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It’s Easy Being Green: Keeping Cool and Staying Green

SOURCE: AP/Ng Han Guan

A Chinese worker cleans air conditioners in readiness for warmer weather in Beijing. Following these tips can help you save energy and money in the summer heat.

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Following the eighth warmest winter on record, the summer of 2009 is looking to be a hot one. Constantly using your air conditioning to keep cool can consume a great deal of energy and release greenhouse and ozone-depleting gases into the atmosphere, but you can maximize your energy efficiency by following these six tips that will help you stay cool.

Consider other options before cranking up the AC. Save energy and money by using ceiling fans or portable fans, which can make a room feel six or seven degrees cooler. On milder days, fans alone may keep you cool enough, but on particularly hot days, try setting the AC to 80 degrees and letting the ceiling fan to do the rest of work. Remember, though, fans cool you, not the room, so running them when you aren’t in the room is just a waste of energy. Before holing up inside your home and turning on the AC, you could also consider going somewhere that already has it. After all, businesses and public buildings run their AC whether you are there or not. Libraries, movie theatres, and coffee shops are just a few places you could go to keep cool and entertained.

Seal and insulate your ducts. Most central air conditioning systems are more efficient than window units, but the typical home loses about 20 percent of the air that moves through its ducts because of leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts. For more information on what you can do, see the Department of Energy’s list of frequently asked questions about insulation and duct sealing. You can also seal your windows with a window sealing kit available at the local hardware store to keep cool air inside, or even upgrade the insulation in your walls.

Buy the right AC for your space. Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to AC units. Larger units do not provide the best cooling, can waste energy and money, and are more expensive to own and operate than smaller units. If your unit is too big for your space, it will turn on and off frequently, reducing its efficiency and increasing wear and tear on the appliance. Buying an Energy Star-certified unit will help regulate temperature and save energy. A model with a timer is another option, and a programmable thermostat and sleep settings will also help keep energy consumption low. Tax credits may be available for new AC units depending on the model. Be sure to check out what’s available before making a purchase.

Position your unit well. Keeping heat-generating appliances away from your AC’s thermostat will prevent the unit from working too hard and overcooling the room because of inaccurate readings. Window units should be placed in windows with the most shade cover, but also make sure that any window coverings do not block the unit’s airflow.

Be mindful of running your car’s AC. The impact of your car’s AC varies depending on the type of driving you are doing. Highway driving has the least impact. Consumer Reports found that running your car’s air conditioning while traveling at 65 mph reduces gas mileage by about one mile per gallon. Rolling down the windows did not create a measurable change in gas mileage while traveling at the same speed. City driving with the air conditioning on will have the greatest impact on fuel consumption. Drivers should also be mindful of the length of their trip. Your car’s AC impacts your fuel economy the most when you are using it to cool an already hot car, so you would do well to roll down your windows for short trips instead of running the AC.

Take care while performing maintenance on your car’s AC. The refrigerants found in most mobile AC units are an improvement from those of previous generations, but they may still be damaging to the environment. Recent research indicates that R-134a, a common refrigerant found in automotive AC units, is collecting in the atmosphere and could be contributing to global climate change. It is unlawful to release R-134a into the atmosphere, and consumers should be careful when performing maintenance on their car’s air conditioning units.

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