Smart strategies can cut air conditioning costs

HOLLAND — Summertime in Michigan is a favorite time. Yet, as we all experience, Michigan weather can change abruptly, giving us cool weather and sweltering heat within a 24-hour span. 

Below are tips to keep both comfort and costs in control for the office, most of which apply at home, too. 

No-cost and low-cost improvements

  • Dress for the season: When it comes to inside temperatures, people’s comfort zones can vary greatly. Workers in a shared office should remember that it is fairer to their fellow employees if they dress in layers rather than continuously change the thermostat for their own individual comfort. 
  • Have different winter and summer thermostat set-points: The human body feels temperature differently in summer and winter. A 72-degree-Fahrenheit office in the winter will feel comfortable to most people. However, the same office at 72 degrees in the summer may feel chilly. A good set-point range for air conditioning in summer is 74 to 76 degrees. 
  • Use a programmable thermostat: It is the middle of the night at your office. No one is there and the AC is likely running, keeping the room at 72 degrees. Nice and cool, but a tremendous waste of energy. Use a programmable thermostat to reset the temperature when nobody is in the office. 
  • Keep heat sources away from the thermostat: A hot coffee pot next to a thermostat will cause the AC to turn on unnecessarily, wasting energy. Keep the thermostat out of the sun and away from computer monitors and other office equipment that gives off heat. 
  • Tune-up: Have your AC unit checked out by a professional every spring before the cooling season. This should include cleaning the condenser coil, changing the filter and checking the refrigerant level. 
  • Fix air leaks: Businesses sometimes operate with open dock doors or with the entrances to the store open to help bring customers in and out. If your business does this, the electric bill goes up. In addition, anytime you feel a draft from a window or door, it is costing you money. 
  • Fans and Shades: Instead of lowering your thermostat on hot, sunny days, try using a fan. Air moving across the body has a cooling effect. A window on a sunny day is like a big magnifying glass when it comes to heating a room, and closing the curtains will have an immediate cooling effect. 

Capital improvements

  • Economizer: People, electronics, and machinery give off heat, and windows exposed to the sun can create a very warm room, even in the winter. If there is enough internal heat-load from these things it may be necessary to cool interior spaces, even in the winter. An economizer will use outside air to cool the building instead of using the cooling equipment if the temperature is cold enough outside. 
  • Install new energy-efficient equipment: Advances in technology make modern equipment very efficient compared to older equipment. Depending on your situation, it may or may not be cost-effective to replace older equipment just for the energy savings. However, if you do need to buy new equipment, it is usually cost-effective to choose a more efficient model than the baseline. The energy savings and utility rebates make up much of the difference. 
  • Direct Digital Controls (DDC): A larger and more complex HVAC system may benefit from DDC, a centralized computer system that controls HVAC equipment. There are several different control strategies to help save energy. Scheduling, optimal start and stop, economizer, outside air temperature enabling, load shaving and set point reset schedules are some examples. 

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