AC in summer seems like a lifesaver – but high energy costs are a summer bummer!
Here is a “baker’s dozen” worth of great ways to get more bang for your AC bucks and feel cooler and drier all summer long.
- Service the AC Condenser
- Clean the Evaporator Coils
- Clean Out Your AC Vents
- Install Weatherstripping
- Add Insulated Window Blinds
- Close the Curtains
- Insulate the Attic
- Inspect the Ductwork – And Add Insulation
- Keep Doors and Windows Closed
- Stay Away From the Oven
- Zone your System
- Use Fans in the Room
- Consider a Whole House Fan
Service the AC Condenser
Cleaning your AC condenser is the first step towards improving the air conditioning efficiency in your home. A dirty condenser won’t function nearly as efficiently as a clean one, because it will have to work harder to get rid of heat through the dirt and grime. So make sure to routinely clean the condenser. DIY or hiring a pro for $75 to $125 for a complete AC tune-up once a year is recommended.
Did you know? Your warranty might require you to have your HVAC system professionally serviced every year for the warranty to remain in effect! Most homeowners had no clue about that – but check your warranty and learn more in the exclusive, comprehensive Pick HVAC Guide to HVAC Warranties! And read the warranty that came with your HVAC equipment. You might be in for a few surprises.
Here is a quick how-to guide for cleaning your condenser:
- Step One – Turn off the power to the condenser. There should be an outside shut-off that you can use near the condenser, but if you can’t find it, you can always turn it off at the main electrical panel.
- Step Two – Brush or vacuum away debris on the outside of the condenser. The exterior fins are an easy place for debris like grass clippings and leaves to get caught and clog up the condenser. Make sure to remove as much as you can during this step.
- Step Three – Straighten out the condenser fins with a butter knife. Don’t insert the knife too far into the condenser; a half inch or so will work just fine. You only need to straighten out sections that are crushed or bent way out of shape. Or you can buy an AC Fin Comb here.
- Step Four – Unscrew the grille at the top of the condenser and lift the fan out. The fan is attached to the unit with wires, so you won’t be able to remove it completely. Set the fan aside or have another person hold it up while you clean out any debris that has been caught inside the condenser.
- Step Five – Use a hose (not a power washer) to spray the fins from the inside out. Once everything looks nice and clean, place the fan back inside the condenser unit and screw the top grille in place. Once everything is in place, turn the condenser back on, and voilà! Your clean condenser should be running smoothly again.
Pro Tip: Spray your condensing coil – the evaporator coil too – with Coil Cleaner first, and the dirt will come off much easier when you hose it.
Clean the Evaporator Coils
The evaporator coils for your AC are found in the inside air handling unit. If you don’t know where your air handling unit is, look for it in the basement, attic, garage or utility closet.
Evaporator coils are one of the most important elements in your AC system, and keeping them clean is a great way to improve your air conditioning efficiency. It has been estimated that an air conditioner with dirty evaporator coils will use up to 40% more energy than one with clean coils. That means that keeping the evaporator coils on your AC clean will save you money and cool your house more effectively.
The first step in cleaning your evaporator coils is to turn the air conditioner off using the thermostat. Once the AC is turned off, remove the access panel on the air handling unit to expose the evaporator coils. You can clean the evaporator coils using a brush, compressed air, cleaning spray, or mild detergent with water. If the evaporator coils are fairly clean, you can just brush them off using a brush or compressed air. But if the coils are heavily soiled, you may need to use a cleaner or detergent to wash them.
If you feel uncomfortable cleaning the evaporator coils yourself, you can hire a professional to come clean them for about $100, as noted.
Here is the Pick HVAC Guide to Cleaning AC Coils!
Clean Out Your AC Vents
Cleaning out your AC vents is one of the easiest ways to make sure your AC is running at maximum efficiency. Locate your air conditioner vents around your house, and assess their cleaning needs. A simple way to clean out the vents is with a vacuum cleaner. Clear each vent of pet hair, leaves, dust clumps, and other debris, and make sure there isn’t anything blocking the vent like curtains or furniture.
Weatherstripping can make a huge difference in your home’s air conditioning efficiency. It seals up cracks in the doors and windows that are letting hot air into the house, so that your air conditioner isn’t working any harder than it needs to be. Weatherstripping is especially helpful in older homes where the windows and doors may be more drafty than newer models.
Here are a few of the most popular weatherstripping materials for residential homes:
- V-Seal – Also known as V-Strip or Tension Seal, this type of weatherstripping is a thin piece of vinyl or metal that is folded into a “V” shape. V-seal is installed along window sashes and door frames to prevent warm air from seeping in.
- Felt Weatherstrip – Felt weatherstrip is exactly what it sounds like: a strip of felt with an adhesive back that sticks onto windows and doors for insulation. Felt weatherstrip is a budget-friendly fix, but only lasts a few years before needing to be replaced.
- Foam Tape – Foam tape is a strip of dense foam with adhesive on the back that sticks to the sides of windows and doors. It is also called seal foam or weatherstripping tape.
- Door Sweep – A door sweep covers the gap between the bottom of a door and the threshold. Most door sweeps are made out of rubber, vinyl, or bristles, and attach onto the bottom of the door.
Add Insulated Window Blinds
Windows are one of the main places where unwanted heat leaks in and reduces the cooling efficiency of your home. Installing insulated window blinds is a great way to reduce that energy loss and cool your home quicker. With the right kind of blinds, you can reduce unwanted heat by up to 50 percent! That is a significant amount of energy to be saving each month.
Perfect Fit blinds are highly effective at keeping out heat and excess sunlight. If you’re on a budget, roller blinds are also a great option that won’t break the bank.
Close the Curtains
Even on a mild summer day, if the sun is shining, the temperature of your house can soar. As nice as it is to have a sunny house, closing the curtains and blinds as much as possible will make a big temperature difference. Consider closing up all the curtains before you leave the house for work or other activities, so that your air conditioner can cool the house efficiently while you’re gone.
Insulate the Attic
Insulating the attic is a great way to prevent heat from leaking in and to keep your home cool all summer. Start with insulating the attic floor, and then if you want to do more, move on to the attic walls and ceiling. Even if your attic is already insulated, adding more insulation on top will increase the energy efficiency of your home. Before adding insulation, make sure to seal up any cracks that may be leaking air.
Inspect the Ductwork – And Add Insulation
Inspect any visible ductwork in the attic or elsewhere and look for exposed areas that may be leaking air. If you find any leaks, seal them up and insulate the exposed ductwork. Then wrap insulation around the exposed ducts to keep heat from taking the chill out of the air flowing through them from the air handler.
Keep Doors and Windows Closed
When the air conditioner is running, all the doors and windows in the house should be kept closed. Otherwise, your AC will be working to cool the whole neighborhood! Overworking your air conditioner will cause it to be less efficient and shorten its lifespan. Treat your AC well by keeping outside doors and windows closed while it’s working hard to cool your house.
Stay Away From the Oven
When possible, avoid using the oven or stove to cook food on really hot days. The oven warms up your house and forces your air conditioner to work extra hard to keep up. Try to incorporate more chilled food into your summer diet, like fresh salads or wraps. If you’re craving some warm food, try cooking it outside on the grill!
Zone your System
Adding zone dampers is costly, but you’ll experience cost savings in the long-term. The cheapest method is to have dampers installed in the ducts that you can manually open or close with a lever. Motorized controls cost a lot more.
The benefit of zoning the system is closing off airflow to unused areas of the house. Just cooling the occupied rooms will lower your energy use and cost – and more efficiently use your air conditioning dollars.
You may also like: Do I Need a Zoned HVAC System?
Use Fans in the Room
Moving air feels cooler than stagnant air, so you can feel more comfortable with the thermostat set a little higher – improving AC efficiency. Box or floor fans do the job. So do small, portable personal fans.
A ceiling fan is another great idea. In summer, the fan creates a bit of wind chill – not nice in winter, but a joy on a hot summer day.
Consider a Whole House Fan
Aka an attic fan, these appliances are designed to cool your house at night when outside temps are lower. Think about it. When your home starts out cooler in the morning, the AC won’t work as hard during the day, and efficiency will be improved considerably.
You may also like: Top Whole House Fan Reviews (Cost & Installation Guide)