For most homes in warm climates, air conditioning uses more electricity than any other use — up to 70 percent of a summer electric bill, according to some estimates. However, there are ways for most people to reduce this load by changing their air conditioning habits. Here are the biggest air conditioning mistakes people make, and how to correct them to reduce usage and electric bills.
Mistake No. 1: Buying Too Big an Air Conditioner
Bigger isn’t always better. Many homeowners are inclined to get a bigger air conditioner, assuming it will make the home colder faster. However, an oversized air conditioner won’t generate uniform temperatures or reduce humidity. It will also run inefficiently by cycling on and off quickly. Of course, a unit may also be too small to properly cool the space. To properly size a new air conditioning system, start with this Consumer Reports worksheet.
Mistake No. 2: Putting the Air Conditioner in a Hot Spot
It may seem convenient to put air conditioners in an unused spot on the southwest side of the house. However, such placement will make the unit work too hard. Instead, install the air conditioner in a shady spot on the east or north side of the house, where it will receive less direct sunlight.
Mistake No. 3: Hiding the Air Conditioner
The air conditioner may not be pretty, but neither are excessive summer electric bills. Don’t try to hide air conditioners behind shrubs or other plants. They will hinder ventilation, clog condenser coils with leaves and twigs, and make the air conditioner run less efficiently.
Mistake No. 4: Ignoring Maintenance
Air conditioners are deceptively self-sufficient. Many homeowners ignore basic A/C maintenance that can improve efficiency and comfort, and extend the life of the air conditioner.
Clean or replace filters at least every two months. If it is used constantly or filters a lot of dust and pet hair, check the filters more often. Also check and clean the evaporator coil once a year. Run a stiff wire through the air conditioner’s drain channels regularly, and check the window seals around room air conditioners annually.
Mistake No. 5: Leaving the Air Conditioner Running All Day
Use a programmable thermostat or individual unit timer to start cooling off the house before you get home from work. This is cheaper and more efficient than leaving the air conditioner running all day, despite rumors to the contrary.
Mistake No. 6: Blindly Closing Unused Vents
Opinions vary on the efficiency of closing vents and doors to unused rooms. In many cases, this can decrease the efficiency of a central air conditioning system. Consult an air conditioning expert before closing off any parts of the house for the summer. Also be careful about closing off any rooms that may have a thermostat.
Mistake No. 7: Turning the Temperature Way Down
If you are comfortable at 78 degrees, don’t come home and turn the thermostat down to 70 degrees. It will not get you to 78 any faster. It will just skip past 78 and waste ever more energy getting to excessively low temperatures.
Mistake No. 8: Heating Up the Thermostat
Make sure lamps, televisions, stereos or other heat-generators are not close enough to the thermostat to accidentally drive up the temperature reading and overwork the air conditioner.
Mistake No. 9: Not Using Ceiling Fans or Running Them Backwards
Many people think their air conditioner is a substitute for ceiling fans. Instead, they should be used in tandem. According to Energy Star, make sure the fan is switched to push air downward (typically counter-clockwise). It may seem more logical to reverse the fan so it is pulling hot air upward. However, the downward airflow creates a “wind chill effect,” which makes you feel cooler.
Mistake No. 10: Using the Wrong Fans
On the other hand, exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom can push cool, conditioned air out of the house. They should not be used more than absolutely necessary in the summer.
Contact an HVAC professional for air conditioning and maintenance -- the right way.