How Can I Improve the Energy Efficiency of My Air Conditioner While on Vacation?

Hot weather at home can dampen your summer fun if you’re running your air conditioner in your home while you’re on vacation. The easiest way to save while you’re away? Raise the cooling settings on your thermostat to 78° F (at least) during the day and then set it to 80° F (or higher) at night. Still, there also some other ways to truly improve the energy efficiency of your air conditioning system while you’re out of the house on vacation — and these tips will come in handy for every summer.

How Can I Improve the Energy Efficiency of My Air Conditioner While on Vacation?

The Basics

1) Replace the Air Filter

Next to programming your thermostat to more effective settings, this is one of the best maintenance tricks to keep your system running efficiently, especially if you’ll be gone for more than a week. ASHRAE recommends residential air filters rated at 6 to 8 MERV to catch and hold common mold spores, pet dander, and dust mite body parts (and other stuff you don’t want to think about) should be replaced every three months. Dirty air filters clog air flow and force your air conditioning to run longer. So, remember to replace yours a few days before you leave home.

2) Clean Dust and Cobwebs from the Return Vents 

Dust, dirt, and pet fur builds up on the surface of return air vents and eventually reduces air flow. Carpets and furniture often block or partially cover return vents that are close to the floor. Cleaning and dusting the return vents will keep air flowing freely through the system.

How Can I Improve the Energy Efficiency of My Air Conditioner While on Vacation?3) Keep Weeds Away from the Outside Condenser Unit

To work properly, the outside condenser must be able to blow lots of air through itself to cool down refrigerant in the air conditioning lines. If the whole thing is covered in vines or blocked by tall weeds, the fan and compressor will run longer — adding to your electric bill. Also, take a moment to hose dirt out from the cooling fins. Summer storms can blow leaf litter into them, which clogs the cooling fins and reduces their cooling efficiency.

4) It’s Curtains for You!

Closing curtains on the south- and west-facing windows of your home, especially in upper floors, is very effective in keeping your home cooler. Block the hot sunshine streaming through windows with white plastic-backed curtains to reduce heat gain by 33%. These  curtains also reduce thermal transmission out of your home during the heating season, saving you more energy.

Advanced Options

It’s never convenient, but sometimes you need to do some more advanced maintenance before you head on vacation. These two tips aren’t for everyone because they can take time, are a little intimidating, and can get messy. All the same, doing these yourself or hiring an professional will help keep your system running efficiently not only during your vacation, but all year long.

5) Clean the Cooling Coils in Your Inside Unit 

How Can I Improve the Energy Efficiency of My Air Conditioner While on Vacation?The heat exchanging coils on the HVAC unit inside your house should be free of dust and dirt. Over the years, dirt can build up on the cooling coils and will reduce air flow. Clogs reduces efficiency and will wind up costing you more money. To complete this assignment:

  • Turn off the HVAC system. Find and remove the access panel.
  • Use foaming condenser coil spray to dissolve stubborn gunk. It’s available at most home improvement stores.
  • CAREFULLY use a soft brush vacuum nozzle to clean out any dust in the coils.
  • Replace access panel.

Also make sure the condensation drip pan drain is runnng freely. Pour a little bleach or white vinegar down the drain pipe to kill any mold or mildew that may cause it to clog.

6) Blower Blowing?

Do you hear squeaks or squeals when the blower is running? Have you changed the air filter, but it still doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of air moving? Blower motor bearings dry out after a few years. Lubricating them is surprisingly pretty cheap and easy, but it can take a bit of time.

  • Turn off your HVAC system before you start work.
  • Most likely, you will need to disconnect the wiring harness from the blower assembly, unscrew it from the frame, and remove the whole blower from the AC unit.
  • The oil ports are located at either end of the motor shaft.

7) Experiment with a Dehumidifier

Running a dehumidifier will help reduce your HVAC system’s energy usage by keeping your home dryer, but dehumidifiers usually blow out warm air. Using one to reduce the humidity in problem areas, like cool basements, can be beneficial in the long run because some of that heat will move into the foundation and add to the thermal mass for winter.

However, if you don’t have a basement, keep in mind that warm air coming out from the dehumidifier could just add to your home’s heat load. In this case, it’s best to experiment before you leave home to determine how much heat your dehumidifier makes and how well your home’s AC handles the extra load.

LAST TIP: Before you head out the door on your big trip, turn off the ceiling fans. They don’t actually cool your home – they just help keep people cool.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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