Taking Control of Your Home’s Comfort
Tips from Pittsburgh’s #1 Trane® dealer
Utility bills typically shoot up in the summer as homeowners crank up their central air conditioning. To help keep costs down, you might attempt to skimp on the A/C, but that can create disagreements in the family over which temperature setting is most comfy.
It may take a bit of experimenting to achieve a compromise, but bear in mind, according to the Department of Energy, that you’ll save around 3 percent on your utility bill for every degree you boost the set temperature for your central air.
So, what exactly is the best setting for your central A/C? This is contingent on whether you are more interested in keeping cool or keeping your utility bill in check. We certainly don’t want to pick sides, but we can give you a few recommendations for discovering a happy medium.
Energy Star, a joint federal program run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, suggests that the ideal setting for your thermostat is 78 degrees.
That’s right. 78 degrees! However, for many people, that setting is too warm, and it’s agonizingly evident when you take into account that the 78-degree number has sparked heated online debates, with many judging that the temperature is too high for comfort.
True, the biggest benefit is this particular temperature’s ability to save homeowners lots of dollars; however, for some, it comes at the expense of being uncomfortable during the summer.
But what if you could achieve both? We want to share some thoughts on how you can save a few dollars while still keeping your home at a reasonable temperature.
If this 78-degree temperature does sound too hot, experiment with the minimum temperature you need by adjusting your thermostat one or two degrees at a time. After you let your system adjust to the new climate, resume lowering it until you hit upon the most comfortable temperature for you and your family.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) maintains that the desired summer temperature range is between 73 and 79 degrees.
Within these boundaries, you’re apt to locate a temperature that everyone in your household can agree upon.
Does Energy Star have authority?
Before proceeding, you may be questioning at this point if the information coming from Energy Star is reliable. The short answer is yes.
Energy Star is a government-backed labeling program that offers detailed information for consumers concerning energy efficiency.
The program’s objective is to assist consumers and organizations in saving money and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. You’ll recognize that a product or building is certified by Energy Star to be energy efficient if it bears the Blue Star logo.
You can also be secure in appreciating that a product with an Energy Star will save you money on your utility bill as well as helping to safeguard the environment. This is because such products must meet precise energy standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Department of Energy.
Here, then, are a few tips that might help you meet the Energy Star recommendations, beat the heat, and save a few bucks this summer.
Crank it up while you’re not home
Turning up your thermostat when you go to work or getting your home ready for an impending vacation may appear rather basic. Still, there are a few pointers to keep in mind to help assure you have the suitable “away temperature.”
Aim for a higher inside temperature that’s nearer to the temp outside as this will hold back the flow of heat into your home, making it easier for your A/C to work efficiently. If you set your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees above your usual setting while you’re away, you could save up to 10 percent on your utility bill. That said if you have pets staying at home, be sure to keep it cool enough for them to be comfortable.
Installing a programmable thermostat in your home will let you run a scheduled heating and cooling program with no need to remember when to change your settings throughout the day manually.
Most programmable thermostats can automatically regulate your home’s heating and cooling temperature up to six or more times per day. You can also manually override these automatic settings if there is ever a need without disrupting the programming.
Here are a few tips for a programmable thermostat from Energy Star:
- Install the thermostat as far away as possible from heating and cooling registers, appliances, lighting, doorways, fireplaces, skylights and windows and areas that receive direct sunlight or drafts. Interior walls are best.
- Keep the thermostat set at energy-saving temperatures for long periods of time such as during the day when no one is home.
- Set the “hold’ button at a constant energy-saving temperature when going away for a weekend or on vacation.
- Change your batteries each year if your programmable thermostat runs on batteries.
Yes, it might seem antithetical to spend money to save money, but programmable thermostats are super affordable, starting at around $20 for an effective model. That’s right – you don’t need a fancy touchscreen device. It’s a small price to pay to help ensure you don’t have to think about your thermostat for the rest of the summer if you set it right.
An alternative solution: Smart thermostats
You can think of smart thermostats as a simpler, Internet-connected, feature-rich upgrade to programmable thermostats. As with programmable units, smart thermostats provide the ability to program your temperature and choose what time you want your house to cool down or heat up. However, there are a few differences.
For beginners, smart thermostats are more expensive than programmable thermostats, and they don’t work with every home’s existing HVAC system. But they offer easier and finer control over your system, as you can program them via your smartphone or computer.
Some come with multiple sensors that you can place throughout your home for more precise temperature readings. Others can even track your preferred temperatures and use that data to optimize your schedule, as well as remind you when the filters need changing.
Other ways to beat the heat
Fans can cause you to feel cooler. It can be tempting to fiddle with the thermostat settings, particularly if you’re cleaning or cooking and you get overheated. The secret to staying cool while also not messing with the thermostat is employing a fan – everywhere.
According to the Department of Energy, ceiling fans can make you feel 4 degrees cooler than the room is. Fans essentially create a mini wind chill effect. Because your body sweats to cool itself down, the fan evaporates that sweat, so you feel cooler faster. That’s why fans feel like they’re blowing cool air at you, but in actuality, it’s the drying sweat that’s causing you to feel cooler.
In an area with moderate temperatures like Pittsburgh, you might not need your central air conditioning all day and night. Cash in on cooler night temperatures by keeping your windows open.
Remember to close them first in the morning and keep your shades and curtains drawn when it’s sunny outside. A window letting in the hot sun won’t just heat your thermostat; it’ll heat you, too.
During the warmest part of the day, close your window blinds to keep out the sun. It can also help insulate your windows, which stops the cool air from escaping.
If there’s a heatwave, try to avoid using your washer, dryer, and dishwasher during the heat of the day. Also, make sure you use the exhaust fans in your kitchen when cooking or in the bathroom when you’re taking a shower.
Cooking outside on your grill is one more way to keep the heat out of the house.
Quit cooling the entire neighborhood
Suppose your current home isn’t brand new. In that case, the cold air inside it is most likely seeping out into the neighborhood through doors and windows with pockmarked seals, an inadequately insulated attic, and other devious cracks.
To determine how well your home is holding up in the summer weather, you might want to sign up for a home energy audit with your utility provider or local HVAC contractor. A certified home energy rater or auditor will check your home for leaks and recommend the best ways to make your home more energy-efficient.
Don’t want to spring for an audit right now? Do your own audit. Stand outside your home and run your hand around the windows and doors. Do you feel any cold air escaping? If you do, caulk around those leaky windows and add insulation around doors.
What to do if you have a window A/C
If you don’t have central air and count on window air conditioners, it’s more challenging to keep your home at the target temperature. Since the thermostat is in the unit itself, it registers the temperature in that portion of the room and may not maintain a uniform temperature throughout the area you want to cool, depending on how big and open the room is.
That means securing the proper comfort level is more trial and error. Begin with a setting that you find comfortable and see how it affects your energy bill.
If you have a window unit in your bedroom, wait about 30 minutes before you go to bed to turn it on so that you’re not spending a lot of time cooling an empty room.
Maintain your air conditioning system
You count on your A/C to remain cool in the summer. Give it the TLC it needs for topmost performance. Switch the filter as needed. A good rule of thumb is to examine your filter once a month over 12 months.
Take note of when it needs replacement. Use that data for your future replacement timetable.
An annual tune-up also offers critical professional A/C maintenance. Schedule it in the spring or early summer to make sure your unit will work as it should before you really need it. Plus, your HVAC technician is more apt to be accessible prior to peak A/C season.
Contact J&A South Park for an A/C tune-up to help your A/C run this cooling season smoothly.
Last but certainly not least, you might want to invest in a new, energy-efficient air conditioner.
Even if you’re setting your thermostat higher, you may not notice a drop in your electric bill if your air conditioner isn’t running as it should.
Start small by reaching out to an HVAC expert, like a Trance Comfort Specialist from J&A South Park, and have them stop by to check your unit to make sure it’s functioning at its peak capability.
Things you may think are minor annoyances, such as leaky air ducts, inadequate insulation, or unkempt landscaping around your A/C, can impact efficiency.
It could be that an HVAC upgrade is the best move for you at present. A newer Energy Star certified system that features a higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), and Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) rating would be up to 15 percent more efficient than an older, less energy-conscious model. Newer systems can also increase your comfort level since they normally include a 2-stage cooling system and a variable speed fan.
This type of A/C system will keep you much cooler consistently, even on a lower setting. It also runs longer without the starts and stops that use excess energy and eliminates twice as much humidity from your air to keep you feeling cooler.