How To Keep Cool Without Going Broke This SummerS

For many of us, air conditioning results in our biggest utility expense during the summer months. Well, summer is officially here, and so is Prof. Dealzmodo to lay some tips on you for keeping cool without going broke.

Fans

At the very least a regular fan, a twin window fan that takes advantage of cool night air, room to room fan, or even a bed fan could help save a little extra money—especially if the outside temperature cools sufficiently in your area.

If you have the option of installing a ceiling fan, it can be one of the simplest and most inexpensive ways to reduce energy costs in the home. The average price is around $100 per fan, they can be easily self-installed (as long as you have an existing ceiling light) and they can save you as much as 40% on your energy bills this summer. Take this example from Progress Energy:

...a 48", 75-watt fan used 10 hours a day at half speed or less would cost $.50 to $.90 a month to operate. For a 1,500-square-foot house with air conditioning using two ceiling fans and raising the thermostat setting could save about $70 to $200 over a six-month cooling season.

This is precisely why I just ordered four new fans for my home. Three of the four will be installed upstairs in each of the bedrooms. There will be absolutely no need for A/C at night, and I expect to dramatically lower central air usage on the upper level during the day.

How To Keep Cool Without Going Broke This SummerS

Window A/C Units: Who Should Have One?

The bottom line is that window units use far less electricity than central air units. For example, a typical, medium-sized window unit might use 500 to 1440 watts of electricity per hour while a 2.5 ton central system might use 3500 watts over the same span. Because central air units cool an entire home, users often waste energy in areas that are not occupied. For example, if you live in a small apartment, a 12,000 BTU window unit could effectively cool a 640 square foot space for an upfront cost of around $300. This Fridgidaire model is also Energy Star certified, meaning that it should provide at least an additional 10% savings in monthly energy costs—making it a wise investment when compared to a traditional model. In an apartment around 800 square feet, that would most likely cover the main living space and could be supplemented with something as small as a 5,000 BTU unit for a bedroom. Hell, you might even be able to get away with only a fan—after all, bedrooms see most of their use after the sun has gone down.

Things to consider when buying a window A/C unit:

• Bigger is not better. Too many on/off cycles will reduce efficiency and add result in unnecessary wear and tear. Make sure your A/C unit is sized properly for your room by matching capacity with square footage.
• Make sure your unit has at least three speeds (low, medium and high).
• Buy a model with a thermostat to fine tune your comfort level and save electicity.
• Clean your filters regularly.
• Choose a model with a timer. This gives you even greater flexibility and ensures that the unit is only running when needed.
• Consider building a unit directly into your wall to eliminate the hassle of moving it every year. You can also put an insulated / weather-stripped cover on through-the-wall units in the fall. [HVACKey]

So, to answer the question "who should have one?," I would suggest that people living in small apartments or homes seriously consider investing in a window A/C unit or two. Even if you have central air, keeping it off in favor of à la carte cooling is going to save you some money. For those that have larger dwellings, individual A/C units might come in handy in a bedroom at night, or in rooms that you spend most of your time in.

Getting the Most Out Of Central Air

If you own a home or an upscale rental, you probably already have a central air unit. But simply tweaking the temperature dial now and then doesn't mean you are getting all of the potential cost savings out of your system.

How To Keep Cool Without Going Broke This SummerS

• Get a programmable thermostat. Those old-timey, temperature-only thermostats are a huge waste of money. Simply being able to program your thermostat to kick on when you get home, or run on 78 degrees instead of 72 degrees overnight can result in savings of around $180 per year for an average home. Also, keep in mind that each degree you set your thermostat below 78 degrees will increase your energy use by 3-4%. Plus, basic programmable thermostats can cost less than $30.
• If installing or replacing a unit, keep in mind that the higher the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating of your unit, the more energy efficient it will be. All Energy Star certified units must have a SEER rating of 13 or higher.
• Units with a thermal expansion valve and a high-temperature rating Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) greater than 11.6 will be more efficient when the weather is at its hottest.
• Units with a fan-only switch allow for nighttime ventilation to substantially reduce air-conditioning costs.
• Make sure to check filters every month. [Energy Savers]

You may also want to look into a simple misting unit like the Cool-n-Save. It attaches to your central air unit in minutes and can reduce your energy bills by as much as 30%. Plus, the whole system only sets you back $100. On the downside, it does use a significant amount of water, and it may result in a mineral buildup.

Check For Leaks

The most important step in keeping your home cool is making sure that the structure itself isn't working against you. Obviously, if your house or apartment is leaky or poorly insulated, a lot of cash is going to fly out those holes along with the cold air. Furthermore, If you have a central air system, an average of 20% of the air moving through the duct system is lost because of leaks, holes and poor connections. Even if you can't afford insulation upgrades or a blower test to detect leaks, a few DIY tests and some cheap fixes like weatherstripping could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the long term.

Alternatives

They aren't feasible in every situation, but there are a few cost-effective ways to cool a home that break from the norm. These methods include evaporative coolers (swamp coolers), attic fans, and geothermal systems. However, for most of us, just putting up some shades, adding a ceiling fan or two and/or a window A/C unit or programmable thermostat could result in substantially lower utility bills during the hot summer months. And, if all else fails, there is always air conditioned shirts and ice saunas.

Prof. Dealzmodo is a regular section dedicated to helping budget-minded consumers learn how to shop smarter and get the best deals on their favorite gadgets. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, send your idea to tips@gizmodo.com, with "Professor Dealzmodo" in the subject line.
[Background Image via Wikimedia]