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Today marks the first official day of Spring. While our weather here in the midwest has not given barely a hint of actual spring weather (when I woke up today, it was 17 degrees out, with a wind chill barely above 0), the fact is that warmer weather will soon be here.
With that, we’ll eventually be turning off the heat, and at some point turning up the air conditioning. There are a few things to keep in mind as you make that switch:
Check Your Program
I’m hoping that by now, everybody has a programmable thermostat installed. This will allow you to vary the temperature automatically, so that adjustments can be made to cover times when nobody is at home or when people are sleeping. These can save a good deal of money, but it’s important to check to make sure that your program is intact.
This past winter, the batteries in our thermostat died. I woke up one morning to find it five degrees below what it should be, and a ‘LOW BATTERY’ warning. This irritated me because I had just changed the batteries a few weeks prior, but I guess the batteries were either old or defective. On top of it, the thermostat is supposed to warn of low battery at least a month before it gets to the point where it will no longer work, but it didn’t do so (maybe if the batteries were bad, they died suddenly?). In any case, the power was so low that the thermostat couldn’t muster enough power to kick on the furnace. It also meant that when I took the batteries out to change them, the thermostat immediately lost all programming (usually you have about 30 seconds to change the batteries where it will retain the programming). This meant that I had to re-program everything. I did so, for the heat, but I left the cooling alone. I will have to make sure to program the cooling cycle into the thermostat prior to switching the air on for the season.
(That reminds me, it’s probably a good idea to write down your program so that you aren’t struggling to re-program it. I’m sure that my program will not be exactly what I had last year).
Adjust Your Output
In the summer, our house cools in such a way that I close off every vent that has a lever in the downstairs floor. Some air still gets out, and there is still one vent in the kitchen that doesn’t have a lever, and this is enough to cool the entire first floor, and keep the second floor at a comfortable temperature. Otherwise, what happens is that the downstairs cools off quickly, and since the thermostat is down there, it turns off, yet the upstairs will get sweltering hot. That means we’d either be very hot while we sleep, or we’d have to lower the temp, increasing our overall energy consumption. By balancing out our output, we’re able to maximize the work our cooling system has to do.
(Note: in the winter, we leave pretty much everything open which keeps a good balance throughout the house).
Look At Unused Areas But Tread Carefully
I’m on the fence about this one. When I was growing up, my grandparents had a radiant based heating system (and no A/C) which had a radiator in each room. They had a couple of bedrooms that they were no longer using, so they turned off the heat to those rooms, and shut the door. That made sense to me as the main boiler unit would simply have to work less to generate less steam output.
With a forced air system like we have, the output is going to be the same, even if you close off rooms. It isn’t going to blow less air, so I question whether you save by shutting off rooms, especially when I’ve read that the size of your furnace and A/C units are (at least in theory) sized for the cubic footage of your house. By reducing the area, you could be creating other issues.
In the case of cooling, you could be reducing the time that the unit runs since it has less area to cool, but since the cooling system is designed to extract humidity from your home, less cooling means less extraction. This means that your home could end up feeling hotter as more humidity remains, meaning that you’ll likely…you guessed it…go and turn the thermostat down, meaning that you’re not going to reduce your usage at all.
Overall, there are various methods you can take as the seasons change to ensure that your system is functioning effectively. Now is the time to start planning for that switch.
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