Keep Cool for Less

A Duct Blaster test can identify air leaks in your home’s ductwork. Photo Credit: Ket555

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Reducing solar gains, insulating and ventilating the attic and sealing air leaks are easy ways to make your home more efficient, but if your air conditioning bills were high last summer, you may need to focus on inefficiencies in your home’s cooling system. But there could be some other potential problems:

That old refrigerator or freezer in your garage could be taking a bite out of your wallet. Photo Credit: Alex Weimer

• Do you have a freezer or second refrigerator in the garage? This can be a major energy hog, especially if it’s old and you experience high temperatures in the summer months.
• Do you have a well? Your pump may be draining your energy use as you rely on it more during the summer. Start by looking for leaks in the system and, if necessary, reduce irrigation.
• Do you have a swimming pool? It may be time to overhaul or replace the pool pump. If the pump is in good shape, try putting it on a timer.

If you have an A/C or a heat pump, make sure the filters are changed or cleaned once per month. The next step is to call an HVAC contractor for a tune-up and a complete assessment of the system. A tune-up can improve the efficiency and extend the life of the unit. The tune-up includes cleaning the condenser coil, a check of the refrigerant levels and a good look at the pump and electrical contacts. Talk to the contractor about the efficiency of the A/C unit. If it’s old, it may be cost-effective to replace it, even if it’s still functional.

An HVAC inspector can tell you if your ducts are leaking or are in need of insulation. Photo Credit: Julep67

Ductwork is equally important, so make sure the contractor you choose is capable and willing to provide an expert assessment. A real pro will know how to measure the airflow at each supply and return register. If you’re not getting cool air to the rooms that need it, the contractor may be able to make modifications to the ductwork.

Leaky ductwork could be a problem. If the ducts are in unconditioned areas like a crawl space or attic, it’s especially important to make sure they’re sealed and insulated. It will also help to seal ducts that are in conditioned spaces.

Some HVAC contractors can do a duct-blaster test to measure duct leakage. Discuss whether you should close any supply registers, although most experts recommend that supply registers are always open.

Make sure your window A/C unit is installed flat or according to manufacturer’s directions, so that it drains properly. Photo Credit: Your Best Digs

If you cool your home with window A/C units, there are a few things you can do to maximize your cooling while keeping costs as low as possible.
• To make the cooling as effective as possible, use window A/C units in rooms that can be closed off with a door.
• Make sure you have the right sized unit for the size of the room. A unit that’s too big will cool the room before the humidity is lowered, which will make it feel less cool. A unit that’s too small will have to work harder, causing a shorter life span and it may not do the job.
• Use an electric fan or ceiling fan to help distribute the cold air throughout the area you are cooling.
• Turn off the A/C unit when no one is in the room.
• If your window A/C unit isn’t cooling properly, it may need to be replaced. Look for an ENERGY STAR-certified unit to make the most of your cooling dollars.

Of course, the simplest way to save money on your A/C is to not use it. As much as possible, keep your activities limited to rooms that are easily cooled. Try to spend more time cooking and eating outside. If you have a basement, think about setting up a second bedroom down there where it’s cooler. Think of it as your new summer hideaway.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on getting the most from your A/C, visit