Utility costs are rising. According to the Department of Energy, the average residential power cost for 2022 went up by 8% over the past year. In some states like Florida, Illinois, and New York, those rates have soared to 15%.
In this era of rising costs, it makes sense to try and cut back on energy use. Here’s how you can improve the efficiency of your HVAC systems without sacrificing your family’s health and comfort.
Table of Contents
Why You Should Save Energy
How to Improve your Energy Efficiency
Residential homes use different cooling systems, from central air to mini splits. Here are tips for lowering power consumption and boosting efficiency for each type of cooling system.
Central Air Conditioning
Central air conditioning is one of the largest energy expenses for most US homes. By following these tips, you can dramatically reduce your central air consumption and hopefully, your utility bill.
Clean the filters
Periodic filter cleaning is one of the easiest ways to improve central air efficiency. According to the DOE, cleaning or replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can improve your AC efficiency by 5% to 15%. or swap out for a new filter as indicated in the user manual.
The filters are generally located along the return duct. Filter cleaning or replacement can be combined with duct cleaning to save time.
The difference between a dirty and a new central AC filter is night and day.
Vacuum those vents
Dust and debris tend to build up in vents over time, blocking airflow. Run your vacuum occasionally over the vents, and make sure they remain unobstructed.
Have it serviced by a professional
The central AC may have non-user serviceable parts, and maintenance is best left to a certified contractor. Have a professional HVAC contractor check your central air at least once a year, ideally before the summer season.
Check that any exposed ductwork that goes through an unconditioned space is sealed and insulated. Leaks visible to the naked eye can be patched with a special duct-sealing tape that’s UL-181-rated. However, there may be leaks that are not readily apparent, and which can only be spotted during scheduled maintenance.
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Ductless mini splits are already highly efficient, but older models may not be as efficient as before. Here’s how to make the most of your existing mini splits systems.
Check the cooling fins and coils
These two parts typically attract the most dirt. Dirty cooling fins lead to inefficient heat transfer, while coils clogged with surface dirt insulate the coil and reduce its ability to absorb heat. Make sure they are cleaned periodically, ideally before the start of the cooling season.
The filters are typically located near the front access panel. Use a mild detergent and lukewarm water to gently remove any dirt buildup, then let it air dry for at least 30 minutes. Check that the filter is completely dry before reinserting to avoid any mold or mildew formation that can affect your indoor air quality.
Mini-splits typically come with two air filters. These can be accessed by lifting the front panel, and simply popping the filter off for cleaning or replacement.
Use auto mode
Mini-splits usually have a standard “auto” mode for heating, cooling, and fan settings. While you can adjust the settings, the default is usually the most efficient, since it tells the mini split to switch on only when necessary.
If you notice the “auto” mode is malfunctioning, click the reset button. This is usually located near the bottom of the unit, and returns everything back to default settings.
Check the drainage
The mini split’s evaporator gets rid of condensation using suction tubing. Check the tubing for any kinks or damage, and make sure the outdoor unit is draining properly.
Window and Casement ACs
Window-type air conditioners have lots of room for improvement. Consider these tips to breathe new life to your old window AC.
A window AC filter with 3 months of dirt buildup
Clean the filters
Window-type ACs require more constant filter cleaning compared to larger AC units. Pop out the front filter and clean gently with a soft brush and mild detergent. Most manufacturers recommend filter cleaning or changing every 3 months.
However, the DOE recommends cleaning filters at least once a month during the heavy cooling season, especially if you have pets or smokers around the home.
Clear the outdoor portion
Trim foliage that may be blocking the outside part of the unit, forcing it to work harder. While there, check that the unit is slightly tilted downward to ensure proper drainage.
Check the frame
Air gaps can develop over time around the box frame, causing loss of conditioned air. Check that the frame is tightly sealed and fix any gaps or holes as soon as possible.
Shade the condenser
If the outdoor unit is exposed to prolonged sunlight, shade it during the summer so it won’t have to work harder, and to prolong its operational life. Just remember to keep airflow unobstructed.
Keep vents unblocked
Compared to central air and mini splits, window and casement air conditioners tend to get blocked more often by furniture and household objects. Make sure the indoor vents are not obstructed for proper airflow and efficient room cooling.
Clear furniture, appliances and household objects that can block the vent and impede airflow.
Portable AC units allow flexibility, but they require periodic maintenance to keep working efficiently.
Clean the water tank
Make sure the water tank is periodically emptied and cleaned of deposits every month, or every 2 weeks during heavy use.
Inspect the drainage line
Check for kinks or tears, and that the hose is securely fastened to the vent. On the outside, make sure the vent hole is not blocked by dirt buildup or yard debris like leaves and twigs.
Prime the pads
For evaporative coolers, the cooling pads take time to fully absorb the water when starting up. This can take up to 15 minutes for some models. Fill the water tank and allow enough time for the pads to absorb the water before switching on the fan. This way, you don’t waste energy blowing hot air around before the swamp cooler’s cooling kicks in.
Location, location, location.
Portable air conditioners have something no other AC models have: they are movable. Experiment with positioning and move your unit around to get the optimal airflow and cooling effect.
Cutting down on utility costs doesn’t have to mean sacrificing comfort and locking the thermostat. All it takes is a little maintenance and some elbow grease to make sure your AC cools your family at a reasonable cost, instead of burning up your wallet.
Erin is the mother of identical twin girls and their slightly older brother. She is a domestic engineer, and previously had a career leading customer service teams for a major HVAC company. Cleaning without harsh chemicals, and cooking easy and usually healthy meals are part of Erin's daily life. She volunteers with youth leaders, and genuinely wants to help others win. Erin has a degree in Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism.