Cut your air conditioning costs by using a fan too

Consumer Reports News: June 16, 2011 05:10 PM

A few people, very few, eschew air conditioning because they prefer fresh air. The rest of us get through the hot weather by running window units or central air conditioning and paying the price. But Consumer Reports tests show that some air conditioners are more energy-efficient than others so you can keep cool without getting hot under the collar when you see your utility bill.

A St. Paul man recently dialed back his air conditioning use in an effort to save money and shrink his carbon footprint. “A growing body of research suggests that fans deserve a bigger fan club,” wrote Michael Tortorello in the New York Times. “They use precious little energy and cost practically nothing to run: in the case of a ceiling fan, about a nickel for a 12-hour day.”

A good strategy may be to use a little of both. Instead of setting your air conditioner at 74 to 76 degrees, raise the temperature to 78 degrees and let your fans do the rest. Each degree you lower your thermostat increases cooling costs by 6 percent, according to Con Edison, which provides power in the New York metropolitan area.

To find the most energy-efficient air conditioner, check the energy-efficiency rating. The EER is supplied by the manufacturer and typically certified by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. The higher a unit's EER, the lower its operating cost compared with other models of its size.

In our latest ratings, the small Haier ESAD4066 ($335) had the best EER, a 12. Not far behind was the larger and more expensive Friedrich Kuhl SS08M10 ($800) with an EER of 11.7. But all our top air conditioner picks meet federal Energy Star standards and most have an energy-saver mode.

Quietness is another concern, especially when you’re trying to sleep on a hot summer night. Two Friedrichs rated excellent for quietness in our recent tests but more than 20 others were very good. And not all fans are quiet either. The noise emitted by Tortorello’s three fans ranged from “a tranquil white-noise whir” to “intolerably loud.”

Mary H.J. Farrell

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