Central cooling systems: Save energy and money

Here are some time-honored ways to keep cooling costs down and extend the life of a central air-conditioning system.

Clean or replace the air conditioner's filter frequently--monthly during heaviest use.

Get annual, detailed equipment inspections.

Keep fallen leaves, grass clippings, dryer lint, and other dirt and debris away from the system's outdoor condenser. And keep the condenser coils clean, following manufacturer's instructions.

Cut back grass and foliage to permit easy airflow around the house.

See that leaks in ducts are sealed, and that the ducts in uncooled spaces are insulated.

Don't block vents or ducts inside the house.

Caulk and install weather stripping around windows and doors.
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Raise the thermostat setting as much as you can without sacrificing comfort. For every degree you raise the setting, you can expect to cut your cooling bills by 3 percent or more.

Use shades, vented awnings, blinds, or curtains to keep sunlight out, especially in the afternoon in rooms facing west.

Keep exterior doors and windows closed when running the air conditioner during the day. At night, turn off the air conditioner and open up the widows to draw in cooler air when the outdoor humidity is low.

Plant trees and shrubs to keep the house and the air conditioner's outdoor component in the shade, yet still allow air to circulate. Deciduous trees in particular provide effective and attractive climate control by letting sunlight through in the winter but blocking it in the summer.
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Run fans to keep air moving, so you feel cooler and can cut back air-conditioner use.

Use the oven sparingly; avoid baking in midday. Run the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer in the evening, when electricity rates may be lower and heat from those appliances won't increase the demands on central air conditioning.

Keep in mind that lamps, TVs, and other appliances produce some heat, so turn them off when not in use. Also, position them away from the air conditioner's thermostat. Use compact fluorescent lights if possible; they generate less heat and use less electricity than incandescents.