How to Avoid a Shocking Electric Bill
Imagine opening your monthly utility bill and seeing you owe over $900 dollars for one 30-day period. Though it sounds impossible, this actually happened, and it could happen to you if your air conditioning unit runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In this real-world example, the homeowner’s system was both heating and cooling the house at the same time. It seems odd, but no one in the family felt heat coming out of the vents because the heat was mixed with the cool air from the air conditioner and they “cancelled” each other out…all the while using a crazy amount of energy fighting each other.
Fortunately, this issue was resolved, but the electricity provider wouldn’t take pity on the homeowner. He coughed up the outrageous bill and learned a valuable lesson in the process: Homeowners should pay close attention to HVAC systems and be on the lookout for changes in how the unit is functioning.
A unit can run non-stop for a number of reasons, but it most likely indicates a problem with the system or some other issue in the home that needs correction. Here are a few of the common culprits:
HVAC Unit Size and “Fit”
A properly sized, energy-efficient central air conditioning system will run fairly continuously in the summer to maintain a constant, desired temperature in your home. If the unit is too small it has to work harder to cool your home. Over time, this increases the wear and tear on the unit and will shorten its life. In addition, this undersized system will never be able to cool your home to your satisfaction and breakdowns will be common. If the unit is too large it can’t effectively remove moisture from the air which results in an output of moist, clammy air. The system will also use excessive amounts of electricity leading to higher utility bills.
It’s important to note that the size of your ductwork should be proportional to the size of the air conditioning unit. If ducts are the wrong size, they may not be able to handle the airflow or distribute cool air efficiently to all parts of the home.
How Old is the Filter?
Do you know when you last changed the air filters in your home? If it’s been awhile, those filters are restricting air flow. Poor air flow cuts down on the amount of cool air the unit can produce, which in turn, forces the air conditioner to run more through the day.
A dirty filter forces the system to work harder which can lead to overheating. Without enough air flowing over the coils, the system is unable to remove humidity and cool the air to the set temperature. All the unit can do is keep running when it shouldn’t. Be sure to clean or replace filters once a month or as recommended by the manufacturer for best performance.
Parts Don’t Last Forever
Failing parts on a — like motors, capacitors, and the compressor — can result in a high electric bill. The reduction in production from a failing part will cause your system to be less efficient.
For example, if there’s a failing condenser motor on the unit’s condenser and it’s trying to cool the home, the motor won’t be able to remove heat from the home very well. The struggling motor and a thermostat that’s never satisfied will cause the motor to run longer and contribute to an outrageous electric bill. This process can continue until the motor fails and the unit breaks down.
If a system seems to never shut off, there could be an issue with the thermostat. Maybe the home has reached the correct temperature, but the thermostat is not registering the correct indoor conditions. In this case, the unit will continue running. You can check the thermostat by placing another thermometer near the location of the thermostat. After an hour or two, check the reading. If it’s at or near the desired temperature, there may be a problem with your thermostat.
To see if the thermostat is the problem, try setting it at least 5 degrees higher or lower than the normal setting. If it’s working properly, the unit should turn on immediately. Also check that the thermostat is correctly set to “heat” or “cool.” The main circuit breaker should also be in the “on” position.
We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for air conditioning units to receive regular maintenance for proper operation. Ideally, maintenance should happen twice a year, in the spring before the warm weather hits and in the early fall after things have cooled off and it’s no longer in use. If the system isn’t clean—including ducts, coils, and the air filter—it will likely encounter airflow problems and inefficient cycling.
Apex Heating and Air Conditioning’s technicians can check to make sure everything is clean and functioning properly. Regular maintenance of the unit will not only help ensure it’s in good working order, but it will also extend the life of the system.
Bring in the New
Air conditioners have a life span. Even if the unit’s been properly maintained, it will eventually wear out. At this point, it’s best to consider replacing the old, inefficient unit with a new and more energy efficient model.
It’s best to address issues before they become problems. When you notice a change in the quality of air in your home, or the fan running more than usual, or even a faulty reading on your thermostat, it’s best to call us at Apex Heating and Air Conditioning and let us complete a proper inspection of the air conditioning system. You’ll feel more confident knowing trained professionals have addressed and corrected the problem—and saved you from the potential shock of a $900 utility bill.
Discover issues before they become a problem by calling Apex Heating and Air Conditioning today at (919) 467-8823 to schedule a checkup, or signup for our annual maintenance contract.
(Sources: Energy Vanguard; Direct Energy; EnergyStar; Repair Clinic; and Angie’s List.)