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Illinois Country Living

Buy a more efficient room A/C
Smart consumers can realize big savings

By Brian Sloboda, Cooperative Research Network

Cooling generally becomes the largest energy expense homeowners face during the summer. A room air conditioner may seem like an easy-to-install, low-cost way to add comfort to a home, but it’s easy to waste energy and money in the process.

A room air conditioner, costing between $100 and $1,000, tends to last a long time with minimal maintenance, so selecting the right unit can save significant amounts of energy.

Room air conditioners rated by Energy Star, an energy efficiency program under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, are at least 10 percent more efficient than the federal standard. An energy efficiency ratio (EER)-the ratio of the cooling capacity in British thermal unit’s (Btu) per hour to the power input (in watts)-measures each unit’s efficiency. The higher the EER rating, the more efficient the air conditioner will be. National appliance standards require room air conditioners built after January 1, 1990, to have a minimum EER of 8.0 or greater.

Energy Star-qualified units have advanced compressors, drawing more heat efficiently from the air than conventional compressors. The high-efficiency motors in these units use less energy to circulate air and run more quietly. However, they do cost slightly more. Energy savings depends on how often the unit operates.

Nationally, an average consumer saves approximately 76 kWh per year-about $8-with an Energy Star-rated room unit. Residents in hot and humid states could save up to $30 per year, while residents in cooler states may only save $4. Over the life of the unit a consumer could save between $50 and $250, depending on the model and climate.

You should look for models with timers and programmable thermostats. These features offer better temperature control, allowing users to cool spaces according to their preferences.

Installing a room air conditioner is typically an easy job. Most units fit in a window. Another option is to create a custom opening in the wall. Large-capacity units often require a dedicated electrical circuit or may have specific wiring and breaker requirements. These units may need to be installed by a professional.

Room air conditioners come in a variety of sizes. Many people buy the largest unit they can afford, assuming more power is better. While that may be true in racing, it’s not necessarily the case when buying an air conditioner. A unit that is too large will cool the room too quickly to properly remove all of the humidity, leaving the room feeling cool, but also wet and clammy.

If you are replacing an existing unit with a more efficient unit don’t throw the old unit away. Air conditioners contain refrigerant that should be removed by a trained technician before the unit is recycled or thrown away. Contact a local solid waste organization for information on how to properly dispose of old air conditioners.

Before You Buy

Before buying a room air conditioner, take some easy and inexpensive energy-saving measures in your home. Any of these measures will maximize the cooling power of your air conditioner.

  • Add caulk and weather stripping around doors and windows
  • Add insulation to attics and exposed walls
  • Move furniture or obstacles away from room air conditioners
  • Close blinds or curtains during the day



© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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