost of a window A/C will be more than offset by the extremely low cost of purchasing one, especially since you get to skip installation costs as well.
Along similar lines, you can buy portable air conditioners that can be moved from room to room. They’re even less efficient than a window unit, but you could easily use a single one for multiple rooms by taking it with you when you move from room to room.
Air Conditioner Sizing
When you’re purchasing a new air conditioner, one of the first things your HVAC contractor will help you with is the sizing process. A properly sized A/C system can go a long way toward keeping energy costs low without forcing you to compromise on performance. It might seem like a bigger air conditioner will always be more effective, but that’s not the case. Your best option is always going to be a properly sized A/C.
If you buy an air conditioner that’s too small for your house, you’re going to see both decreased performance and higher power bills. The smaller the air conditioner, the harder it has to work to keep the whole house cool. Because each A/C unit can only push out so much air at a time, it can quickly become overwhelmed and fall behind the temperature in your house. To make up for this, the unit will have to either run continuously or do something we call short cycling.
Short cycling is when an air conditioner is constantly turning on and off, on and off, over and over again. Not only does this create strain on the parts inside the machine, but it also wastes a ton of electricity. The law of inertia means that turning the blower fan on will always use more energy than keeping it running once it’s already on, so constantly switching it on and off is just wasting power. This is actually part of why VRF units are so efficient – they can gradually ramp the juice up or down instead of having to switch the fan on and off completely.
An oversized air conditioner will also end up short cycling frequently. Big A/C units blow out too much cool air at any one time, so instead of gradually lowering the temperature, it will cause big jumps. This creates hot and cool spots in your house as well as wasting power as the system turns on, then immediately off again. It also leads to higher repair bills down the line as parts become worn out faster, as well as shortening the overall lifespan of the unit and requiring you to buy a new one sooner than you should have to.
An HVAC contractor can help you avoid this by checking out your house and sizing the HVAC system to fit. Air conditioner sizing is based on a few different factors, including the dimensions of the house, the number of doors and windows, materials used in construction, the number of inhabitants, and finally the climate outside. You can use some simple calculators on the internet to get a general sense of how big the unit should be, but you’ll really be better off having a professional handle this for you.
This is especially important if you’re buying an air conditioner for a commercial space. The calculations become a lot more complicated when you have to account for all the employees, the open size of many commercial spaces, and heat fluctuation as customers enter and leave the building throughout the day.
Air Conditioner Maintenance
Keeping your air conditioner in good condition can go a long way toward extending its life as well as keeping it as energy-efficient as possible. Once you’ve already purchased and installed an A/C unit, maintaining it is the most important thing you can do to keep power bills low.
One of the most common causes of decreased energy efficiency is a reduction in airflow. If some air isn’t making it all the way through the unit and the ducts into your home, it just forces the motor to work harder to make up for the wasted air. This is almost always caused by blockages somewhere along the line, whether that’s inside the unit itself, in the ducts, or covering the vents.
The best way to avoid this problem is to clean the unit thoroughly before each summer. Make sure to get any dust or dirt that’s been caught up inside, especially if it’s been sitting all winter. Pay special attention to the vents on each unit – that’s where the air comes in and out. One great way to make this job easier is to use an A/C cover to keep dust out during the winter.
You should also dust off the vents leading to the ductwork every week or so. You might be surprised at how much dust and hair can get caught up in the grills, especially if you have pets. Just a quick once-over with a duster or wet cloth should be enough to clear things up.
Finally, it’s important to have the ducts themselves cleaned every few years. This isn’t really something you can do yourself, so we recommend hiring an HVAC contractor to handle it for you. It’ll cost a little bit, but the efficiency increase will more than make up for it.
It’s not only the vents that need to be cleaned regularly, of course. Every A/C unit has an air filter that prevents dust and other debris from entering the air in your home. As you might imagine, that filter collects a lot of dirt and junk and needs to be cleaned about once a month or so. That schedule can vary depending on the specific filter you have, so make sure to check the packaging when you buy it. Some filters are meant to be disposable and come in packs, while others are meant to last and need to be washed with soap and water. You should double-check the documentation that came with your air conditioner when you bought it to see which filters you should use, since not every unit has a strong enough fan to handle an extra fine filter.
If you allow dust to build up on the filter, it’ll cut the airflow through the system and give you a spike on your power bill. If there’s one single bit of maintenance that you’re able to do for your air conditioner, make sure it’s this one. A clogged air filter can cripple an otherwise completely functional A/C unit, so make sure you don’t forget to check it regularly. They’re also important for health reasons, especially if anyone in your household has existing respiratory conditions. Too much dust, pollen, and other particles in the air can cause respiratory symptoms to worsen.
Outside of all the little things you can do to keep your air conditioner running smoothly, you should also make sure you bring in a professional to take a look at it once a year or so. Preventative maintenance is the best way to make sure nothing is going wrong or wearing out inside the unit, and can save you from being stuck with higher repair bills later on down the road. A yearly tune-up will keep your air conditioner running like a dream so you can rest easy and keep it on for the whole summer.
A well-maintained air conditioner is also an efficient air conditioner, so keeping it in good working order will help you keep electricity costs low for your household. In fact, a spike in your electricity bill is often a sign that something has gone wrong inside the unit and you should have it looked at immediately. Just like reduced airflow, a broken or worn down part inside the air conditioner can force the motor to work harder and run longer just to reach the same temperatures inside the house.
If you find yourself needing to repair the A/C unit more and more often, or your power bill continues to climb no matter what you do, it might just be time for a new one. You might be surprised at how drastically a new air conditioner can cut your electricity usage, especially since technological advancements continue to increase the efficiency of each new model.
Even if you’ve been keeping your air conditioner in perfect order, there are still a few small things you can do to get the whole system operating at peak efficiency. While these tips might not necessarily produce enormous changes in your power usage, they do add up if you follow them regularly. Here are a handful of smaller ways to optimize the energy efficiency of your air conditioner:
- Keep electronic devices like computers and televisions away from the thermometer if possible. They tend to emit heat, even when turned off, and this can trick the temperature sensor inside the thermometer into thinking the room is warmer than it actually is, leading it to turn on the air conditioner unnecessarily.
- When you have the air conditioner running, try to keep all the doors and windows closed. While an open window can allow a nice breeze to flow through the room, it will also allow the cold air to escape outside.
- Planting shrubs and trees outside your home, especially on the southern and western walls, can cut down on the sunlight that reaches the walls and reduce the heat transfer inside the house, keeping it cool for longer.
- If you need to cool down certain parts of the house, close the vents in the other rooms. This will allow the targeted rooms to cool down faster. You can also control the temperature in each room more precisely if you have a mini-split system with built-in zoning, which can save electricity as well.
- Make sure your house is properly insulated. Check the doors and windows for cracks and make sure to fix any that you notice. Not only will this keep the cool air inside over the summer, it’ll also save you money in the winter by preventing warm air from escaping outside, easing the workload on your furnace or heat pump.
Find an HVAC Contractor You Can Trust
The easiest way to follow all these tips and make sure you have the most efficient HVAC system possible is to work with a licensed and experienced contractor in the industry. If you live in the Bay Area and you want to get your air conditioning system running at peak efficiency, or you just have some more questions about saving money, feel free to get in touch with Valley Comfort Heating & Air today. You can give us a call at (707) 329-4120, contact us through our website here, or come visit us at our location in Santa Rosa. We’re licensed, insured, and have the years of experience you need to make sure you’re getting every advantage possible