An air conditioning bill that simply seems too high can be very confounding. Some homeowners experience sudden spikes in their costs whiles others are surprised to learn that their neighbors have been paying a lot less than them. For both of these cases, let us explore the possible causes of excessive energy usage and what you can do to lower that bill.
Deteriorating, Damaged or Insufficient Insulation
One of the most prevalent issues among homeowners who pay more than their neighbors is inadequate insulation. This is especially common with older homes. You may simply have insulation missing in areas that need it. Insulation can shift out of position, compress over time, or be compromised due to moisture. While insulation is expected to last a long time—as much as 100 hundred years in some cases—homes that are 20 years or older can have experienced deterioration and require that material to be replaced.
Too Much Natural Ventilation
Older homes in particular are prone to too much natural ventilation, which allows the conditioned air to escape. Problem areas include your windows, doors, attic, and foundation. The industry recommends a home energy audit about every five years or so, and many companies perform such audits as a free service. An audit will let you know where your home is not properly sealed, and if you have multiple problems, an audit presents them in a prioritized manner so that you can take a budgeted approach.
Lack of Mechanical Ventilation
If your home is well-sealed, then the issue can actually be inadequate mechanical ventilation. Your mechanical ventilation includes the air handler, ductwork, return registers, and even your ceiling fans. A sign that you may be dealing with mechanical ventilation is uneven cooling, such as warm spots in various areas of the home. The most common cause of this issue is a ductwork leak, which allows the conditioned air to leak out and thus not be distributed properly throughout the home. Such problems can be identified early by having your ducts cleaned every several years or so.
Closed Return Vents
Many homeowners actually create mechanical ventilation problems for themselves by closing return vents in unused rooms. There is a misconception that if you close a vent in a room and close the door to that room that you no longer need that air-cooled and thus save. But centralized HVAC does not work that way. It works based on pressure. When there is a pressure imbalance—which you cause by closing the register—it causes the AC unit to work harder and less efficiently, which can cause a higher bill. It is worth mentioning that this is not necessarily the case with variable-speed air handlers and/or zoned heating and cooling systems, but most homeowners still have traditional fixed-speed, single-zone systems.
Aging Air Conditioning Unit
The average air conditioning unit has a life expectancy of about 15 to 20 years. The truth is that many AC units actually exceed those expectations and can last 30 years or more before they fail. The catch here is that lifespan estimates are based on expected efficiency. Most units will become a lot less efficient at the 15-year mark and even more so when you consider the technological advancements made over the last 15 years. If your unit is old, replacing it could significantly lower your monthly bill.
Inefficient Air Conditioning Unit
An AC unit does not have to be old to be inefficient. These machines experience wear and tear over time. That wear is often subtle but can accrue over the seasons to make a big difference. It is for these reasons that the industry recommends a seasonal tune-up with the ideal timing being the spring in advance of the truly hot summer months. Such maintenance is relatively inexpensive, and if you keep up with it, it will save you a great deal over the years in terms of efficient operation and avoiding repairs.
Clogged Air Filter
A dirty air filter is not only a common problem but one that many homeowners underestimate in terms of real costs. The EPA estimates that a dirty air filter can increase cooling costs by 5% to 15% and even higher if the problem is particularly severe. The rule of thumb is to change out your filter every three months. A better practice is to inspect your filter each month and change it whenever it is visibly dirty. Some homes, such as those with multiple pets, will have to change filters more frequently.
Be mindful that refrigerant is not consumed like a fuel. It does not need to be replenished under normal circumstances and should at least last the 15 to 20 years that your AC unit is expected to last. However, refrigerant leaks due to a lack of regular maintenance are a common problem, and if you suddenly notice your AC bill has spiked and your AC unit is running more often, this could be the culprit.
A malfunctioning thermostat can cause your AC unit to run too much or too little or to stop and go in an inefficient manner. Thermostats do go bad and take homeowners by surprise. They can also be poorly placed, which can lead to inaccurate readings and thus inefficient operation. It is also worth mentioning that if you do not yet have a programmable or smart thermostat, you should purchase one since it can lower your cooling bill 10% or as much as 30%, according to the EPA.
Too Much Solar Heat
Sunlight warms a home and can cause your AC unit to work harder. Good insulation will account for this when it comes to your siding, but you should be mindful of your windows. If you have a large glass area in your living room, for instance, that gets direct sunlight during the day while you are at work, you should consider smart black-out shades that can close as needed to avoid that excess heat. Be mindful that excessive sunlight through glass can increase cooling bills by several percentage points or more.
Lack of Ceiling Fans
While ceiling fans do help to distribute conditioned air within a room, their real value when it comes to air conditioning lies it what is known as the wind chill factor. In basic terms, the moving air makes you feel cooler. Why is this important? Well, the EPA estimates that ceiling fans installed in all kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, and other high-use rooms can allow for a higher temperature setting that reduces monthly cooling costs by as much as 7%.
Your Local Cooling Experts
McGowan’s Heating & Air Conditioning has been serving Jacksonville, Bunnell, and all of northeastern Florida for more than 40 years. We are a family-owned and -operated company that values integrity, honesty, and hard work. Our cooling services include AC installations, inspections, repairs, and tune-ups. We look forward to the opportunity to make you our next loyal and longtime customer.