5 Tips that Help Air Conditioners Use Less Energy so You Pay Lower Utility Bills

Published on: July 31, 2012

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems account for more than half of total energy use in many homes and businesses. Air conditioning is responsible for almost 20% of the total bill, on average, and that percentage is much higher in warmer climates and during unusually hot summers.

Many of our clients are telling us that their air conditioning is costing them a fortune. They want to know how they can reduce costs while maintaining a comfortable indoor environment.

The following are some of the tips we’re passing on, roughly in order from the cheapest and easiest solutions to the most costly and disruptive changes. While the two items at the bottom of the list, replacing the air conditioning equipment and upgrading the building envelope, are expensive, they can also make dramatic and long lasting improvements to HVAC system efficiency.


1. Schedule regular air conditioning maintenance

Regular air conditioning maintenance can make a huge difference in the efficiency of your existing HVAC system. The simplest and most important air conditioning maintenance task is regularly changing or cleaning the system’s air filters. Check your equipment manual for the recommended frequency. Stick to your schedule, or hire an HVAC contractor to do it for you.

An air conditioner with dirty filters will be running with too much resistance. It will have to work harder to produce the amount of cooling you need. Not only will that increase costs, it will decrease your air conditioning system’s life expectancy.

Annual professional servicing is also important for proper air conditioning maintenance. In order for your system to run at its maximum efficiency, it needs to be kept clean and tuned up.


2. Insulate your pipes and ducts

Your air conditioning system may be absorbing heat through poorly insulted or uninsulated pipes and ducts. If your ducts or split system refrigerant pipes are routed through unconditioned spaces like attics, basements and rooftops, then you can lose a fortune in cooling if they aren’t well and fully insulated and sealed.


3. Limit your use of air conditioning

There are quite a few ways to reduce air conditioning usage.

You can turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees. You probably won’t notice the difference until you see your electricity bill.
You can add ceiling fans to assist the air conditioner. They use electricity, too, but the ceiling fans will save you much more money on air conditioning than they cost to run, especially if your air conditioning ducts are above knee height.
You can limit when the air conditioning system runs. This can be done using a timer.
You can limit the areas where the air conditioning is kept running. This can be done using a zone system. For example, air conditioning can be limited to the bedrooms at night and to the public areas of the house during the day.


4. Upgrade your system

Because of ever increasing state and federal standards for HVAC system efficiency, air conditioning manufacturers have been designing more efficient products almost every year. While the legal minimum efficiency has been increasing, so has the even higher level of performance required for an Energy Star rating. If your air conditioning system is ten years old or more, it may be cost effective for you to replace it with a new system, and you’ll probably want to take it to the next level with an Energy Star product.


5. Improve your building envelope

It costs you a lot of money to cool the air in your building. If your building is taking in too much heat from the outside, then you’re paying for more air conditioning than you need to. Building envelope improvements can be as simple as draft proofing or as complex as a wall insulation upgrade. Start by sealing the leaks that let cool air escape. These can often be found at windows, doors and mechanical penetrations. If your windows are single glazed, then you’ll want to consider replacing them with high quality, expertly installed double glazed units. Finally, you may want to consider upgrading the insulation in your walls, roof or attic.


Improving the efficiency of your air conditioning through upgrading your HVAC system, adding insulation to your home or building, cutting down on usage, insulating your ducts and pipes, and scheduling regular air conditioning maintenance can save you a surprising amount of money. For more specific advice on the most cost effective strategies for your home or business, speak to an HVAC systems expert.