Air conditioning tips can help maximize cooling on a budget

Triple-digit temperatures don't mean your electric bill has to triple, too. NV Energy is out to educate homeowners on how to keep their bills as low as possible.

A representative can come to your home to do an energy evaluation at no cost.

It should come as no surprise that 65 percent of one's summer energy use is directly attributable to air conditioning. Keeping air conditioning units in good running order is tantamount to taming one's electric bill.

Ideally, air conditioning maintenance should have been taken care months ago. This time of year, air conditioning repair companies are busy with emergencies, dealing with problems that revealed themselves when the summer heat came.

"Of course, air conditioners break down at the worst possible time," said Richard Carrillo, a representative for the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local No. 525 and an assemblyman for Nevada District 18. "It seems like every Fourth of July weekend, everyone in the business gets swamped."

While Carrillo strongly recommends that residents hire a professional for major maintenance, there are a few simple steps anyone can take to keep air conditioning running smoothly and efficiently.

"You never want to set the thermostat below 70," Carrillo said. "Make sure all of your vents are open, and don't try to save money by shutting down rooms. You want to keep the air flow circulating, and closing off a room or shutting a vent will just create back pressure that will make your system run poorly. The most important thing is to change out your filters periodically."

Keeping your system's fan switched to "on" instead of "auto" will result in a more evenly cooled home, which should result in a more comfortable temperature, but it may not be as energy- efficient.

"If you have warm spots in your home, keeping the fan on will move that warm air around, which will cause the air conditioning to turn on more frequently." Carrillo said. "Ceiling fans and box fans will make you feel cooler, and you may be able to get away with setting the air conditioning at a higher temperature if you have fans circulating the air where the people are."

Carrillo recommends easing back on the air conditioning when you aren't home and turning it back to cooler temperatures when you return.

"It saves energy and money," he said. "With the addition of smart meters charging more during peak hours, turning the system down when you can is even more important."

Emily Huffman, energy educator for NV Energy, said programmable thermostats are big energy savers. They can be set for 82 to 85 degrees when the house is empty and then back to 78 to 80 degrees when it's not.

Homeowners with two stories and two air conditioning units can take advantage of balancing each unit's output so the occupied floor is the more comfortable zone. At night, the non-bedroom-floor unit should be set warmer by five degrees, Huffman said. Always remember when programming the thermostat that heat rises.

Turning off one air conditioner is not wise as it means the remaining unit is stressed by extra duty.

The hottest part of the day is from 1 to 7 p.m. Not all the heat generated is from the sun. Avoid using appliances for baking and laundry during those hours.

A refrigerator in the garage is a nice convenience, but it's a costly one. It uses three to four times the amount of energy as the one in the kitchen, Huffman said.

"The wasted amount of energy outweighs the amount of money you tried to save at Costco," she said.

Give up that energy hog and NV Energy's rebate program will garner you a $30 check -- $50 in July and August.

Unplug items when not in use to avoid phantom power use -- that trickle of electricity that adds to your bill.

An airtight home is an energy-efficient one. Attic insulation should be 10 inches thick. Outlets should be as airtight as possible. Seeing light all around your doorway equals a 4-inch gaping hole in your wall, Huffman said.

Fluorescent bulbs are one of the biggest energy savers around. A 13-watt fluorescent bulb's light is equivalent to the output of a 60-watt incandescent one. They last for years.

Sometimes, energy savers are just common sense: Plant shade trees, erect a patio cover and keep your blinds closed.

"When you're walking through Home Depot or Lowe's, there are so many options," Huffman said regarding home improvements that can cut one's energy bill. "To save money, go with (the changes) that provide the biggest bang for your buck."

For information on any of NV Energy's conservation programs -- efficient pool pump rebates, refrigerator recycling and the CheckMe! Plus air conditioning program -- visit or call 402-1111.

Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949 or Whitney and Sunrise View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at or 380-4532.