A little help goes a long way.
If there’s one thing you tend to take for granted during a sweltering summer, it’s the sound of your air conditioner humming along as it keeps the inside of your home comfortably cool. In warmer regions of the country, air conditioning costs can comprise up to 70 percent of summer utility bills, so it’s no wonder homeowners are always looking for ways to keep their AC units from running all the time! Read on to find out how you can reduce your air conditioner’s operating time and still maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home.
1. Change your filters regularly.
The return air vents in a house draw air from the living space through the AC unit, cool it, and then blow the “conditioned” air back into the rooms through the supply registers. Filters just inside the return air vent cover keep airborne particles—rug fibers, dust, pet dander, and so on—from entering the AC unit. In the space of just a few weeks, these filters can become clogged with particles, reducing the flow of air to the AC unit. Replacing the filters regularly prevents the air conditioner from having to work too hard to draw in air. Change return air filters at least every three months or, if you have pets that shed, as frequently as every one to two months.
2. Seal leaks around living spaces.
If hot air is getting into your home, whether it's radiating through your ceiling drywall from a steamy attic or leaking through cracks in your floor from an unventilated crawl space, your air conditioner has to work overtime to keep you cool. Sealing off air leaks is a vital step in reducing the strain on your AC unit, and this task can be as simple as applying a coat of point-and-shoot spray foam insulation. While many brands of foam insulation require professional application, the Foam It Green Fast-Dry, Closed-Cell Kit is designed to be DIY-friendly and a snap for homeowners who want to seal off air leaks without calling in a pro.
Foam It Green is as easy to use as a paint sprayer—just direct a thin spray of the liquid where you want to seal and insulate, and the liquid will quickly expand to form a dense layer of insulation. A one-inch-thick layer of Foam It Green offers a hefty R-value of 7, giving it almost twice as much heat-blocking value per inch as fiberglass batt insulation. More importantly, where fiberglass batt insulation leaves gaps, Foam It Green expands to completely plug all air leaks. If you need to seal leaks in areas around the house, check out the company's tips for easily insulating attic floors and crawl spaces.
3. Caulk windows.
Drafty windows that allow hot outdoor air to enter your home can counteract your AC's efforts. To keep cooling costs low, be sure to inspect windows for air leaks and be vigilant about sealing them. Caulk can become brittle over time and pull away, so you’ll need to scrape off the old caulk with a putty knife before you can apply new caulk. For the best seal, make sure the window trim is completely dry before you apply fresh caulk, and use your finger or the back of a small spoon to smooth the bead into the seam.
4. Replace weatherstripping.
You’ve probably heard that you should replace the weatherstripping around your exterior doors before winter. While that’s true, it pays to have working weatherstripping in the summer months, too, when hot air can seep in around the doors. Don’t wait until late fall to replace it: Purchase a complete weatherstripping kit that contains everything you need to remove and replace the old, worn-out weatherstripping. These DIY kits also include step-by-step instructions for creating an airtight seal every time you close the door.
5. Insulate ducts in the attic.
In many homes, including older homes that were retrofitted for central air conditioning and slab-on-grade homes without basements or crawl spaces, air ducts often run through the attic. Unfortunately, if the attic isn’t adequately ventilated, it can become unbearably hot during the summer months, and this heat can warm the air flowing through the ducts before it reaches the rooms of the house. In addition to improving insulation and ventilation upstairs, insulating attic ductwork with Foam It Green would prevent hot attic air from coming into direct contact with the ducts, keeping the air cooler when it comes out of the supply registers and relieving your AC of additional work. As a bonus, the spray foam would also help eliminate condensation and minimize noisy vibration whenever your unit kicks on.
Check your local building code before you get started. The Foam It Green kit contains all you need for the job, including two separate chemical tanks, one with blue liquid and one with yellow liquid, that combine to create the pale green expanding foam that emerges wherever you point the 15-foot spray hose. A single Foam It Green kit will insulate 600 square feet of ductwork to a depth of one inch. Pro tip: Allow one coating of Foam It Green to dry and then apply a second to double the insulating effect.
6. Install a smart thermostat.
Running an air conditioner full blast while no one is home makes little sense and adds big bucks to a utility bill, but how else can a homeowner be sure to return to a comfortably cool house? A better (and more efficient) solution is to install one of today’s smart thermostats that will “learn” your schedule and adjust the temperature inside your home accordingly so that the AC runs only when needed. Smart thermostats can also be controlled from a smartphone, tablet, or PC, so you can set the temperature in your home while you’re out and about.
7. Have your AC serviced.
Like all major appliances, your AC will operate at peak performance when it’s in tip-top shape, so it’s a good idea to have a licensed HVAC technician inspect and service the unit once a year. A professional will:
• Test the controls and wiring.
• Clean the blower and motor.
• Check to ensure good airflow.
• Inspect the ducts for leaks.
• Observe how much electrical load the unit is pulling.
• Clean the evaporator coils and the condenser coils.
• Recharge the AC with refrigerant liquid if necessary.
• Inspect and fix loose connections and repair any damage.
8. Add reflective solar film to windows.
Windows on the south and west sides of the house receive the most sunlight during the warmest times of the day. If they're not high-efficiency windows filled with argon gas, they’re probably allowing heat from the sun to radiate into your home during these sunny hours, which poses a challenge for your AC. Replacing windows is a costly proposition, but you can still reduce the heat that comes through the panes by applying reflective solar film to the glass. Once in place, the film reflects the rays of the sun away from the window rather than allowing them to penetrate the glass. This will help keep your home cooler and reduce utility bills without obstructing views.
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