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How to Use Heat Pumps and Air Conditioning in the Summer

Energy costs typically peak during the winter, but there are many factors in the summer that can lead to increased energy usage, including cooling your home. Since space heating and cooling are one of the largest areas of energy consumption in New Zealand households, it’s still worth considering energy efficiency as summer temperatures rise.

Because heat pumps are one of the most common and cost-effective ways to heat homes in New Zealand, using them to cool your home in the warmer months is an additional benefit. While opening doors and windows is a good way to lower indoor temperatures, knowing how to effectively use heat pumps in the summer is an ideal choice for the hottest days. When used correctly, using a heat pump or air conditioning to cool your home can use the same amount of energy or even less as compared to heating.

Using a heat pump in the summer doesn’t mean your energy bills have to skyrocket, but you can take some measures to improve the cooling efficiency of your heat pump. We’ve compiled some tips for heat pump efficiency to help you stay cool this summer.

Maintaining Your Air Conditioning Unit for Optimal Performance

Entering the summer is a good time to prepare your air conditioning for use in the warmer months, especially if you’ve been using it heavily for heating during the winter.

Annual Service:
Each year, you should perform the following checks on your heat pump/air conditioning unit and repair or replace as needed:

Check the ducts and blowers.
Inspect and/or replace air filters.
Verify thermostat functionality.
Seal any duct leaks.
Inspect airflow.
Check electrical connections.
Ensure the unit heats and cools correctly.
Check belt tension and wear.
Monthly Checks:
Keeping the air filters clean each month is worth it. Especially in the summer, there’s a lot of plant material in the air that can be brought into your home through shoes, clothing, and pets. This can clog your filters faster than you might imagine, meaning your equipment will have to work harder to keep your home cool.

Keep the Outdoor Unit Clear:
Make sure plants, debris, and shrubs aren’t too close to the outdoor unit. Consistent airflow through the unit is crucial to its proper operation.

Keep the Outdoor Unit Cool:
Ensure the outdoor unit is placed in a shaded, dry area, as the hotter the outdoor unit, the harder it is to pump cool air into your home.

Use the Right Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Settings:
Using the correct settings for your air conditioning and heat pump is crucial to effectively cooling your home in the summer without spending too much money. Many settings on your heat pump can be configured for more efficient cooling in the summer.

Not all heat pump settings will yield the most effective cooling results. For example, the “auto mode” feature on heat pumps may be less efficient than other modes because it switches between heating and cooling functions to maintain a constant room temperature. Since you may want cool air to flow through your home during the summer, it’s best to use the cooling mode only in the hottest months.

The direction of airflow settings is also worth looking into. The best way to cool a room is to set the louvers upward or horizontally. This allows cool air to descend from the highest point, cooling the room.

Sometimes, it’s not the heat but the humidity that’s the issue. If your heat pump has a dehumidifier setting, try turning it on for half an hour to dry the air. This can have a significant impact on the perceived coolness in your home.

If you have a ducted central heating or cooling system, make sure all vents are open. This may sound counterintuitive, but if you close the vents, your air conditioner will have to work harder to keep the air cool, which will increase your energy costs.

What Should the Summer Air Conditioning Temperature Be?
For maximum efficiency, the ideal temperature setting for summer air conditioning is between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius. Setting the temperature lower won’t cool your home faster, but it will make your equipment work harder, meaning you’ll use more electricity.

When using the heat pump, try to maintain a consistent temperature setting and turn off the unit when not needed. It’s a common misconception that running the air conditioner 24/7 consumes less electricity than frequently turning it on and off – allowing the air conditioner to run continuously when you’re not at home is likely to consume more energy over the course of the day. You can also use timers or app-controlled devices to turn it back on before you arrive to keep the room cool.

Keeping the Cool Air In:
The principles of cooling your home are similar to heating, but in reverse – you want to keep the cool air in!

Close doors and blinds or curtains if there’s direct sunlight coming in.
If you’re alone at home, close off areas you’re not cooling, so your air conditioner doesn’t have to cool rooms you’re not using.
Also, consider your appliances. If you’re cooking a big meal, isolate the kitchen from the area you’re trying to cool. If no one is using a computer or watching TV, don’t leave them on, as these items generate a lot of heat.
If someone is taking a shower, close the bathroom door and open a window when cooling the room again. Bathrooms not only get hot but also become humid, which can be challenging for your air conditioner to handle.
Remember that good insulation materials can keep your home warm in winter and cool in summer. If you haven’t already, consider insulating at least your floors and ceilings.

Oh, and if you want to stay cool, it’s best not to wear slippers and multiple layers of clothing at the same time. No matter how much air conditioning you have, wearing sweaters in the summer won’t help!

Don’t Want to Use Air Conditioning?
If you don’t want to use air conditioning this summer, you can DIY your cooling.

Use fans instead of a heat pump. Alternatively, most heat pumps or air conditioning units have a “fan-only” setting that serves the same purpose.
During the day, try to open at least a few windows to create air circulation. This will help keep your house cool and dry.
Installing mosquito screens/security screens on doors and windows is also a good way to keep your home cool while preventing insects, kids, and pets from entering.
Whether you use air conditioning, blinds, curtains, or outdoor shades, they are all effective methods of blocking heat. Consider your appliances and what you do at home. Showers, cooking, and using computers, TVs, or vacuum cleaners all generate heat and humidity in your home.
Making your home more energy-efficient in the summer can be as simple as adjusting some settings on your air conditioning or heat pump. If you’re looking for simpler ways to save energy around your home, we’ve put together a series of easy energy-saving habits to help you embark on an energy-saving journey this summer.

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