Keep your cooling costs down when the temperature goes up

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Patrick Ryan is a BC Hydro community outreach representative in Vernon, where 2015 summer temperatures have been as high as a record-breaking 39.3°C.

If you rely on air conditioners or fans, choose the right one for your space

Posted by Patrick Ryan

Working for BC Hydro, I've had the honour of visiting and experiencing some of the best places and events our province has to offer. Along the way, I've helped customers learn new ways to save energy and money.

In the midst of the summer heat here in the Okanagan, I know that many British Columbians can identify with the struggle to stay cool while keeping their electricity bill manageable. Here are some of my favourite ways to enjoy a beautiful summer without breaking the bank.

Start with windows and drafts

One of the best ways to start cooling your home efficiently is by adopting some simple habits, such as installing window coverings (and keeping blinds or curtains drawn during the day), using ceiling fans if you have them, and sealing any gaps or drafts that may let warm air into your home.

These actions can make a big difference in keeping things cool. But in extreme summer heat like we've seen this year, some of you may be considering air conditioners or heat pumps to help keep your home at a decent temperature — especially at night when you're trying to sleep.

Pedestal fans are best suited for bedrooms, living rooms

If your cooling method of choice runs more to fans than air conditioners, be careful to select the correct size fan for your space. Fans can only cool efficiently up to a certain size of room.

Ceiling fans and oscillating pedestal fans will work best in larger bedrooms and living rooms, so they're a good choice to help you sleep. Smaller portable fans and table fans are best suited to cool down smaller rooms and your personal space.

If your fan is around 75 centimetres, it will effectively cool a space up to around 50 square feet. To cool a larger room, you'll need a fan about 125 to 135 centimetres.

When it's cooler outside than inside in the evening, open windows and doors to increase air flow throughout your home. It will create a pleasant breeze and help make the most of the cool night air.

If you use an air conditioner, choose ENERGY STAR to minimize your costs

If you already have a portable air conditioner, you may find that replacing your older portable unit with an ENERGY STAR® qualified model is worth it in the long run.

Portable or room air conditioners contribute more to summer peak electrical demand than any other household appliance. The best choice for an air conditioner really depends on the individual needs of your household.

ENERGY STAR models are easy to install and use 30 to 40 percent less energy than most models sold 10 to 15 years ago. Some quick rules of thumb can help to minimize the operating costs of your A/C unit:

  • Set the unit's temperature to 25.5°C. That's the highest temperature that most people can tolerate comfortably, and is a good temperature for savings.
  • If the space that you're cooling is going to be left unoccupied for more than four hours, the thermostat should be turned up to about 28°C. If it will be unoccupied for more than 24 hours, go ahead and shut the air conditioner down.
  • To find out how much your air conditioning unit costs you, check out this resource from Natural Resources Canada. How much energy your unit uses will depend on the individual behaviours in your household.

Should you use a fan or an air conditioner?

Using a fan will help your family feel more comfortable at higher temperatures, but won't actually lower the air temperature. Depending on your cooling needs, fans could be enough to keep you cool and comfortable at much lower costs.

  • Running a fan at full capacity for an entire day, you can expect to pay about $0.11/day.
  • As a comparison, running a single portable air conditioning unit all day could cost around $0.69/day.

Air conditioning units can be your single-biggest energy user in the home during the summer. Switching from an AC unit to a fan could mean a reduction in your home’s energy use by approximately 84%.

What should you know about heat pumps?

Many customers are considering heat pumps as a way to maintain warmer temperatures in the winter and cool their homes in the summer.

In some parts of B.C., a heat pump can significantly reduce your heating costs, especially if you're in a home serviced with only electricity as an energy source. Although savings will vary depending on your behaviours and current fuel system, installing a ductless heat pump system can generally improve the efficiency of heating or cooling your home over a central unit.

If you're interested in exploring a heat pump as a way to cool your home, be sure to determine whether it's the right system for you.

Patrick Ryan is a community outreach representative in Vernon who educates customers in the Okanagan about ways to save energy and money.