Originally created 06/20/02

Air system upkeep cuts power bills



Emery Warner sees it every summer. The service manager for Davis Appliance Repair makes a house call to fix a broken air conditioner, and it turns out the unit is just dirty.

On average, air conditioning accounts for more than half of homeowners' summer electricity costs, according to Georgia Power Co. Experts say a few simple service chores can make the air conditioner more efficient and save a bundle.

"It's just little stuff that anyone can do," Mr. Warner said. "On outside units, keep the bushes and shrubs away to get proper air flow, and hose down the condenser coils periodically to get the grass clippings out of there. On inside units, keep the filters clean and don't block the return grid."

Basic fiberglass filters cost about 90 cents each and should be replaced every month or so, according to the Comfort Institute, a Bellingham, Wash.-based consumer watchdog group. Corrugated filters can cost more than $10, but they perform much better.

Larry Doolittle, the owner of Best Quality Insulation in Evans, says the most frequent problem he sees among residences is a lack of insulation and poor ventilation in the attic. A $40 attic fan from Lowe's or The Home Depot can pay for itself 10 times over before it burns out, he said.

"You've got to have air flow in the attic," Mr. Doolittle said. "That heat gets trapped up there and not only will it overwork your air conditioner, but your shingles on your roof will buckle up, too."

Installing insulation and weatherstripping can increase an air conditioner's life span and save money on the monthly power bill. Replacing an old air conditioner will not improve cooling efficiency if the house has poor insulation, Mr. Doolittle said.

Conservation also can lead to noticeable savings on the power bill, said Amoi Geter, a Georgia Power spokeswoman.

Set the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher and leave it there, she said. Every degree below that setting will use 3 percent to 5 percent more electricity. Based on a 2,400-square-foot home, it costs about $4 per month for every degree the thermostat is lowered.

Raising the thermostat from 73 degrees to 78 degrees, for instance, would save about $20 a month, Ms. Geter said.

Ceiling fans should be adjusted to turn counterclockwise during the summer, she added. That motion pulls cool air, which is heavier than warm air, up off the floor and disperses it throughout the room.

HOT AIR

Cooling a home typically accounts for more than half the monthly power bill, according to Georgia Power Co. Here are a few quick ways to cool a house more efficiently:

  • Use the clothes dryer at night or in early morning: The dryer vent sucks as much air into the house as it blows out. Run it when the air outside is coolest.
  • Check the duct system for leaks: The typical duct system loses 25 to 40 percent of air-conditioned energy, according to Department of Energy research.
  • Replace air filter: Most systems need this done every month to ensure efficient operation.
  • Clean and tune the entire system: Hire a contractor to clean the indoor and outdoor heat transfer coils and check the refrigerant gas charge.
  • Consider a replacement: If the system is more than 12 to 15 years old, it might be time to replace it.
  • Source: The Comfort Institute

    Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.