Straight Talk Articles
Keep it cool without blowing the budget: 3 Options for Home Cooling
Dear Pat and Brad:
My wife and I have been in our 1500 square-foot house with no air conditioning for ten years now, and we’re tired of it! What options should we look into so we can stay cool this summer? – Kyle
It’s the right time of year to think about how to stay cool this summer. There are a few low cost/no cost strategies, such as using fans to keep air moving wherever you happen to be in the house, turning off any electrical device you can, and blocking direct sun with window shades. If you live in a climate with cool summer evenings, you can let in cool air late at night or early in the morning, then seal up the house to keep that cool air from leaking out.
If that’s not enough, you can install air conditioning (AC). There are portable systems, a zone approach and central cooling. We’ve included some very approximate cost estimates, but be aware that costs are highly variable.
WINDOW or PORTABLE COOLING
Window AC units or portable AC are the lowest cost approach. Portable units can be moved from room to room, and come equipped with a length of duct to exhaust hot air out a nearby window. Window units are mounted in a window opening and cool one room. The efficiency of portable and window units have improved, but none of them are as efficient as most central AC units or a mini-split heat pump. If you live in a hot, dry climate you could consider an evaporative cooler (sometimes referred to as a swamp cooler). Window units have been around for a while but there are now portable ones available. (https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/home-cooling-systems/evaporative-coolers). Evaporative cooling can be less expensive than traditional AC, but don’t buy until you do the research to see how well evaporative cooling works in your area. Whatever you choose, make sure it is rated for the size of the room you are cooling.
- Cost: $149 - $1000 per new unit, depending on your climate and how many square feet you’re trying to cool.
A ductless mini-split heat pump has a compressor outside the house connected to air handler units in as many as four rooms. Each room’s temperature can be controlled separately. Ductless mini-splits are an especially good choice for homes without forced air ducting systems or with leaky or undersized ductwork. An additional benefit: Heat pumps can be a supplemental source of heat in the winter.
- Cost: approx. $3000 to $10,000 including installation (https://homeguide.com/costs/hvac-cost)
If your home has forced air heating ductwork, it can be used for an AC or heat pump unit. This is a good option if the ductwork is sized properly, isn’t leaky and if ducts in unheated attics or crawlspaces are insulated. Another option, in some locations in the country, contractors that can install evaporative cooling as a whole house system ( https://www.xcelenergy.com/staticfiles/xe-responsive/Working%20With%20Us/CO-Central-Air-Conditioning-Evap-Cooling-Brochure.pdf).
- Approx. Cost of central system AC, installed: $3000 to $7000 not including any necessary duct repair.( https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/mortgages/cost-to-install-central-air#:~:text=The%20cost%20to%20install%20central%20air%20conditioning%2C%20including%20the%20unit,of%20your%20existing%20air%20ducts.)
As always, you can save time and money by buying EnergyStar-rated appliances and getting quotes from a few contractors.
Hopefully this information will start you on the path to a cooler home!
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on keeping your home cool, please visit: energy tips page.
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on home cooling options, go to the April 2021 More Information Page.
An evaporative cooler, or “swamp” cooler, is often mounted on the roof. Source: Paul Quesnell, Flickr.com