Cooling a home on hot, humid days can be an energy-intensive process—in fact, 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, but it’s easy to waste energy and money in the process if you’re not careful.  

Costing between $100 and $1,000, room air conditioners tend to last a long time with minimal maintenance, so selecting the right model can save significant amounts of energy.

Room air conditioners rated by ENERGY STAR, deliver the same or better performance and use 10 percent less energy on average than comparable models. An energy efficiency ratio (EER) measures each unit’s efficiency. The higher the EER, the more efficient the air conditioner will be. National appliance standards require room air conditioners to have a minimum EER of 8.0 or greater.

Nationally, an average consumer saves approximately 76 kilowatt-hours per year—about $8—with an ENERGY STAR-rated room air conditioner. Residents in hot and humid states could save up to $30 annually. So over the life of the appliance a consumer could save between $50 and $250, depending on the model and climate.

Consumers should look for room air conditioners 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 can be fit into a window in a matter of minutes. Another option is to create a custom opening in a wall.

Large-capacity units often require a dedicated electric circuit or may have specific wiring and breaker requirements. They may need to be installed by a professional.

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

Most room air conditioner purchases are “impulse buys”— bought during hot weather by consumers who have conducted little research. Most retail displays do not promote the benefits of ENERGY STAR models. So buy a unit from a knowledgeable retailer who will help you select the right size equipment for your room.  

Air conditioning will raise your monthly electric bills—what type you choose, climate, and length of use will determine the full impact. Making smart energy choices will leave you happier, cooler, and with a couple of extra bucks in your pocket.

Source: Brian Sloboda, Cooperative Research Network

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