Ten Tips to Cut the Impact of Air Conditioning on Greenhouse Gases and Your Wallet

The Clean Air and Renewable Energy Committee is pleased to bring you this article.

Air conditioner 4-12-10

photo by Paul Sullivan on Flickr

Global warming is causing a steady increase in average temperatures in Minnesota. In addition, climate experts hypothesize that global warming is connected to an increase in average humidity levels. Not surprisingly, when heat and humidity hit Minnesota in the summer, Minnesotans turn on their air conditioners. Most air conditioners are run by electricity and half of Minnesota’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels. Wise use of air conditioning will thus cut air pollution, cut greenhouse gas carbon production, and save you money. Here is a top ten list for wise use of air conditioning:

1. Turn air conditioning on only when it is essential (and perhaps not at all). For thousands of years, the human race put up with the heat and humidity of summer without air conditioning. You can do the same and know you are benefiting the environment and your pocketbook. 

2. Install ceiling fans. Ceiling fans have several advantages. First, they can keep you reasonably comfortable on 90% of summer days without the need to turn on your air conditioning.  Second, they cost a lot less to purchase and operate than air conditioners. Third, unlike air conditioning, they don’t require you to cool the entire house in order to work. In fact, they are only effective in the area of the home where people are actually present. Fourth, fans can be used in conjunction with air conditioning to allow you to set your air conditioner at a higher temperature, yet still feel comfortable. One of the reasons that air conditioning is expensive is that you are, in effect, turning your entire house into a form of a refrigerator, even though you only need relief in those areas where people are present. By setting the temperature higher and supplementing with fans, you can significantly lower your air conditioning energy usage. 

3. Set your air conditioner thermostat at 78 degrees or higher. Especially in conjunction with ceiling fans or free-standing fans, a setting of 78 degrees or higher for your air conditioning will allow the air conditioner to remove humidity from the air and provide you with a reasonably comfortable temperature.

4. Install a whole house fan. Whole house fans were very common in the days before most people installed central air conditioning. The idea is to put a large fan that exhausts air out of an upstairs window or the attic, thus pulling the air through the house from your open windows. Like the ceiling fans, the concept is that moving air will make you feel more comfortable (a summertime version of the wind-chill factor). 

5. Get an energy audit. Xcel Energy and other utilities in Minnesota offer low-cost energy audits that will improve the year-round energy efficiency of your home. Just as a poorly insulated home causes your furnace to run more in the winter, a poorly insulated home causes your air conditioner to run more in the summer. 

6. Clean your air conditioner regularly. Your air conditioner will run more efficiently when it is clean.  Here is a link to a two minute video showing you how easy it is to clean an air conditioner.

7. Pay attention to the upcoming weather. If you anticipate hot spells by opening your windows during cool nights and then closing up the house, you can cut back your need for air conditioning. 

8. Buy and use a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat costs less than fifty dollars but can save you significantly more than that over the life of your home in terms of both heating and air conditioning. Even on the hottest days, if no-one is home during the day, you can set your air conditioner at a high temperature (e.g., 84 degrees) and then set it to turn on at a lower temperature an hour or two before your arrival home. Similarly, especially if you have a ceiling fan in your bedroom, you can raise the temperature after you go to bed. 

9. Consider whether a room or portable air conditioner would be more efficient in your situation. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that a room air conditioner costs less to operate than a central air unit. The report goes on to say that the efficiency of a room air conditioner is less when compared to a central air unit. However, keep in mind that a room air conditioner is generally not intended to cool an entire home in the same manner as a central unit. In other words, you could save energy by using a room air conditioner to cool the portion(s) of your dwelling where you spend the bulk of your time.

10. Purchase highly efficient air conditioners. Look for Energy Star ratings on room or portable air conditioners you buy. With central air conditioning, compare the energy efficiency ratings of the various models you consider. Typically, your local utility will offer rebates on more efficient models. The more efficient models may cost a bit more, but you will make up that extra cost through lower monthly energy bills, and you will be helping the environment.

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