It really doesn't make any difference what part of the country you live in, extreme weather of any kind -- hot or cold, rain or not -- will have a negative impact on your energy bill and your level of comfort as well.
Here are a few suggestions on how to remain as comfortable as possible, no matter where you live and no matter what the weather is like.
We regularly tout the importance of having and using a setback thermostat -- and how that can help lower energy costs year round. Now we can add some good news to that advice: Good quality setback thermostats have come way down in price. One can now be purchased for under $25. This is true -- across the board -- with pretty much all brands.
And they are simpler to use than ever before. It isn't very often that we suggest making a purchase at the low end of the cost spectrum, but here we make an exception. Usually, more cost has something to do with more value. With a setback thermostat, as the cost goes up so does its complexity (how extensively it can be programmed). This is good if you are a computer programmer. However, we find that most consumers don't want to have to become rocket scientists to be comfortable in their home.
Simplicity first is the keyword here. We've found that most of the very inexpensive setback thermostats that we tested are very easy to program and they work great. We paid $10 for the one we installed at our office. And for the first time everyone there knows how to use it properly. So, if you want an easy-to-use thermostat, look for an inexpensive one with no options.
When we talk about filters for furnaces and air conditioners, most of us think about how they are used to control dirt and pollen. But, when it comes to energy costs, a clogged or dirty filter can be disastrous. A dirty filter will clog the system, causing the blower motor to work harder to circulate the air.
The math is simple. The motor uses more energy (higher energy bill) and the cooling or heating delivered by the system is less because it's clogged. Thus, greater cost and reduced energy efficiency.
When it comes to furnace or air conditioner filters, cheap can often be the best. Cheap filters don't filter very well and don't hold back the flow of air as much as good filters. Therefore, cheap porous filters are less costly to purchase and more energy-efficient as they relate to system operating costs.
So, when should you use a very cheap filter? Simple, as long as you can use the cheap filter without allowing a thick layer of dust to enter your home through the heating system, and as long as you and your family don't have any allergies to what normally lurks in the air around your home. Finer, more expensive filters do a good job of reducing pollens and dust, but they cause the system to be somewhat less energy-efficient. If you don't have dust or pollen problems using cheap filters in your system, then go for it -- the cheaper the better.
Finally, make a visual check of your compressor. That's the thing outside in the backyard that looks like a radiator and that makes a gigantic racket when you run your air conditioner.
Essentially, it is a radiator for the coolant in your air conditioning system. It makes the coolant cold.
If the fragile fins on the unit are bent, air will not pass through the radiator and the coolant will not get properly cooled. If the fins are bent, you can use a pocket knife or a putty knife or even a kitchen knife to straighten them out.
If you'd rather have a professional do the job, you will probably find the cost to be relatively inexpensive. Heating contractors have a tool called a "comb" that can be adjusted to the fin width of your compressor and is capable of straightening many rows of fins at a time.
In any event, make sure that there is a free flow of air all around your compressor. This includes pruning back trees, shrubs and other plantings as well. Also, if you have pets, be sure to build an enclosure around your compressor to prevent them from doing damage with their friendly little paws.
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