Smarter Living: Energy

The average American homeowner spends more than $1,000 a year to heat and cool her home. And that doesn't include the cost for repair or replacement of old equipment. When an air-conditioning system breaks down, it can be difficult to decide whether your dollars should go toward repairing an older unit that might need more repairs in the future, or to a new one that will cost more up front.

If the faltering window unit or central-air system is more than 10 years old, it pays to replace it with an Energy Star-certified system. Energy Star-certified window units use at least 10 percent less energy than conventional models, and upgrading to one of these can cut energy bills by an average of $14 a year, estimates the Energy Star program. The most efficient room air conditioners have higher-efficiency compressors, fan motors and heat-transfer surfaces than previous models. Central AC systems are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Most 1992 to 2005 models score about a 10; older ACs have ratings of only 6 or 7. Newer minimum standards set in 2006 require central-air units to have a SEER of at least 13. If your model is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star-certified system could cut cooling costs by 30 percent.

The greenest option of all is to use the funds you would put toward new air conditioning to institute alternative cooling methods, such as ceiling fans, evaporative coolers (if you live in a dry climate), whole-house fans and landscaping or decorating changes, all of which can keep your home comfortable for a fraction of the cost.

Take care when disposing of your older AC. Because of the coolants used, old room AC units need to be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility. Visit earth911.com for a location in your area. Old central units are usually disposed of by the contractor hired to install the new unit, but always ask ahead of time to ensure proper disposal.

last revised 11/16/2011

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