A mother and daughter sit on the couch and turn on the Air Conditioning to cool their home.
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Beat the heat!

Tips for Keeping Your AC Running Efficiently

Ashley Robinson
May 21, 2024

Summer is coming, and if recent history is any indication, we’re in for some high temperatures all over the country. As we all get ready for the heat, it’s a good idea to spend a little time and effort making sure your AC units are running as efficiently as possible. Whether you have window units or central AC, there are some small tips and tricks for maintenance and daily use that will help get the most out of your air conditioning and save energy at the same time.

First Things First: Do Some Cleaning and Maintenance

Before you kick on the AC for the first time, whether you’re dealing with window units or an exterior compressor, make sure you give your system a good clean. This will help them work more efficiently and prevent long-term wear and tear that could lead to malfunction and breakage.

For all units, start by cleaning the filters. Air conditioners work by moving hot air across cold coils, and out into the home, so it’s important that air can flow freely through the units. The air passes through at least one filter, which helps maintain air quality and keep the AC unit clean. But buildup of dust and mold (yuck) on the filters restricts air flow and makes the unit work harder to cool the air. Mold growth also poses a health risk, so cleaning filters regularly will help keep your air clean and the AC unit functioning properly.

For window units, here’s a great explainer of how to clean the filter and interior of your AC. For central air conditioners, the filter is generally located somewhere accessible along the return duct. Yours may be reusable or it may need to be replaced. No matter your setup, the Department of Energy recommends cleaning and/or replacing filters every month or two for best results.

Next, especially if you have central air, clean your condenser coils. With central air conditioning, this part of the system is housed outside, so it’s exposed to a lot of gunk. This is especially true if it’s near a dusty patch of lawn, dryer vent, or dried leaves. Here’s a quick rundown of how to safely clean your air conditioner coils. If there’s a whole lot of accumulation, consider giving the surrounding area a quick clean as well to prevent it from building back up!

Last step? Straighten any bent condenser coil fins. All AC units have these thin metal strips that help to transfer heat, but when they’re bent, they don’t work as efficiently. Thankfully, straightening them out is a pretty easy DIY project that you can do at the same time as your cleaning projects!

Set Your Thermostats For Savings

It probably goes without saying that raising the temperature of the thermostat for your air conditioner will reduce your energy usage, but there are some tricks for how to do it!

Adjusting the temperature throughout the day is the best way to save money and stay comfortable. A smart thermostat will make this easy, but you can do it manually as well. ENERGY STAR recommends setting the temperature about 4° higher when you’re sleeping, and 7-8° higher when nobody is home.

And generally speaking, it’s good practice to keep the thermostat at the highest temperature you can while still being comfortable if you’re looking to save on energy costs. The sweet spot here is a personal decision, so just find what works best for you and your family and make sure to adjust the temperature when you’re away and sleeping.

Seal Up Air Leaks

One of the biggest culprits for home heating and cooling inefficiency is air leakage. In the winter, cold drafts make heating systems work harder, and in the summer, the opposite is true. If your home is drafty, cold air can easily escape, meaning AC units need to run more continuously to keep you comfortable.

Fully sealing a home can be a big project, but even little tweaks can make a big difference. For a quick and cheap fix (especially as a renter), you can do a quick DIY assessment for air leaks. Once you find those areas, you can install weatherstripping to help seal those leaks. This can help keep your energy usage down in the winter, too!

If you have a larger space, you may want to invest in more comprehensive air sealing, but any DIY sealing you do will help maximize your AC’s efficiency.

Don’t Fight The Sun

We don’t always think about it when we’re inside, but warmth from sunshine has a huge effect on our home temperatures! You can minimize this effect in a few ways.

Especially if you’re not home to enjoy the natural light, make sure you use window coverings to block direct sunlight coming into your windows. Covering windows during the heat of the day can really help to keep excess heat from the sun out of the home.

Also, try to keep your AC unit in the shade if you can. The Department of Energy estimates that keeping AC units out of direct sunlight can increase their efficiency by up to 10% by keeping the unit at a lower general temperature. For window units, try to choose window spots that are less exposed to direct sunlight throughout the day. For central air conditioning, consider installing the unit in a shaded area, or try planting a tree that will provide shade. Just make sure any shading you install doesn’t impede air flow!

Get The Most From Fans

Fans can be your energy bill’s best friends in the summer. Using a ceiling fan along with air conditioning can let you raise the thermostat temperature at least 4°F without any change in comfort level! Just don’t forget to check that your ceiling fan is rotating counterclockwise in the summer to most effectively keep you cool.

You can also use fans to circulate cool air throughout the house, something that might be very helpful if you’re using limited window units. This air circulation will also make you feel cooler—a breeze helps your body cool itself down faster by encouraging evaporation, so use those fans!

If you’re located in an area with hot days but cooler nights, you can also use window fans to help take advantage of cool temperatures and encourage natural ventilation in your home during the evening. This will help you keep the AC off for a few hours, which will have money and extend the life of your AC unit!

Check Out Precooling

For certain homes in certain climates, precooling may be a good strategy to consider. This won’t necessarily increase your AC’s overall efficiency, but it can help you take advantage of Time of Use electricity pricing. Basically, this is a practice where you cool down the home a few degrees more than your comfort level during off-peak hours, so that the AC can be off during peak hours. This works best in well-sealed homes (because the cool air doesn’t leak out immediately) and in less-humid climates that cool off in the evenings.

Performing some basic cleaning and maintenance, plus making some adjustments around the home and using thermostat settings to your advantage, can make a big difference when it comes to air conditioning and energy efficiency. Get started now and you’ll be ready to beat the heat when summer is in full swing!

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