How to spend the most, get the least from your air conditioner

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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Summer is upon us, bringing barbeques, water slides, fireworks and, yes, huge cooling bills. As a homeowner, you know that the electric bill can make your heart pound like a fresh tin of strawberry pie — but in an entirely different way.

As astronomical as the power bill can get in the summer, most of the cost increase stems from your air conditioning system. Let’s assume for a moment that you feel generous and wish to contribute to the economy by paying the most you can to cool your home. This way, the electric utility gets more of your money and, well, nobody else benefits. If this is your goal, you can do that by following these few simple steps.

Make sure your air conditioner compressor is clogged

Your air conditioner needs to collect air from the outer grills and exhaust that air above the unit. To minimize effectiveness, set plants directly against the unit, or within 18 inches of the grills. If plants are there, air can’t move into the grills and the unit becomes much less efficient. This will go a long way toward making your bill skyrocket.

If you would rather not spend the money on plants, you can do the same with weeds. Allow leafy or viney weeds such as crabgrass or morning glory to climb in and around the grills. They can also choke off the grills in a short period. Voila! Job done.

But if you’re not into greenery, you can accomplish the same thing simply by not taking care of the grills. For example, if you have a lot of dust in the air — or if you have cottonwood trees in your yard or neighborhood — much of the work can be done for you. Just allow the dust and cotton to fill your grills. Make sure you never wash the grills out. It’s a tempting step and so easy: all you would do is turn off the a/c for a moment when you’re barbequeing, and wash the grills off with the hose. It could be done once or twice a year. Remember: resist the urge. If your goal is inefficiency and high costs, washing off your grills is taboo.

Still another way to make your A/C compressor inefficient is to mash and bend the grills with a hammer, with rocks, or whatever children in your neighborhood may use. If a large part of your grills are damaged, the job is done: your goal to pay a maximum cooling bill is almost met.

Make sure the furnace is hammered

You can still do more to give the utility company your money. Inside your home lies another key part of your A/C system. The furnace takes cold gases generated by the compressor, captures the temperature of those gases and sends the cold air through your home. To thwart this process, there are a few key steps you must take.

Efficient furnaces rely heavily on clean filters. To clean out your wallet of all the money you can, make sure you ignore the filter. Whatever you have, leave it there. Let it get clogged with construction dust, dog hair, smoke and paint spray. After all, everyone else is doing it — why be different?

Another advanced method of cash disposal is to go buy one of those cheap 30-day filters and leave it in for years. The nice thing about the really cheap filters is they do a poor job from the beginning and allow much of the dust to flow right into the furnace. Buy a 30-day filter. Then, as the godfather would say, “Forget about it.”

Another tried-and-true technique is to place the filter in a position where it won’t do its job. For example, if your filter is laid horizontally, make sure it’s not held in place. It looks good laying there while the furnace is off, but when air flows into the furnace area, this filter will lift like a boat, allowing the air right around rather than through the filter. This results in a dirty and inefficient furnace and will certainly help you clean out your wallet. As an added bonus, dirty furnaces age more rapidly. The dirtier you can get your furnace, the sooner you will need to replace it. This will also help the rest of the nation's economy and destroy yours.

Contribute to your own economy

There is another choice. Rather than contribute in this way to the economy out there, you could contribute to your own. Rather than burn money like marshmallows at a Boy Scout campfire, take a few inexpensive and simple steps. Keep your compressor clear, your furnace filter clean and your furnace composed. Excessive heat this summer should be what gathers on your barbecue, not in your home.

Garth Haslem is a home inspector with 20 years experience. He is also an author and a regular contributor to Deseret News and KSL. To learn more from Garth, please like "Garth Haslem - the Home Medic" on facebook or go to


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