It’s warming up in many parts of North America, and as consumers stare down an already oppressive electric bill, they may be wondering if air-conditioning can fit into the budget.  Whether you’re hoping to save a little on your current A/C bill or you are open to getting rid of it altogether, there are some tips and tricks for being a little less dependent on modern cooling systems.


Creative Commons License photo credit: J Kurek

“Wants” vs. “Needs”?

Yes, you may want to feel comfortable.  But do you have to have your air on for survival?  For some people, an air-conditioning solution is necessary to control the humidity in their home and create a tolerable environment.  Older people can overheat more easily, and those with asthma may find that cooler air helps with their breathing.

It is important to note, however, that a poorly-maintained unit can actually aggravate certain health conditions.  Mold, dirt, and dust can build up in cooling systems, causing more harm than good.  If you decide that A/C is something you can’t live without, make sure to have your cooling systems serviced and cleaned frequently.

The Cost to Cool

For many, the sky-high utility bill that running even one small window unit can create is a burden.  It may not be worth the $25-50 a month that it adds to their bill, especially if they can create a comfy temp in their home without it.  (Some people actually prefer more natural methods of cooling their home, as A/C can feel artificially cold.)

Not having a cool home may have a cost, as well.  Guests not wanting to visit because they think your home is too stuffy, mold growth, or health deterioration due to sleepless nights are all expensive – if not calculated in a “budget” cost.  It’s important to weigh the benefits against the true costs to determine a value that goes beyond your electric bill.

Keeping Cooler on Your Own

You definitely don’t have to decide to go 100% pro- or anti-A/C.  Many people are able to greatly reduce the number of hours they run their cooling systems by following some simple tactics.  Others can eliminate the A/C altogether for many months out of the year.  Methods that work well include:

  • Opening windows on cool nights when the humidity is lower outside than inside.  Before the sun comes up the next day (or shortly after), shut them again.
  • Use heavy curtains (often called black-out curtains) on all windows during the day.  If you find these to be expensive, try quilts or thick blankets that you may have on hand.
  • Keep air circulating throughout the home with fans.  (Ceiling fans should turn counter-clockwise.)  Always turn on ventilation fans above the stove and in the bathroom when in use.
  • Don’t use appliances that “heat up” your home.  Try BBQing outside or using a crockpot rather than using the oven.  Set up a line to dry your clothes outside, instead of drying with a clothes dryer.
  • Close up rooms that you aren’t using and cool the rest, if you like.  I use a portable A/C unit on the hottest nights in the bedroom only with the door shut.  There’s no need to cool the whole house!

There are many alternatives to a traditional whole-house unit, including a heat pump or, in some arid areas, a swamp cooler.  Be sure to consult an energy professional before upgrading or replacing expensive equipment.  You might find that you can get by with what you have by modifying your use slightly.

Do you plan on running your A/C this summer?  What tips do you have for reducing cost?