Keeping Cool this Summer...Without Breaking the Bank
As we swelter in the Florida summer the question is often asked: can I cut my electric bill by running the air conditioner less and using fans instead? The answer is yes, but it’s not as simple as just turning off the air conditioner and turning on the fans. If you want to cut down on your energy costs, it will take some planning, especially since the temperatures will be firmly in the 90's for the next few months.
AC units use a lot of energy, with the typical standalone unit using 500 to 1440 watts every hour, and larger central air conditioning system using about 3500 watts. A floor fan, in contrast, uses only 100 watts and ceiling fans use only 15 to 90 watts depending on their speed and size. As an estimate, the average air conditioner costs 36 cents per hour to operate, while a ceiling fan costs less than a penny. So if you thought fans were cheaper, you're absolutely right; but leaving them on all the time will do little good. Unlike an air conditioner, fans don't actually cool your home. Instead, they only circulate the air to make you feel cooler. When fans circulate air against your skin it dries your perspiration, which makes you feel cooler. The air temperature stays the same and fans do nothing to improve humidity but they can make the hot weather seem more bearable. The benefit is simply that you can comfortably raise the thermostat in spite of the summer heat, saving both your AC and your wallet.
Another thing to consider with using fans is you should only run them when you are at home, and only then in rooms that are currently occupied. Since they don’t cool the air, it is pointless to leave fans circulating air when no one is around to appreciate the breeze. You’ll save more money if you only turn on the ceiling fan when you need it, and if you remember to turn your fan off when there’s no one in the room! If can afford it you should get a fan with a remote control option so you can turn it off when you leave a room instead of letting it run all the time. You can also get remote temperature sensors and use them to automatically control your fans, as well as your air conditioner.
Just as it's important that your AC unit is sized appropriately, it’s also important to get the right size fan for your room. A fan that’s too small will be ineffective and a fan that’s too large will be wasteful: either way they will cost you. In general, a room that’s 15′ X 15′ needs a fan with a blade span of 50-56 inches, where a 12′ X 12′ room could get by with something around 42 or 44 inches.
To save money you can also to install air conditioners in the warmest rooms instead of using central air in those rooms. Many houses have a room that is always hotter than everywhere else and to keep it cool, frequently prompting the further lowering of the thermostat. The rest of the house ends up too cold just to make one room comfortable. This wastes money by making your air conditioning work overtime. Instead, you can buy a small window or floor unit for that one room. Turn the unit on when you need to cool the room down, and then turn it off when you leave.
Another thing to consider is that to save money on your electric bill you will probably need to run both your air conditioner and your ceiling fans simultaneously. This seems like it would be costly since they both use electricity and it would seem to make more sense to use one or the other. What you can do in the spring and early summer is to just use your ceiling fans until it gets hot enough to need the air conditioner. Once the weather starts getting hot you’ll want to switch to air conditioning but by using a combination of fan and air conditioning, you can set the thermostat up to 10 degrees higher. By setting your thermostat at a warmer temperature you can use your air conditioner less and the combination of your air conditioner and fan will keep you cool at a fraction of the cost.
If you still find your energy costs on an uncontrolled climb this summer or you find that your AC unit just doesn't cut the mustard, schedule inspection with a licensed contractor from Bob Heinmiller AC in Florida before it gets any hotter!