Air conditioners also lead to high energy costs, unless you are alert to these energy facts:
• To cool your house efficiently, your air conditioner needs to be cool itself. Keep it in the shade. If your air conditioner is already in the sun, you can build a wood shade screen for it--just don't block the air flow.
• If you have central air conditioning, cool only the rooms you use. But don't close all your vents. Closing too many vents actually reduces operating efficiency.
• Turn the air conditioner thermostat up when you leave the house for several days or longer.
• Don't switch your air conditioner to a colder setting when you turn it on. Constantly moving the thermostat up and down throughout the day wastes energy and money. Placing the thermostat at extremes won't cool your home any faster; it only makes your system work harder.
• Set the thermostat as high as possible. The recommended energy efficient summer temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit. You can save two percent for every degree you raise your thermostat in the summer.
• Where your thermostat is located sometimes determines how well it operates. It should never be placed on an exterior wall, where it would be affected by the hot or cold outdoor temperatures. Appliances that give off heat -- like lamps -- should be kept away from the thermostat to ensure that the instrument senses the temperature accurately.
• To clean your thermostat, gently blow out any dust or lint. Because it is a delicate instrument, it should be cleaned gently. If your thermostat is 10 years old or older, you might replace it with a newer model that is more accurate and efficient.
• Consider placing a timer on your room air conditioner or using a programmable thermostat on your central air conditioner. Hardware stores sell timers and programmable thermostats that will automatically start your air conditioner before you get home.
• You can save energy by taking care of air conditioner coils. They won't work efficiently unless they are clean, so check them out every spring. If they are dusty, dirty, or clogged with old leaves, you can vacuum them with your household vacuum cleaner. If the attachment on the vacuum cleaner won't fit between the coils, reverse the air flow and blow the dirt away instead.
• Don't forget to check your filter at the beginning of the cooling season. A clogged filter will use up to five percent more energy than a clean one. Remove the filter and try to look through it at a bright light. If you cannot see light easily, clean or replace the filter.
• Permanent filters can be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions; disposable filters should be replaced every month or two while the unit is in use.
• Keep the heat out by drawing shades and curtains on hot days.
• If you have exhaust fans in your bathroom, laundry and kitchen, use them to help reduce the humidity burden on your air conditioner. These fans should not be used continuously, but periodically, as required.
• Help protect the ozone layer by repairing leaks in home and auto air conditioning systems.
When purchasing central air conditioners or window units, buyers should look for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio number (SEER). The higher the SEER, the better: a SEER greater than 12.0 is considered efficient. The energy savings can be substantial. A central air system with a SEER of 12.0 will use 33 percent less energy than a system with a SEER of 8.0. If you double the efficiency of your home cooling system, you'll cut your cooling costs in half.
That's why we find that customers who have switched to high efficiency heating and cooling systems find that the upgrade pays for itself in time. But it's important to select the unit that matches your needs. Measure the area you want to cool, count the windows and doors and ask your dealer for suggestions. There is no substitute for insulation in helping you save energy.
Use of weather-stripping and caulking prevents outside air infiltration. In addition, simple things like making certain exterior doors have a tight fit, insulating between rafters, walls and floors and in basements can make a difference. Consider replacing old windows. Storm or dual-glazed windows can reduce heat gain by as much as 50 percent. They often pay for themselves within five years.
For homes without air conditioning:
• During the heat of the day, avoid activities that would add heat and humidity to your home.
• For maximum efficiency and comfort, position the fan to blow air out of the house during daylight hours and pull cooler air into the house after dark. For a window fan to work properly, there should always be another window open in the area the fan is meant to ventilate.
For customers who expect to have problems paying bills, AmerenCILCO, AmerenCIPS, AmerenIP and AmerenUE offer plans that "averages out" a customer's monthly bills to minimize the effect of higher prices or higher seasonal usage. For information, visit the Ameren Web site (www.ameren.com)
With assets of $17 billion, Ameren companies serve 2.3 million electric customers and 900,000 natural gas customers in a 64,000-square-mile area of Missouri and Illinois. The parent company and AmerenUE are based in St. Louis; the headquarters of AmerenCIPS is in Springfield, Ill.; the headquarters of AmerenCILCO is in Peoria, Ill., and the headquarters of AmerenIP is in Decatur, Ill.