Al’s Plano, TX Plumbing
55 Ways To Lower Cooling Costs (W/O Upgrading Your A/C)
Here Are Many Great Ways To Lower Cooling Costs Without Upgrading Your A/C
Lower cooling costs without replacing and upgrading your A/C? Yes! There are many ways which provide year-round energy savings while increasing your comfort and reduce cooling costs by reducing the time your A/C must run. When you A/C runs less, while providing the cooling comfort you want, you will lower cooling bills without sacrificing comfort.
According the the U.S. Dept of Energy (DOE), cooling and heating costs are 43% of your total energy bills. The chart shows and average for the entire U.S. In DFW, cooling percentages are larger than heating.
This chart shows the percentage of total residential energy usage by each type of usage
NOTE: This is the U.S. average. DFW cooling percentage would be higher and heating percentage would be lower than shown.
Source: Center For Climate and Energy Solutions
To Lower Cooling Costs, There Are Home Upgrades That Produce Rapid Investment-Cost Returns.
By The Way: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a brochure dedicated to sealing your home from air leaks. DOE Sealing Your Home
Given the long list of home expensive energy-saving upgrades you can purchase (such as new Low-E windows), the inexpensive or low cost upgrades below represent the best investments to lower cooling costs (and heating bills too):
- Programmable thermostat
- Sealing air leaks
- Solar-reflective window-film on west and south facing windows (not necessary with newer, Low-E windows)
- Insulating or light-blocking draperies on west and south facing windows (will double the efficiency of Low-E windows)
- Radiant heat-barrier (in the attic)
The recommendations to lower cooling bills are presented in the order of their value. The value of each improvement is described as the cost ofthe improvement and the cooling & heating costs savings the improvement will create.
Programmable Thermostats are inexpensive and easy to install. They are the most cost-efficient way to lower cooling costs. They can turn your A/C cooler or warmer as you desire (such as warmer during the day while you are at work).
For example: The thermostat can have the A/C warmer while you are at work, then automatically reset to your desired temperature in time for your arrival. In winter, the thermostat can do the same for the heating. It will reduce the temperature while you are gone and asleep.
The Nest Thermostat has different colored displays based on if it’s cooling or heating + the standard display.
You may have seen advertisements for the Nest Smart Thermostat, a sophisticated device with many capabilities. Amazon.com’s Nest Thermostat Buyer Satisfaction Score is 4.6 Stars (out of 5) with nearly 5,000 reviews on Amazon alone. Also, the EPA’s Energy Star Program says homes with programmable or smart thermostats can save up to $180 per year on heating and cooling bills.
The difference between the Nest Smart Thermostat and a Programmable unit is that the Nest Smart Thermostat will learn your cooling / heating requirements plus how long it will take the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning) to achieve them at different times of the year. Another huge feature is the Smart Thermostat’s ability to sense and control indoor humidity level (using the A/C).
Nest uses the weather forecast to adjust the Early-On time. It can also display the forecast.
Early-On: Nest’s Early-On feature combines the thermostat’s schedule with the knowledge it has gained via the Time-to-Temp feature. It knows when to start the HVAC working to achieve the desired temperature at the preset time. If you told the Nest you came home from work at 5 pm and you want the house to be 70 degrees, Nest will start the HVAC to cool / heat the house to achieve your desired temperature, knowing the outside temperature.
- It Connects To Your Home’s Wi-Fi to expand its ability to use its features, such as knowing the weather forecast and Electricity Demand Response Programs.
- Operate It From Your Cell Phone with the Nest App.
- It Details Your Heating / Cooling Energy-Use History.
- It Notifies Your Cell Phone If Your Home’s Temperature Is Too High Or Too Low due to a possible shutdown of the air conditioner or furnace.
Shown: Batt Insulation between the horizontal lumber (ceiling drywall is nailed to) + Blown-In Insulation being installed over batts.
The second highest value home improvement for energy savings is adding insulation (if needed). It’s quick and easy to add blown-in insulation to any attic. Adding insulation is very cost-effective and provides year-round energy savings.
How Much Insulation? The map below shows DFW in Zone 3 for Required Insulation Values.
The U. S. Dept. Of Energy (DOE) recommends attic insulation of R-30 – 60 for DFW
TX Building Code requires R-38. We will use the DOE mid-point of R-45 attic insulation. 1 inch of blown fiberglass insulation provides up to R-3.25.
As shown in the photo above, 6 inches of batt insulation is typically between the horizontal lumber in attic (what ceiling drywall is nailed to). This provides R-19 Insulating Value.
For R-49, the attic needs:
- R-19 6 inches of batt fiberglass insulation
- R-26 + 8 inches of blown fiberglass insulation
- If no batt insulation exists, 14 inches of blown fiberglass insulation is needed
5% Of Your Attic Not Covered By Insulation Drops The Overall R-Value Of The Insulation By 1/2!
It’s common for people working in the attic to kick insulation out of their way as they walk. Do any required work in the attic before insulating. After insulating, keep workers out of the attic unless it’s absolutely necessary, and check to see if they moved insulation out of their way.
A room’s ceiling can reach 111 degrees where no insulation is present in the attic.
Add A Radiant Heat-Barrier In Your Attic
Attic Radiant heat-barriers are a tremendous way to lower cooling costs. This can be accomplished using a radiant-foil barrier stapled on the underside of the framing supporting the roof. There are also reflective spray paints. The benefit of the foil is that it lets the sun’s heat move through the roof and then exit the attic through the attic-ventilation.
With foil, heat is ventilated out just after it enters the attic. The spray paint blocks the heat from entering the attic which causes the roofing material to become hotter because the heat the roof absorbed cannot be dispersed into the attic & removed.
Foil Radiant Heat-Barrier
Providing Shade Over Your Roof
Surfaces that are shaded from the sun will be up to 40 degrees cooler than those in direct sun. This number is even larger in your home’s attic. With DFW summer attic temps reaching as high as 160 degrees, shading the attic can reduce that temperature by up to 70 degrees lower — which is up to 43% cooler. And, the darker your roof color, the more effect the shade will have on reducing attic temperatures.
The primary sun-exposures that benefit from shade are west and south, as they provide the most direct sun on your home. If the front of your home faces west or south, you can enhance the home’s curb-appeal and reduce cooling costs with well placed shade trees. If the home faces east or north, you likely need the shade trees in the rear lawn.
There is another cost savings you will benefit from when you shade your roof — the shingles will last longer. Over time, the asphalt in the roof shingles is brought to the surface by heat, then washed off when it rains. As this happens, the shingles get brittle and are much more likely to come loose or break off. Also, the asphalt in the shingles resulting from UV rays from sunlight.
According to the U.S. Dept. Of Energy (DOE) — air-leaks account for up to 30% of a home’s total heating and cooling costs.
The pie-chart below shows the primary sources of air-infiltration into your home. Sealing air-leaks provides year-round savings and reduces house cleaning because air leaks also bring dust into your home.
The DOE identifies the percentage of total air-leakage at the most common air-leakage locations.
Thermal-Camera image of home showing air-leakage.
The purple areas are colder due to air-leakage within that area. In this case, most of the air leakage is at the floor, outlet, and window.
These photos show examples of the most common places homes leak air. The older the home, the more you will find.
Isn’t Outside Air Leaking Into The Home A Good Thing?
Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) is a rating system to determine how quickly the home exchanges air from the outside through air leaks. An Energy Star Rated Home cannot have more than 5 ACH in DFW. A 1970’s built home has nearly 17 ACH! *
* Source: http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/publications/pdf/FSEC-CR-1977-14.pdf
The only way you can know for sure that the air coming into a house is safe is to know where it’s coming from. You can’t depend on the quality of the air leaking into the home as a result of construction mistakes when the home was built.
Any air that enters a house through leaks may be loaded with pollutants.
For instance, leaks between the living space and garage are a source for carbon monoxide to enter your home. The photo below shows a home leaking air into the living space through areas covered in black mold.
This home’s exterior is rotting and covered in black mold as a result of air leakage into the home.
Identify and Seal Air Leaks To Lower Cooling Costs
The first step to lower cooling costs is to have an Energy-Audit done on your home to identify where it is leaking air.
There are many services doing only the Energy Audit and others who also do the required upgrades to reduce air infiltration into your home.
* An Energy-Audit includes a “blower door test”. This temporary door-enclosure allows the house to be “negatively pressurized” which causes air to flow into the home every place the home is leaking air. This is the easiest and most comprehensive way to identify all places where the home is leaking air.
If you feel the cost for the Energy-Audit is too much (keep in mind some sources may be free — do a google search). You can perform a Do It Yourself air-leakage exam (which will not be nearly as comprehensive). There is a low cost Thermal Leak Detector (Model TLD100) from Black and Decker for about $30.
- Uses infrared sensors to measure surface temperatures
- Helps homeowners track down energy-wasting air leaks or places where there is insufficient insulation
- Sold with a 5-step guide to fixing basic energy leaks and comes with the thermal leak detector
NOTE: This post’s author has no personal knowledge of this device or how well it works.
Seal Leaking Windows
Older windows are likely to leak air due to worn out weatherstripping. Replace weatherstripping on the moving side of older windows. Replace as needed on both the sides and the bottom of the moving window.
Diagram identifying the components of a window
Add new weatherstripping at the bottom of the lower sash of existing window.
Add new “whisker” weatherstripping along the sides of the lower sash of existing window.
Most metal windows use “whisker” weatherstripping on the sides of moving windows. This weatherstripping incorporates a plastic divider in the middle which causes the window to leak more air due to worn-out weatherstrip. NOTE: The Energy-Audit will advise which windows need this updating. If your windows don’t show as leaking much air in the blower-door test, this step can be skipped.
- Caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows
- Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets
- Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.
- Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on both exterior and interior walls.
Seal Your Fireplace Flue when not in use. Add an Inflatable Chimney-Balloon.
This will lower heating bills more than it will lower cooling costs (heat rises up the chimney). Inflatable chimney balloons fit beneath your fireplace flue when not in use, and can be removed easily. If you forget to remove the balloon before making a fire, the balloon will automatically deflate within seconds of coming into contact with heat.
The DOE Has A Brochure dedicated to Sealing Your Home from air leaks. DOE Sealing Your Home
Seal Recessed Lights from within the attic.
Most recessed lights have vents that open into the attic which produces a direct route for heated or cooled air to escape. There are specially designed covers which seal these types of recessed light fixtures. Adding them will result in lower cooling costs. Note: Most newer recessed light fixtures are air-tight.
This cap will allow seal the recessed light from leakage + provide insulation above the light.
Weatherstrip The Attic-Access Opening
The pull-down stairs inside your home have a large area where they leak air. This can be minimize by weatherstripping along all four edges.
Insulate The Attic-Access Pull-Down Door
These doors do not accommodate insulation, so they create a large area in your ceiling which cannot be insulated. There are specially designed insulation products which sit over the door in the attic.
Have A Ductwork Inspection To Determine If It’s Leaking Air
Up to 40% of the air you paid to heat & cool can be escaping into your attic. Ductwork can have air leaks to do poor installation, or degradation which has occurred over time. It’s not hard to bump a heat duct while working in the attic. Though it may appear fine, an air leak may have just begun. Also, there are some practices, used in ductwork installation in the past, which allow for a large number of air leaks.
Duct tape fails very quickly in hot attics. Mastic is what is needed to seal ductwork for a long time. If only 1 leak is found, lower cooling costs can pay for the inspection and repair costs in as little as one summer.
Ductwork which has become disconnected due to failed duct tape. This photo shows mastic to seal ducts.
Add A Whole-House Dehumidifier
Indoor humidity levels of 60% or higher decrease comfort and typically require cooler indoor-air temperatures.
The Heat-Humidity Index chart below shows what a temperature will feel like at different humidity levels. If you find your indoor humidity level to often be near 60% or higher, the addition of a whole-house dehumidifier may be a good investment, both in therms of lower cooling bills and increased comfort.
Can’t this be done with a portable dehumidifier? Yes, but… Portable dehumidifiers are designed to remove humidity, not to cool. The way they remove additional moisture is to reheat the air as it exits the unit. The result is the air going back into the room will be +10 to +15 degrees warmer.
If your dehumidifier uses 250 watts, it produces 875 BTU’s of heat for each hour it is running. By the time your a/c removes the added heat you will not lower cooling bills and may raise them.
TIP: Rather than a portable dehumidifier, install a 5,000 BTU window a/c. The best location is the kitchen, as it’s a source of lots of heat and humidity. With a window a/c, you get the benefits of a portable dehumidifier, with all heat generated staying outside the home. With the window a/c you also get cooling in a room where temps are often higher while cooling
Install Window Film
Insulating films reflect the sun’s heat in summer, and retain up to 55% of your home’s heat in winter. Insulating window films are affordable, energy-efficient improvements for all existing windows. Films can pay for themselves in less than 1 year through lower cooling costs.
- In hot-weather climates like DFW, purchase window-film which installs on the outside of the glass.
- Interior installed films on dual-pane glass is not recommended. It causes heat build up between the pains which may damage the glass.
- If you have Low-E glass, there is no benefit from adding window-film.
Add and close insulating-draperies over windows in rooms when they are not in use (year round). Insulating draperies add insulation where your home needs it most, its windows.
If you have old aluminum windows with single-pane glass:
- Their Glass R-Value = R- .85 (less than 1%)
- The uninsulated metal frame is R-.65 (2/3 of 1%)
A newer, High-Efficiency window produces:
- Glass value of up to R-2.75
- Insulated frame R-1.75.
An insulated drapery panel can produce up to R 7. This is 2-1/2 times the insulating value of a newer High-Efficiency window. And, if you have old single-panel metal windows, the improvement is much higher.
- You lower cooling costs by adding insulating drapes to west & south facing windows.
- If the sun does not shine directly through the glass (like a north exposure), there is no sun-generated heat coming through that window.
- You lower heating bills the most with insulating drapes on north facing windows.
Add electrical outlet & light switch gaskets on both outside and inside walls. Air leaks into the home through the gap between the outlet and its cover. Also, interior walls often leak as much air as exterior walls.
Remember this principle: Cold travels toward heat because cold air is denser than warm air. Outlet gaskets lower cooling bills too.
- You can lose cooled air at an outlet in summer.
- You can gain cold air at an outlet in winter.
On A Side Note — Is There Anything I Can Do To Insulate My Floors?
Cold floors and slab foundations go hand in hand. There are various websites which say to insulate around the perimeter of the home, but little can be found as to how to do it.
A Google search found ThermalDry Floor Decking. The photo below is from their website.
NOTE: Al’s Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning does not sell or install ThermalDry floor decking. We don’t endorse it only because we have no knowledge of the product. There are DFW contractors who sell and install this product, please consult with any of them for more details.
Our Energy-Use Behaviors Are Responsible For 1/-1/2 Times the Energy Usage Of The Structural Components Of Homes!
The Biggest Opportunity For Energy Savings is You…
The pie-chart above shows:
- Structural Components of the home can represent up to 41% of energy usage.
- Our own behaviors represents 59% of energy usage.
Percentage of Total Energy Consumption broken down into Specific Areas Of Consumption
By becoming “Energy-Use Aware”, you can lower cooling costs and heating costs. By becoming aware of the areas where large amounts of energy are being used, it becomes easier to lower energy usage.
- The single habit of checking your furnace filter each month (replacing when needed) can reduce cooling costs by up to 15%.
- Cleaning a dirty outside a/c unit can reduce cooling costs by up to 35%!
Lighting consumes 11% of the total energy used in homes.
- 100 watt incandescent light bulbs generate 341 BTU of heat per hour
- 100 watt-output CFL create 102 BTU per hour
- 100 watt-output LED create 3.4 BTU per hour
If you are still using incandescent or halogen bulbs, you can reduce your lighting energy-usage by up to 90% with LED lighting. This would reduce Lighting Energy Consumption from 11% to about 1%. You also lower cooling costs, as LED bulbs produce only 10% of the heat as incandescent light bulbs.
- LED bulbs described as “warm white” produce similar light as “soft white” incandescent bulbs.
- LED “cool white” light is similar to “daylight” incandescent bulbs
VAMPIRE ENERGY USE
Set-Top (cable) boxes for each TV — the 2nd largest energy-waster in most homes. They function much like mini-computers that communicates with remote content-sources and record shows. To do all this requires a lot of electricity — and produces a lot of heat.
According to the scientists at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “A regular set-top box uses the same electricity as a new refrigerator.” Using that much electricity generates a lot of heat. Lower cooling costs by shutting them off when not in use.
Note: If it feels warm when it’s off, it’s using electricity.
Turn off the television when no one is watching it. Today’s HD televisions produce a lot of heat. ENERGY STAR’s list of LCD TVs includes models with screen sizes ranging from 16-65 inches use 18-198 watts. Plasma TVs ranging from 42-65 inches use 90-214 watts!
Not using it? Turn it off. We tend to leave a lot of things running all the time which don’t need to be. Great examples are computers & video games.
Unplug things you rarely use. If you use a coffee maker only use on the weekends, if it has a clock it’s using power 24/7.
Reduce the amount of baking you do in summer, especially in the heat of the day. You must pay to cool all the air the oven heats up. If a counter-top / toaster-oven will do what you need, use it instead.
Clean or replace the shiny liners under your burners. Clean ones reflect more heat toward the cookware.
Turn the heat off on your dishwasher and open the door as soon as it get to the heating-cycle. The dishes are very hot and will dry quickly their own. During hot-heating cycles, your dishwasher can produce as much heat as and electric heater. Use the air dry setting and lower cooling bills.
Run your dishwasher only when it’s full. If there are 1 or 2 items you need, wash them by hand versus running the dishwasher.
A full refrigerator uses less electricity. Much of the air exists a refrigerator when you open the door. Keeping it full reduces the amount of air inside. If you don’t need its entire capacity, fill it with 1 gallon bottles of water.
Refrigerators are a mighty expensive source of light. Are you one of the folks who open the refrigerator take something out, use it and return it without ever closing the refrigerator’s door? It takes only 10 seconds for most of the chilled air to exit your refrigerator when the door is open. Then the refrigerator has to recool itself. Lower cooling bills are possible with the simple act of keeping the refrigerator door closed.
Hot and cold don’t mix well. When you are saving left-overs, let them sit on the counter until they are room-temperature. Putting them in the refrigerator before they reach room-temperature causes the refrigerator to run needlessly.
Clean the coils under your refrigerator, especially if you have shedding pets. The coils can clog to the point the refrigerator is starved for the air it needs to cool itself. The more clogged the coils are, the longer the refrigerator must run, and generating heat the entire time. Keeping the coil clean is an easy way to lower cooling bills
Do you have an energy-hog lurking in your kitchen? A refrigerator built around 1985 uses 1400 kWh and generates 475,000 BTU of heat per year. A new Energy Star refrigerator uses 350 kWh, and generates 119,000 BTU of heat. The total amount of energy savings is between a 15 year old and new refrigerator is 75%.
Your A/C must remove refrigerator-generated heat during the summer. When considering replacing your refrigerator, consider both the electricity used by the refrigerator plus the electricity used to remove the refrigerator’s heat. You will also lower cooling cost with a new refrigerator which produces 1/4 of the heat that an old one creates.
Moving the old hog to your garage? If it costs $168 to run it in the kitchen, it’s likely to cost $225 in the garage. If you want to keep it for those occasions when there is not enough space in the kitchen fridge, that makes sense. But, when you are not using it, turn it off. It won’t mind, it’s old and tired anyway. 🙂
Upgrade your shower head. Use a low-flow / 2.5 gallon-per-minute shower head. Standard shower heads use 4-7 gallons per minute.
Fix those drips. Leaky faucets in the sink and shower waste water and energy. Hot water drips can cost you a lot of money over time. Have faucets replaced or repaired now. Over time the repair will pay for itself in savings of water and energy.
Use cold water when you can. For example, when washing toothpaste down the drain, cold water works just as well as hot.
Run the exhaust fans when you shower. That air from a shower is loaded with heat and humidity. The higher your home’s humidity, the cooler is must be to feel comfortable. Turn them off as you exit the bathroom when you are done.
If you don’t have water-saver toilets, add a Toilet Tank Bank. It takes space in your toilet tank, which causes the toilet to use less water.
Do you really need to wash in hot or warm water? Yes, we will all want certain items washed in hot or cold, but sometimes it’s just a habit which has not merit. Washing in hot water represents 90% of the total energy used by your washer. Washing in hot water adds heat and humidity to your home. Lower cooling bills by using only the temperature really needed to clean the clothes.
Don’t dry… dry clothes. Pay attention to where to set the timer on your dryer so it does not run after clothes are dry. Not only does it create heat and uses energy, it exhausts large quantities of air from the house and pulls in hot humid air to replace what it exhausts. Minimizing drying-time will lower cooling bills in two ways. You will minimize the heat generated by the dryer and minimize the amount of air conditioned air the dryer removes from the house.
Clean the dryer lint-trap each time you use the dryer. Built up lint is a fire hazard and extends the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
Going on vacation? Let your water heater vacation too. Turn a gas water heater to “pilot” and turn off an electric one at the circuit-breaker panel.
Add a water-heater blanket (available at home stores). This adds another layer of insulation which reduces heat loss from the storage tank.
SUMMARY: This article provides 55 Ways To Lower Cooling Costs Without Upgrading Your A/C. Additionally, there are easy ways to save on heating costs plus lowering the cost of other larger energy users in your home (such as refrigerator maintenance).
This is not to suggest there is no merit in replacing and old a/c. Today’s A/C installed in DFW must have a SEER of 14 (SEER = Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, a standardized guide to comparing the efficiency of different A/C brands and models). A/C built between 1980–1985 has a SEER-7, which uses twice as much electricity (for the same amount of cooling) as a 2016 model.
This a/c has a SEER of 9 (XE 900).
All that being said, there are many ways to lower your cooling costs without buying a new a/c. For those who own a trouble-free old a/c and cannot or do not want to replace it, you can do a lot to lower cooling costs with the a/c you have.
The top things you can do to lower cooling costs are:
1. Check the furnace filter each month and change when needed. If it looks dirty, it is, and it’s time to replace it.
2. Keep the outside unit clean by spraying water into the silver fins surrounding the unit (you will have to remove the top to get to them).
The next thing is to have an A/C Tune-Up done by an HVAC Technician. They will check the refrigerant level and all operating systems to ensure the a/c is running at its peak ability. Most will also clean the outside unit during a Tune-Up.
Al’s Heating, Cooling & A/C performs maintenance and repairs on all brands of A/C, Heat Pump and Furnaces. We also sell and install new HVAC Systems from American Standard, Coleman HVAC and Ameristar (owned by American Standard). Call Al’s today to discuss all of your HVAC needs.