Air conditioning typically accounts for 12 percent of a home's energy costs

By the time spring rolls around each year, New Englanders are usually so sick of the cold that people vow not to complain about the summer heat. It's easier said than done; scorching heat waves and high humidity can send you scrambling for the relief of a beach, pool, or air-conditioned building.

A recent analysis by the United States Energy Information Administration suggests that the typical home pays a fair amount for that last perk, with air conditioning accounting for 12 percent of the average household's energy expenditures and 17 percent of electricity costs. However, costs varied considerably by climate, with some areas spending more than twice as much and others paying very little.

The EIA's most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey, which collected data for the year 2015, determined that 87 percent of American homes have air conditioning equipment of some kind. The typical household paid $265 per year for air conditioning costs out of an average annual home energy tab of $1,856.

Homes in the hot, humid climates of the Deep South and Hawaii had the most reliance on air conditioning. Ninety-four percent of homes in this region used air conditioning, which accounted for 27 percent of energy expenditures and $525 a year.

By contrast, the average household in the marine climates on the West Cost spent just 2 percent of their annual energy expenditures, or $60, on air conditioning. Almost half of the homes in this region did not use air conditioning.

In a region identified as mixed-humid, encompassing a large swath of southern states and stretching as far as Kansas, homeowners typically spent 17 percent of their annual energy budget on air conditioning. A mixed-dry/hot-dry climate, ranging from western Texas to inland California, was associated with a 12 percent annual expenditure on air conditioning.

Much of the northern and western part of the country was classified as cold or very cold. In this climate, the typical household spent 5 percent of their annual energy expenditures on air conditioning.

The survey determined that approximately 4.2 million of the 5.6 million homes in New England census region used air conditioning equipment, including 1.5 million that used central air conditioning and 2.8 million that used individual units. A total of 3.6 million used floor, window, or table fans, while 3 million used ceiling fans.

The EIA determined that about 60 percent of homes in the United States use central air conditioning, while 23 percent use individual units and 5 percent use both types of equipment. An increasing number of homes have been retrofitted to have central air, with the number of homes built in the 1970s featuring central air increasing from roughly half in the 1980 and 1993 surveys to 67 percent in 2015.

Central air conditioning was typically associated with higher cooling costs. The average household with this feature spent $299 on air conditioning, compared to $156 among homes with individual units.

However, central air conditioning was also used more in larger homes and was cheaper to operate on a square footage basis. Central air cost an average of 15 cents per square foot, compared to 31 cents per square foot for individual units.

The survey also looked at other cooling methods. The EIA found that the typical home with evaporative coolers spent $161 a year to operate this feature, while the average costs were $128 for dehumidifiers and $36 for ceiling fans. Central air conditioning was also associated with a modest $16 annual cost for air handlers to circulate cooled air in the home.


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