Yes, there is a way to stay comfortable while saving energy
More people fight over the thermostat than the remote and those battles become more pitched during periods of extreme heat. The disputes aren’t just about comfort, they’re about money too because every time you lower the thermostat in hot weather it raises your electric bill. So what’s the best setting for your central air conditioner? Well, that depends on whether you care more about keeping cool or keeping your utility bill in check. Fortunately, there’s a happy medium.
Energy Star says, for optimal cooling and energy efficiency, the coolest you should keep your house is 78° F and that’s only when you’re at home and awake. A programmable thermostat makes it easy to match your cooling needs to your schedule but you can make the adjustments manually if you don’t have one. Try the following setpoints:
- 78° F when you’re home.
- 85° F when you’re at work or away.
- 82° F when you’re sleeping.
More heat tolerant folks can experiment with the temperature, raising it one degree at a time to see how it affects your comfort and your budget. You’ll save 3 percent on your air conditioning costs for every degree you raise the temperature. If you aren’t comfortable at 78° F, lower the temperature a degree at a time. A ceiling or box fan causes a wind chill effect that enhances cooling, helping you feel comfortable at a higher temperature as long as the humidity isn’t too high.
Before you buy a new A/C, read about the most reliable central air conditioning systems.
More Cool Ideas
Of course, if you live in an area with more moderate temperatures, you may not need your central air conditioning all day and night. If so, you can take advantage of cooler night temperatures by keeping your windows open overnight. Close them on hot days and keep your shades and curtains drawn when it’s sunny outside. If you need the AC when you get home, you can program it to go on before you arrive or turn it on with a smartphone app.
Window air conditioners. It’s more difficult to reach the perfect temperature when you have a window air conditioner. Because the thermostat is in the unit itself, it registers the temperature in that part of the room and may not provide a consistent temperature throughout the space you want to cool, depending how big and open it is. That means getting the right comfort level is more trial and error. Start with it set at 78 degrees and see how you feel. If you have a window unit in your bedroom, turn it on 30 minutes or so before you go to bed so you’re not cooling an empty room.
Ways to beat the heat. No matter what type of air conditioning you have, it’s easier to keep the temperature at a comfortable level if you can prevent heat from getting into your home. The three main sources of unwanted heat are heat that seeps in from the outdoors, waste heat given off by appliances and incandescent lightbulbs, and heat from sunlight shining through the windows.
During a heat wave, avoid using your washer, dryer, and dishwasher during the heat of the day and make sure you use the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom when you’re cooking or taking a shower. Cook outside on your grill.
Programmable thermostats. Consumer Reports tests energy-saving programmable thermostats with and without remote access. Our top-rated thermostat with remote access is the Honeywell RTH9590WF, $300, followed by models from American Standard and Trane. The best thermostat we tested without remote access is the Honeywell Prestige HD YTHX9321R, $250, followed by models from Lux and Robert Shaw.