Save money on your air-conditioning

Don't wait till summer to pay attention to the air conditioner. Follow these 10 tips all year round to save energy and money.

By Signe Langford

Just as the summer is slipping away, it's time to think about that hardworking, energy-sucking unit that keeps you comfortable all summer long. Now is the time to turn the air-conditioning off and give it a once-over. And if you've suffered long enough and decided next summer is the summer you will have AC, consider installing it in fall or winter, when there may be deals out there and shorter wait times for installation.

Whether central, window or portable, here are 10 tips to help keep you cool as a cucumber while saving like a smarty-pants.

1. Regardless of how much or how little you use the AC, it's going to be more efficient -- and save you money -- if you pay attention to good maintenance. Like most machines, if it's clean it runs better and more efficiently and uses less power to do its job.

Just like with a furnace, air is drawn into the air conditioner, and along with that air, dust and debris. This is the first thing that can cause your unit to overwork and thus use more electricity. Keep the filters clean. Check for leaks in the ductwork, too.

2. Don't already have central air-conditioning and still reeling from last summer's heat wave? Look into the newest in high-efficiency units. The same Energy Star symbol we look for when shopping for fridges and stoves also applies to AC units -- and choosing an Energy Star-approved unit over one that isn't can save you up to 30 per cent on your cooling bill.

Here's a lesser-known rating system specific to air conditioners: EER, or energy efficiency rating. The higher the number, the more efficient the machine. Find an Energy Star unit with a high EER rating and you'll keep cool while keeping more of your cold, hard cash.

3. Your house is not a walk-in beer cooler -- keep the thermostat set at 26°C. A dip of even a couple of degrees -- say, to 22°C -- can increase your bill by up to 47 per cent.

4. Ceiling fans don't use too much juice to run, but they do make a house feel cooler, whether the AC is running or not. Ditto for floor or table fans. Look for a ceiling fan with two rotating directions: one way pushes hot air down (great for winter and the heating bill) and the other pulls cool air up and circulates it.

Table and floor fans may be somewhat harder to find in fall and winter, but look for deep discounts -- or consider buying used. Ceiling fans are available all year round, but do look for off-season deals.

5. Unless you're growing orchids and need tons of natural light inside, drawing the shades against the scorching sun will help keep the temperature down and take a little pressure off the AC unit.

6. Ask yourself, can those heat-producing chores -- hot-water wash, running the dryer or dishwasher, baking -- wait until the sun goes down?

7. Installing central air? Purchase a maintenance plan at the outset and you'll never forget or be tempted to skip on twice-a-year cleaning and inspection visits. Do keep in mind that if there's someone handy around the house, much AC maintenance and cleaning can be DIY. Just make sure that doing it yourself won't compromise the warranty.

8. Insulation is a two-way street: It helps keep you cosy warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Assess your home's R value to find out how well you're insulated, and update if necessary.

9. Keep windows and doors shut when the AC is on; otherwise, you're paying to cool the great outdoors.

10. Don't cool the house if no one is home -- but do keep pets in mind. The goldfish will be fine, but dogs, cats and birds are susceptible to heat exhaustion, just like us.

Use AC mindfully and take care of your unit and you'll give both your bank account and Mother Earth a break next summer.

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