Ever-rising energy costs and a growing awareness of environmental issues have inspired many of us to strive for "greener" living. From trading in our SUVs to replacing our incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, we as consumers are taking important steps to reduce both our fuel bills and our carbon footprints.
Of course, whether your primary motives are financial or ecological, some luxuries and modern conveniences are harder to relinquish than others. Changing a bulb is fairly painless, and driving to work in a compact car offers a tangible reward every time you fill up its much smaller tank at the gas pump. But if you live anyplace where summer temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) for more than a day or two, you'd probably sooner give up the clothes on your back than turn off your air conditioning.
On some level, we all understand that running the A/C has an impact on our electric bills. How many parents have yelled "Close the door! The air conditioning is on!" before the kids are even halfway outside? But just how much do we spend to cool our homes?
Air conditioning costs vary greatly depending on the age and efficiency of the HVAC system and the size and location of the home, but a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration found that air conditioning accounted for 16 percent of all household electricity consumption in the United States [source: Energy Information Administration]. And if you live in a particularly hot climate, A/C can account for 60 to 70 percent of your electric bill in the summer months [source: Austin Energy].
So what's a sweaty, frugal-minded and environmentally conscious citizen to do? Before you decide that your A/C is off-limits, remember that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Read on to find out how much you can save by turning off the A/C -- or even setting the thermostat a few degrees higher.