Q: I'm shopping for an air conditioner, and I noticed the ones that have higher ratings for energy efficiency also are more expensive. Is it worth paying the extra money?
A: In general, yes. And since a lot of utilities still make electricity with fossil fuel, you also will have the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping the environment by consuming less energy.
To find out how efficient an air conditioner is, look for an energy efficiency rating. The higher the number the better.
According to a survey in the June issue of Consumer Reports magazine, even small differences in EERs can have a significant impact on your summer electric bill.
An air conditioner with a rating of 10, for example, would consume 20 percent less energy than one with a rating of 8. Say your summer electric bills usually increase by about $50 a month for air-conditioning, then the more efficient air conditioner could save you $10 per month.
Add up how much you would save during the summer months, and you may find that you save enough during a year or two to offset the extra cost of the more-efficient air conditioner.
That doesn't always mean it will make sense to throw out a less-efficient air conditioner in favor of buying a new one, says Jim Nanni, who tests air conditioners and other home appliances for Consumer Reports.
Still, if you're buying a new one anyway, it usually pays to get one that's energy efficient and suitable to your needs.
"The more you pay for electricity, the greater benefits you will reap from having a more-efficient air conditioner," he says. "The more that your air conditioner runs, the more likely it is that an efficient air conditioner will save you money."