Should I Turn Off My A/C To Save More Money?

Saving more money by turning off your a/c when goneIt’s starting to get warm out there again, which means one thing…

Time to tune up and turn on those air conditioners while trying to save money in the process. Tough job!

If you’re anything like me, then you know how uncomfortable it can be when you’re hot in your own home. I hate being hot, so I love air conditioning. I consider it one of the greatest inventions around, just due to how much I hate being hot. As someone who is relatively frugal, I’m always torn between blasting the AC on high and enjoying those frosty temperatures or saving money. Typically, I push toward saving money. The good thing is you can save money and use your AC if you just plan a little and use some technology.

The majority of homeowners likely wonder whether it is better to turn off the AC while away or keeping it on all day. We certainly want to stretch every dollar, and we want the most efficient way of running things. But you also probably don’t want to die during the blistering heat of summer − which begs the question if turning the system off is worth the agony. But some people believe that leaving an air conditioner at all times − even while away − is the better path towards smaller energy bills. So…

Should I Turn Off My A/C While Away to Save Money?

I was lucky enough to have a HVAC technician help answer this question for me. Jason is a long-time HVAC tech who understands how air conditioners work and knows the answer to this constant question. Jason is going to take it from here!

Being an HVAC technician for about 23 years, I’ve learned a good deal of how air conditioners work and how to maximize your indoor climate control efficiency. So, what about the belief that you shouldn’t turn off your air conditioner while away?

The myth: Leaving your air conditioner on all day will help save money in the long run by not having to kick start it each and every time you turn it back on.

The truth: Absolutely false.

How Air Conditioners Work

By keeping your air conditioner on at all times during the day, you’re not using an air conditioner efficiently, because leaving the air on all day (even when you’re not home) results in a higher use of energy. It would seem to be common sense that something that works harder is spending more energy, but this assumption is not an accurate reflection of how air conditioners work.  Fluctuating to accommodate for a constant temperature is far more taxing on an air conditioner than when it’s working at full capacity. Air conditioners work best when they are operating in full gear.

Leaving the air conditioner on throughout the day is also more damaging to your system. You’ll see several years added to the life of your system if you use it only when necessary instead of relying on the superstition that constantly running a system is somehow beneficial. Cut this habit now, and you’ll also notice a difference in your utility bills in no time. Most people don’t realize that by altering the temperature on the thermostat by one degree, your air conditioner is working at a difference of 5% — resulting in you saving or wasting your money in the long run. Pick the temperature that is right for you and your family.

The best way to maximize your savings and your comfort level is to purchase a programmable thermostat. It’s one of the first things I purchase when I buy a home (if there isn’t one already present). They pay for themselves quickly and you can enjoy a comfortable house, a well-functioning air conditioner, and a happy family. There are some great ones out there to purchase, but here are a few of the most popular.

That being said, it’s also not wise to leave your system running hard constantly. While running full blast is efficient on start-up, inching the thermostat to leave it constantly on full blast will leave your home freezing cold in July and can increase your energy bill.

Related Read: 43 Ways to Save More Money Today

The cost of running an air conditioner can go well over two dollars per hour. By switching off your air conditioner while away, you’ll immediately see the change in your future bills. Knowing that you’re saving money while using your air conditioner in an efficient manner will keep you and your family happier in the long run.

So, the answer to the question is: Don’t leave your A/C running when you’re gone!

Other A/C Related Money Saving Tips

We won’t leave you hanging with just answering this question. You should know a few more ways to save money with your air conditioner.

First and foremost, make sure you get it serviced regularly. Most experts suggest twice a year (once in the Spring and once in the Fall). This is especially important when you have one system that does both heating and cooling. Always ask around for deals to see which company can provide you the service for the best price. You can’t get a discount unless you ask!

Second, if you have ceiling fans, use them! They are a great way to keep cooler and to push warm air out of your house. It also will help you circulate the cold air from the A/C around the house. Ceiling fans are excellent distributors of air and a great way to save more money on your utility bills.

Third, play with your thermostat settings to see what comfort level you can get away with. For every degree you raise or lower your thermostat, the more money or less money you save (depending on the season). Remember, for every degree, your A/C can be 5% more or less efficient. Those savings can add up over time.

What other tips do you think people should consider when choosing how to run their air conditioner to save money?

Author Bio: Jason Wall is an HVAC technician who writes tips on air conditioning and heating for Griffith Energy Services. When he isn’t working or writing, he can be found enjoying a good baseball game or spending time with his family.

Should you turn off your a/c when gone to save more money?

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About the Author Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress support company, along with another blog, Eyes on the Dollar, which is another great personal finance blog.

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71 comments
DC @ Young Adult Money says July 25

The only thing this post fails to mention is pets. If you have cats/dogs, you have to leave your air conditioner on even if you aren’t’ home.

Reply
    Jason Wall says July 25

    @ DC: You bring up a great point. But consider that the air conditioning needs of pets can vary hugely on the breed. Huskies can comfortably sleep in the snow, but leaving a pug in an unheated house can turn them into a pugsicle. I’m completely for keeping a safe and comfortable environment for pets, but they don’t always need the temperature that we need to be safe and happy.

    Reply
    Grayson says July 28

    I have two dogs and don’t leave my A/C unit on during the day when I am not home. I have curtains and blinds and that keeps the house at around 80. My A/C is set up high in the summer and they don’t have any issue. It is colder in the house than outside, so that is all good.

    Reply
Matt Becker says July 25

We don’t have central air, but we have a window unit in our bedroom and only turn it on just before we go to bed. If we had central air we would definitely get a programmable thermostat. But DC’s point about pets is a good one. We definitely leave fans on in one room so that our pets have somewhere to stay cool. It would be nice to be able to do something similar with the AC so you don’t have to keep the whole house on full blast.

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    Jason Wall says July 25

    That is a pretty important caveat about central air conditioning. A lot of clients I’ve had ask if closing the vents in certain rooms is a viable option on controlling the temperature of each room individually, and the answer is a resounding no. This only causes your system to work harder to reach that room to cool it off. I’d always consider keeping a few indoor fans for this reason.

    Reply
    Grayson says July 28

    We have central and a window a/c unit because our central is too small for our house size. It saves us a lot of money to use the window unit in our room when we go to bed. We like it cold at night.

    Reply
CashRebel says July 25

Thanks for dispelling this myth. This is one pf the biggest concerns I have to deal with when helping people become more energy efficient. This and running the AC when you could just open the windows.

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    Jason Wall says July 25

    Thanks for reading! Opening windows and adjusting blinds to shield sunlight can make a big impact on an indoor climate. Opening windows parallel across a room is especially useful when possible, since it creates a draft that more efficiently removes warm air.

    Reply
    Grayson says July 28

    Many people forget about opening the windows. You can really create some good air flow.

    Reply
Edward Antrobus says July 25

We keep the windows open as much as possible, but days where the A/C is needed, it has to be on full-time. Our house has 4 adults who work different schedules plus my mother-in-law “works from home”at our place. Plus a dog and three cats. The house is never empty.

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    Jason Wall says July 25

    There are definitely some homes where the AC has to run overtime. Keep in mind that every degree you notch up on a thermostat equals roughly 5% of an energy difference; adjusting your system throughout the day can make a big difference, too.

    Reply
      Edward Antrobus says July 25

      Mostly, we just set it to 78. The hallway with the thermostat is always 2 degrees warmer than any of the living areas, so 78 gets us 80.

      Reply
    Grayson says July 28

    When we have a lot of people here, our a/c is on full blast because it takes too much to keep the temperature manageable.

    Reply
Michelle says July 25

If you have pets, then you probably don’t want to turn the air off. I live in St. Louis and this week is has been pretty cold (70s and 80s), but the norm is 100 degree heat every single day. My pets would not do well in that, and I would never make them suffer like that!

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    Grayson says July 28

    How warm does it get in your house when the outside temp is 100? My house will still be around 85 and that is more than comfortable for a dog.

    Reply
      Michelle says July 29

      85 would be too hot for one of my dogs as we have a French Bulldog with a breathing issue.

      Reply
Tara says July 25

What about leaving the A/C on, but turning the temperature setting up to 80/85? I heard it was better to turn up the temperature versus turning it off completely if you lived in a hot area and you were only gone for a few hours each day.

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    Debt Blag says July 25

    When I lived in Texas, I kept mine at 95 while I was away at work, but this was more so that my apartment would get cool again in a reasonable amount of time after I got home and lowered it to room temp, than to save money.

    I don’t know that this would save money though…but it’s not really a fair comparison since leaving it off entirely would have meant I’d spend an extra hour at home uncomfortable

    Reply
    Grayson says July 28

    I turn mine up to something that I know it probably won’t reach, but if it does, then the A/C will kick on. Turning it up high and turning if off will still give you the same result.

    Reply
Anthony @ Thrifty Dad says July 25

I agree with you. I’ve tried both methods and turning the temperature up high enough so the AC doesn’t kick in, has definitely saved us a lot more than keeping it consistent and on all the time. Unfortunately, our AC unit died a couple years ago and we had to replace it. it was a 13-year old unit, so it was time to go. But I sometimes wonder if having the AC go on and off all the time is more taxing on the unit?

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    Grayson says July 28

    Sorry to hear that your A/C unit died. I was surprised that so many people think it is a good idea to keep their unit on the whole time at a constant temperature. That just doesn’t make sense.

    Reply
Eric J. Nisall says July 25

I’m with you Grayson and use a digital thermostat to better regulate my system. It’s programmed for when I leave, return, go to bed and wake up and has settings for individual days so the weekends are set differently than weekdays (in case I actually sleep in). It just makes life much more manageable, especially in the sweltering summers so the house is cool by the time I get home, rather than first having to lower the temp then wait for it to start kicking in. And when I’m there, I would gladly spend the money to be absolutely comfortable in my own home as opposed to people who do everything possible to not spend a single penny when it can be avoided.

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    Grayson says July 28

    A programmable thermostat is more than worth the cost. They will save you some serious money.

    Reply
Debt Blag says July 25

As an extension of the myth you disproved, what do you think of leaving the air conditioner’s fan on while away? Without the compressor running, you’d probably be using 1/10th the power.

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    Edward Antrobus says July 25

    Fans don’t actually cool the air, they just keep it moving. When air moves about you, it helps dissipate body heat faster, making you feel cooler. If nobody is in the flow of air, then all the fan is doing is wasting electricity.

    Reply
    Grayson says July 28

    Edward makes a good point. The fan will just move air around the house, but you probably won’t feel it. Use a ceiling fan and that will be a better move.

    Reply
krantcents says July 25

We were just away fro the weekend and shut off the A/C. We closed up the house and turned it on when we returned. The temperature in the house was within range as if the A/C was on despite the high temperatures in southern California. In other parts of the country, you may need the A/C for humidity control.

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    Grayson says July 28

    I do the same thing Krant. The humidity is bad here in the south, but when I turn of my unit when I am gone, it is not too bad in the house.

    Reply
Justin @ The Family Finances says July 25

My wife stays at home with our little boy, so our air conditioning gets a fair amount of use. We do use a programmable thermostat and usually have it set pretty high to help keep the cost in check.

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    Grayson says July 28

    We have to keep the house cool longer due to our son sleeping so early and that has increased our costs for sure, but we are working it out.

    Reply
Kurt @ Money Counselor says July 25

We practice opening up the house early in the morning and then shutting all the windows my mid-morning. The house then stays pretty cool until evening, then we open up again. This doesn’t work of course when it’s really hot or when it doesn’t cool off much even overnight, but in our area it works most of the time.

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Laurie says July 25

Thanks, Jason, for clarifying on the power usage. We’ve always believed in turning ours off while away and then kicking it up when we got home, but weren’t entirely sure that this was the right way to go. We also turn it a few degrees higher than we’re comfy with, just to maximize cost savings.

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Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says July 25

This is a great reminder. Our energy bills have decreased quite a bit since getting a programmable thermostat. We’re able to program it to be warmer during the day when we’re not home and then cooler at night when we are there. It’s pretty crazy how much more it costs to keep the house a few degrees cooler.

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    Grayson says July 28

    I agree with you there Jake. I find it amazing how much you can save by just kicking it up a few degrees.

    Reply
Canadianbudgetbinder says July 25

I don’t leave the A/C on all day even if we are home. It’s very expensive with the time of use so I run it at night time and it shuts off early in the morning. It keeps the house cool all day long until and if we need to turn it back on again after 7pm.

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    Grayson says July 28

    I just let my program work it’s magic. I have perfected it over time and I think it works for me.

    Reply
Alex says July 28

I try to pre-program a schedule that keeps the house cool enough for my cat while also keeping it more comfortable for us when we’re home.

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    Grayson says July 28

    How cool does your cat need it? I know many people that have outdoor cats that live outside and won’t come inside. They are fine when it is 100 degrees. I just don’t know why your cat would need it cooler than 85 degrees. 85 with little to no humidity is a nice temperature.

    Reply
Pauline @ Make Money Your Way says July 28

My boyfriend had a family house in Miami and they occupied it only for holidays, but left the AC on all the time! They said it was too humid and otherwise the house would be moldy and have structural damages much more expensive than the electric bill.

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    Grayson says July 29

    Couldn’t they just get a dehumidifier and run that instead of the A/C? I am sure it would be much cheaper than running the A/C constantly.

    Reply
Derek | MoneyAhoy.com - Money Saving, Making Money, and Investment Ideas says August 5

If it’s below 76 F at night, I’ll open the windows and use a box fan to pull out air and draw in fresh air. This can really lower the temperature of the house in the morning and probably saves $5 – $10 a day due to lower AC usage for the first several hours during the day.

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thepotatohead says August 5

I turn off my A/C when I go to work. I usually keep my house at 78 degrees in the summer. The most I’ve had my temperature go up was from 78 to around 83-84 while I was at work for 10 hours. That was on the one of the days where it was in the mid 90s. Usually its around 80 when I come back so it doesn’t take too long to run the A/C before its back at 78. I keep my blinds closed during the day, and will also use fans, so often times I don’t even run the A/C. My house is all electric, so the electricity bill is the bulk of my utilities, so minimizing A/C usage is a must.

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Kiwi says June 25

Where are you located though? I live in a desert where it frequently reaches 116+ (F) outside and we are frequently told that you raise the thermostat while away, but never turn it off completely because the energy required to bring the house back down would damage the A/C faster….do you think turning it off applies to all climates?

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    Grayson Bell says June 25

    That’s the point of a programmable thermostat. If you raise it high enough, then it does shut off the system until that temperature is reached. Every climate is different, but your until is still active, but not pumping. I live in the south where we have constant 100 degree days. That being said, my house doesn’t get over 83 inside with the A/C off. I put my programmable thermostat to that point and save money!

    Reply
      Angela De La Cerda says July 28

      I live in Central California and this summer heat in the hundreds has been driving my family up the wall. Last month our bill doubled, which left me in awe. I only irregularly used the A/C during the billing period, at 82 and would only let it run for 3 hours max each mid afternoon. We contacted PG&E and tried to see if the bill was real (ha!) and I guess we have to check our unit and see if it needs any maintenance done, or if the SMART meter is faulty we would have to have a pro look at it. My question is: where do I find one? They said if we can prove that the meter is faulty then we can go from there. I sure as heck am not asking PG&E. So we decided to buy a couple more fans and open windows, but the majority of the day the fans would just blow really hot suffocating air. Then I was advised by a friend to stop shutting off the A/C, as it sucks up more power during start up is what he said. He told me to keep it at 82 and not turn it off (it will be in auto mode, he added). So now I am at a stall, because it has been 2 days since I took his advice. We have 2 dogs and 2 humans (AND a half) living in this house, and I am a full-time housewife. What would you suggest I do? Thanks in advance!

      Reply
not sean says March 10

what if your roommate’s a fu***** selfish moron and cranks the AC down to 60 all night because he feels hot because he’s a fat retarded fu***** selfish prick. F*** YOU SEAN!

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Natalie @ Financegirl says April 25

Love this tip!! I do it, and I’m glad it’s now verified that it works. I bet this post will help a lot of people!

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Ms MoneyPennies says May 17

What is the A/C you speak of? But seriously, I only have a window unit in the summer for my bedroom and I only use it when it gets above 90 degrees. It barely impacts my electricity bill which is nice. I can’t imagine leaving it running all day! Living in the North East allows me to get away with this 🙂

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    Grayson Bell says May 17

    Haha, down here in the south, AC is a necessity. You can leave your windows open, but you just let in hot/humid air that makes things worse.

    Reply
John Smith says May 23

That’s why I love the new wireless AC tech out there now. With things like NEST you can auto adjust temperature and even control the dial from your phone away from home.

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Ely Fernandez says June 9

I work from home and need it to be as quiet in my room as possible, which is why having the window open wouldn’t be an option for me (far too many pets in my neighborhood hahaha). Recently I’ve tried turning off the A/C when its nice & cold, leaving it off for about 2 hours and then back on when it starts getting too hot for my taste. My mom has been fussing about it, saying it’s best to simply lower the thermostat instead of turning it on and off throughout the day.

My question is my mother correct? I am wrong in simply having it rest every 2 hours?

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    Grayson Bell says June 9

    No, you are correct. As stated in the article, air conditioners work best when running at full capacity. You’re effectively doing that when you shut it off for two hours. It’s not running at all during that time and then cranking at full capacity when you turn it back on. That being said, you could use a programmable thermostat (if you don’t already have one) and tweak the settings for the time of day. I work from home and that’s what I’ve done. I have it set to the hottest I can stand without being uncomfortable during the day. My unit rarely turns on most days until I set it to a better temp when my wife and son get home.

    Reply
      Ely Fernandez says June 9

      Thank you!! 🙂

      Reply
Chrissy says June 15

Any advice for homes that cool unevenly? My roommate’s bedroom is over the garage and it’s easily 10 degrees warmer in there than the master bedroom. If we turn the AC down any more, my room is like a refrigerator and his is still a sauna even with the doors open. He has 2 east facing windows with blackout curtains and we have 3 south facing Windows with regular curtains so I don’t understand why the vast difference in temps between the 2 rooms. I would add more insulation but the garage has been finished so that would mean tearing out the drywall.

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    Grayson Bell says June 15

    We had that problem in our old house. Our master bedroom was the hottest of all the rooms. If we blasted the A/C, it would be cold everywhere else. The easiest and most cost-effective solution is get a window a/c unit. Seriously, they work awesome and we saved a ton of money by just cooling our room down while keeping the other rooms comfortable. You can get some good ones on Amazon or from a local home improvement store. You can take it out after the summer too. Simple and easy.

    Reply
John Korsgaard says August 11

We have an extra ac unit for a spare room off the garage. I am wondering if the general rule you have articulated applies to turning it completely off overnight vs setting the thermostat at about 82. As it is exposed to the always hot garage in-between and gets all kinds of sun thru the windows from when morning breaks until we get out there around 9 or 10. We do whichever each night for weeks?

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    Grayson Bell says August 12

    You don’t have to turn it off, but if you have it set to a temp where it won’t be running all of the time, then that is OK. It’s the same principle of a programmable thermostat, but you have to do it manually.

    Reply
Alexis@FITnancials says February 17

We turn off the AC for the majority of the year since we live in a shaded area (which really helps in Texas weather!). That’s something we thought about before we moved to our current apartment – we wanted somewhere that would keep somewhat cold during the year.

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Centsai says March 24

Thanks for all the AC help! I definitely did not know this before, so it is really great to know I can save some extra money!

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Adriana @MoneyJourney says March 25

We actually don’t own an AC, and don’t plan on investing in one anytime soon.
We’re lucky to have thick walls, so we save a lot of money on heat during winter, and during the warm &hot months, we have plenty of shade.
The money saving aspect of not owning an AC is indeed a big plus. But the real reason is we prefer to avoid any health problems that might be associated with using one. I’m pretty sure we’d “abuse” the AC if we had one. We’re better off without it 😀

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    Grayson Bell says March 25

    Well, it gets hot here in North Carolina during the summer, so A/C is needed in my opinion. Not sure of the health problems associated with using one unless you have dirty ducts moving air around your house, but as long as your comfortable.

    Reply
Matt says March 27

A programmable thermostat is a must-have in my book. I have mine set to kick the AC on about 30 minutes before I get home so it’s nice and comfy when I arrive without having to use more power than needed.

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    Grayson Bell says March 27

    I completely agree. Game changer in my opinion if you want a comfortable home and save money.

    Reply
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says April 2

We keep the temp at 72 at our house and use fans when it’s too hot. We’re thinking of keeping a higher temp this summer to save money. We’ll see how it goes.

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    Grayson Bell says April 2

    We run 76 in the house during the summer and then turn it down to 74 at night.

    Reply
David Chen says April 18

I always wondered what you should do in order to save money with A/C, but never truly found a good answer. This will do the trick! I use to have my temperature set at 72, but I will shoot for 75 from now on.

Reply
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