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Stay Cool, Save Money

Stay Cool, Save Money

Cooling a home on hot, humid days can be an energy-intensive process—in fact, cooling generally becomes the largest energy expense homeowners face during the summer. A room air conditioner may seem like an easy-to-install, low-cost way to add comfort, but it’s easy to waste energy and money in the process if you’re not careful.

A room air conditioner is an encased assembly—a self-contained box, basically—designed to be mounted in a window, through a wall, or as a console. These units deliver conditioned air to an enclosed space or zone.

Costing between $100 and $1,000, room air conditioners can be purchased at home improvement centers, big box retailers—even yard sales and flea markets. They tend to last a long time with minimal maintenance, so selecting the right model can save significant amounts of energy.

Room air conditioners rated by ENERGY STAR, a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, deliver the same or better performance and use 10 percent less energy on average than comparable models.

ENERGY STAR–qualified appliances boast advanced compressors, drawing more heat efficiently from the air. In addition, the high-efficiency motors in these devices use less energy to circulate air and run more quietly.

However, they do cost slightly more. Nationally, an average consumer saves approximately 76 kilowatt-hours per year—about $8—with an ENERGY STAR-rated room air conditioner. Residents in hot and humid states could save up to $30 annually. So over the life of the appliance a consumer could save between $50 and $250, depending on the model and climate.

Consumers should look for room air conditioners with timers and programmable thermostats. These features offer better temperature control, allowing users to cool spaces according to their preferences. For example, you can set the unit to turn on 20 minutes before bedtime to make your bedroom comfortable.

Installing a room air conditioner is typically an easy job. Most can be fit into a window in a matter of minutes. Another option is to create a custom opening in a wall. Large-capacity units often require a dedicated electric circuit or may have specific wiring and breaker requirements. They may need to be installed by a professional.

Room air conditioners come in a variety of sizes. Many people buy the largest one they can afford, assuming more power is better. While that may be true in racing, it’s not necessarily the case with an air conditioner. A unit too large will cool a room too quickly to properly remove humidity, leaving the space feeling cool but also wet and clammy.

When replacing an existing unit, do not immediately throw the old one away. Air conditioners contain a refrigerant that should be removed by a trained technician first. Contact a local solid waste organization for information on how to properly dispose of old air conditioners.

Air conditioning will raise your monthly electric bills—what type you choose, climate and length of use will determine the full impact. Making smart energy choices will leave you happier, cooler and with a couple of extra bucks in your pocket.