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What’s Better? Turn Off AC or Leave It On?

You may have wondered as you’re leaving for work in the morning, should I shut off the air conditioner? Sure, it’s nice to come home to a cool house. But keeping the house like a refrigerator all day while it’s standing empty may not be the best thing for the long-term health of the AC system– or the short-term health of your wallet.

Turn Off AC or Leave It On


Turn A/C Off or Leave It On?

There are two schools of thought on this question. One is that AC systems work better when they’re working hard. So even if the house warms up while you’re away, your AC will happily rise to the challenge and have it cooled within 15 minutes of your arrival home.

The other perspective is that it’s tough on the system to be turning it off and on frequently, and that it’s easier to keep a house moderately cool than to allow the temperature to rise.

Air conditioning an empty home

As with most questions, the answer is, It depends. Do you live in a single-family home, or a condo? How long will you be away– for a few hours while you’re shopping, or for two weeks’ vacation? What temperature do you keep your house at?

The EPA says it’s better to shut off the air conditioner if you will be away for more than a few hours. If you’re just popping out to walk the dog, leave it running. But if you’re at work for eight hours or more each day, shut it down. Following this line of thinking, it stands to reason that vacationers should come home to a toasty house.

If you live in a condo, your hot ceiling becomes someone’s hot floor. So you might want to keep the AC set at some minimum temperature– at least when your neighbors are home.

Regulating the temperature

The issue of temperature settings is crucial. You can buy a programmable thermostat for about $30 and save hundreds on your AC bill each summer.

Just set the thermostat to turn off the system before you leave for work, and set it to turn back on a half-hour before you’re due home. Or– if you’d rather keep your home at a minimum cool– set it for 78 while you’re gone, to drop back to 68 just before you arrive home.

Some experts say it’s better to keep the AC running– even if your thermostat is set as high as 85 degrees– while you’re on vacation, to keep the air circulating and protect furnishings.

Leave it running but lessen the strain

No matter what you decide– off or on, there are things you can do to lessen the burden on your AC system.

  • Make sure the windows and doors are closed.
  • Draw the blinds or drapes during the heat of the day.
  • Have your system serviced annually, before the cooling season.
  • Make sure your filters are changed regularly.
  • Find a good a/c contractor to check your refrigerant levels and ductwork.

These simple steps will help keep your system is running properly. Then chill out in a nice, cool house this summer– at least while you’re home to enjoy it.

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