Washington, D.C. — Summer is upon us, along with the growing hum of air conditioners and high energy costs. Fortunately, there may be no better time to take advantage of energy-efficient upgrades to your house or air conditioner. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), 2007 might be the last year that you can receive a federal income tax credit for purchasing a new high-efficiency air conditioner or making home improvements that reduce the energy it takes to keep cool. These incentives don't just save on purchase price—they offer utility bill savings over the long term, making energy efficiency a common sense choice any time of the year.
If your air conditioner is old and inefficient, ACEEE advises consumers to consider a replacement before the unit fails. "Often people are so desperate to replace their equipment that they don't take the time to research the investment, locking themselves into high cooling bills and less comfort," said ACEEE researcher Katie Ackerly.
For people who live in states with high cooling loads, ACEEE suggests a model with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) of 15 and an EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) of 12.5. Models purchased this year that fit these criteria will qualify for a substantial federal tax credit and provide a more comfortable, less humid home with less impact on the environment. The best units may have a somewhat higher purchase price than the more common units. However, once the tax credit is factored in, there should be no problem recouping the costs through electricity bill savings. For those who live in areas with short, milder summers, a unit with the federal minimum efficiency of SEER of 13 and an EER of 11 will probably suffice. Before you buy, check with your utility and state energy office for local incentives that may be available.
Buying new equipment is only part of the picture: in some cases, home improvements can save even more. Under the 2006-2007 tax credit, the federal government will cover 10% (up to $500) of the cost for efficiency upgrades to insulation, ductwork, or windows that could save big on both cooling and heating costs. For detailed information, visit the Tax Incentives Assistance Project Web site or go directly to ACEEE's summary table.
ACEEE suggests a few other low-tech, low-cost ways to get the most out of your air conditioner and stay cool:
- Clean or replace the air filter in your room or central air conditioner. This helps keep cool air moving, reduces motor wear and tear, and lowers electricity consumption.
- An air conditioner tune-up performed by a qualified contractor can give your old unit a new lease on life while lowering monthly utility bills and increasing comfort.
- Insulate your attic. With the hot sun beating down on your roof, a lot of heat can be absorbed into and get trapped in your attic. This hot air will leak into the rest of your house if your attic isn't properly insulated.
- Wait until evening to take care of heat-generating activities like running the dishwasher.
- Keep windows, doors, and shades or shutters closed and drawn during the day to keep out the sun's rays and hot, moist outside air. Open the windows at night to let fresh, cooler air circulate.
For consumers who are in a hurry to lower utility bills this summer and want a better handle on what to look for when shopping for new equipment, ACEEE's condensed online version of the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (at www.aceee.org/consumerguide) is a good place to start. Among other common-sense tips, ACEEE gives important pointers on what to look for in a contractor. As Consumer Guide coauthor Jennifer Thorne Amann cautions, "When purchasing a new central air conditioner, finding a good contractor is as important, if not more important, than deciding what model you'd like to buy."
A new, 9th edition of the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings is scheduled for release this fall. In addition to the latest information on cooling strategies, it will contain new information on house ventilation, state-of-the-art energy efficiency technologies, and updated decision-making guides. Check www.aceee.org/consumerguide for updates on the book and how to order.