The ABC’s of Vegas AC

Tips and tidbits about your summer's best friend: air conditioning

Just a coincidence? It’s the 111th anniversary of modern air conditioning. Las Vegas was founded three years later. 

Actually, our first air-conditioned building was the El Portal Theater at 310 Fremont Street, which debuted its coolness on June 21, 1928. If we were to have a citywide holiday, that should be it.

About 65 percent of the average power bill in Las Vegas during summer months is a direct result of AC use.

The recommended thermostat setting is 78 degrees, according to Pam Hilts, manager of residential programs at NV Energy. (She keeps her home at 83.) Every degree you lower the thermostat increases your bill by 2.5 percent. So, by going from 76 degrees to 78, you can save 5 percent.

Ceiling fans don’t really cool off a room—just the people in it. In other words, a fan blowing in an empty room doesn’t directly add any efficiency, but it may keep you from lowering your AC to be comfortable.

Run major appliances in the evening, so as to not make your AC work any harder than it has to in the daytime.

The mPowered program is a pretty cool deal. Sign up at Pick a technician, who comes to your home and installs a smart thermostat, which you’ll be able to adjust remotely via smartphone or online. It’s all free, and you’ll save money on your power bill by not cooling your home as often. The thermostats allow you to reduce the electric load at a time when energy costs are higher, allowing NV Energy to more cost-effectively meet peak demand. The credits you earn from saving the energy company energy are applied to your account at the end of the year.

Hardware stores also have smart thermostats, which are likely better than the ones that came with your house. They let you schedule times for higher set points when no one is home and then cool off before you arrive. Some can even tell when filters need to be replaced.

The average AC unit lasts 15-20 years.

The condensing fan motor goes out every five to 10 years, thanks to our intense heat. And it’s expensive to replace (more than $400, for an average-size unit). It can last twice as long if it’s in the shade, though.

You can get your units inspected every year, but that may be overkill if you’re taking good care of them.

The best way to take care of your units is to change the air filters (they reside in the air-return vents in your house) every 30 days—or 90 days, if they’re high-quality, pleated filters. Also: Hose off your outdoor condensing units once a year to get rid of the dust and debris, which can hamper efficiency. While you’re at it, make sure there is nothing (such as bushes and weeds) within about 2 feet of the condenser that might impede the airflow.

The air-filter debate: One AC contractor we talked to said there really aren’t any residential units that can handle the high-quality, pleated variety because they’re denser than the standard fiberglass filters. Since they cost more and force your units to work harder, he says to use them only if you have bad allergies or breathing problems. Another contractor points out, however, that pleated filters do have the advantage of sturdiness and a snug fit, keeping dust from getting around them and into your unit’s indoor coil. Our advice: During your next inspection, ask the technician which type works best for your system.

NV Energy’s CheckMe Plus offers a tuneup and inspection performed by certified contractors. There are instant rebates for the tuneup (up to $135, but ask your contractor what your true cost will be). You can also get rebates for certain fixes (such as air-duct sealing) and upgrades (including buying a more efficient unit). See for details.

Back to the summer guide. 

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Attack of the Ants!

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Attack of the Ants!

By Matt Jacob

How’s this for a homeowner horror story: “Almost everybody out here will have ants under their slab,” says Grady Jones, an entomologist with Western Exterminator Company who has been in the business for 25 years. “Particularly the Argentine ant, which is our biggest problem. And because they share queens and colonies, they’ll have these vast networks of ants. Your whole neighborhood will be a nest—and that’s not an exaggeration.”