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Don’t get HOT over your AC bill

Illinois households burn an average of $2,693 a year on energy bills, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, and half of that goes into heating and cooling. As summer approaches, it’s time to start thinking how to keep air conditioning bills from going through the roof.

Repair or replace?
Energy Star, the federal program that helps consumers identify money-saving appliances, recommends upgrading to an energy-efficient central air conditioning unit if your current one is over 10 years old. Having difficulty deciding whether to repair or replace a unit? Angie’s List says to use the “5,000 rule”—multiply the age of the equipment by the repair cost. If that exceeds $5,000, replace it.

Maintenance
Get your AC unit inspected once a year by a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist. Putting off routine maintenance can cost you more later if the whole system breaks down.
A word of warning: CUB gets a lot of questions about a company called Nicor Home Solutions—an unregulated sister company of the utility Nicor Gas—that offers maintenance plans for $8.95 to $15.95 per month. Be careful with these offers.

Before you sign up, find out if your AC unit comes with a warranty that already covers maintenance. You can also shop around. You may be able to find better deals through local heating and cooling professionals.

Cutting your AC bill

Set your thermostat appropriately: In the summer, keep the inside temperature as close as you can to the temperature outside. You have to decide what’s best for your health and comfort in your own home, but the Department of Energy recommends setting the thermostat at 78 degrees in the summer.

Participate in AC Cycling: ComEd will give you $5 to $10 off your monthly electric bill between June and September for allowing the utility to remotely cycle your central air conditioner on and off on certain days. The fan will continue to circulate already cooled air, so you may not even notice a difference in your home. These programs can make a big difference by reducing electricity demand on hot summer days to help prevent power outages and lower rates.

To participate in the program, call 1-800-986-0070, or enroll online, at www.comed.com/accycling. (At this time, Ameren Illinois does not have a similar offer, but CUB is constantly urging the utilities to offer such programs.)

Invest in a smart thermostat: A smart thermostat can pay for itself in efficiency savings. Plus, ComEd, Ameren, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas all offer rebates of $100 or more. Check out the energy efficiency page for more information.