How much will it cost to run window air conditioner all year in PA?
June 10, 2016 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I am considering moving into an apartment where I cannot adjust my own heat, although management takes care to make sure everybody's happy in that department. But due to my health probs, I still may need to run the window air conditioner a LOT, most of the year.

The air conditioner is appropriately sized - 8,000 BTU for 350 square feet (it's a small efficiency apartment.) I figured I may have to run it about 16 hours a day, most days of the year. I am assuming management will keep the heat 74 degrees in the day and 67 at night, and I prefer it 72 degrees max in the day and 65 max at nite.

(It is radiator heating. We are not allowed to touch the valves but can call management. I don't want to open windows because humidity/icy gales.)
posted by serena15221 to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
Here's a calculator for figuring out air conditioning costs. Also, since you say you are only considering this apartment, maybe consider another apartment where you are allowed to regulate the temperature. Given your health problems maybe this particular rental isn't the right one for you.
posted by Rob Rockets at 8:13 AM on June 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would first check with management about what temperatures they will actually keep things at. I would be shocked if it were as high as 74 during the day, especially if the purpose of them not allowing you to set your own heat is to save money on utilities.

I would also see about getting an air conditioner that can be set to "fan" that basically blows in air from the outside. It seems weird to me that you'd be using it as an air conditioner in the middle of the winter in Pennsylvania. Setting it to blow in outside air should do you just fine with much lower costs.

As far as bills, I would say our summer bills are probably about $20-30 higher per month as compared to months when we're not using heat/air. We have a similar sized apartment, but with two window units because of the layout (terrible air flow).
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:14 AM on June 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Insulation? Sun exposure? Windows? Top floor?
posted by amtho at 8:16 AM on June 10, 2016

I would be more than a bit concerned that your window ac unit would not operate as intended when you tried to use it mid-winter. Im no engineer but i think it is safe to assume it was not designed with the idea that it would be sucking in sub-freezing air (i know most have pass-through/fan modes but wouldnt that really be the same as opening the window? if you wanted it to act as a humidity regulator that assumed the unit is able to function in the extreme opposite of its intended conditions).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:45 AM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you would probably be better off getting them to shut the radiators off entirely and using a space heater if necessary. If you're in an apartment building where the other apartments are at 74 you will probably get enough heat just from the surrounding apartments/any pipes that run through your apartment to keep your apartment warm enough.
posted by mskyle at 9:07 AM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

If your windows are standard two-pane windows, you might be able to open them from the top instead of the bottom, which would let heat out (especially good since heat rises) but help with the "icy gales" issue, and then you could run a dehumidifier if necessary.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:21 AM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you would probably be better off getting them to shut the radiators off entirely and using a space heater if necessary.

This would not be legal in many locales.
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on June 10, 2016

2 degrees is a very small temperature drop so your A/C wouldn't be working very hard to remove excess heat as long as there isn't a feedback loop in place (IE: the heating system doesn't try to work harder to heat your place when it detects your space is below the set point). Which means your operating costs would be low.

However A/C units are not designed to run in sub zero temperatures; the oil in the compressor unit will put additional stress on the motor until the unit heats up by running every time the A/C unit cycles. Like others have said though cracking a window any time the exterior temperature is below room temperature would be just as effective in reducing the temperature at practically zero cost. You could even setup a thermostatically controlled window fan. I've used one quite a bit when day time temps are high and night time temps low. The fan I have uses a squirrel cage fan which along with the built in filter has the benefit of a convoluted air flow path which minimizes the effect of wind gusts

As an alternative you could build an insulated enclosure for one or more of your radiators. An adjustable baffle on top will allow you to regulate how much your apartment will be heated by the radiator. They don't have to be all that fancy. Sheets of cardboard lined with aluminum foil attached with spray adhesive enclosing part of the radiator will reduce the efficiency of the radiator; which will serve to drop the temp a few degrees. This will work even if your radiators are of baseboard style.
posted by Mitheral at 10:43 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you would probably be better off getting them to shut the radiators off entirely and using a space heater if necessary.

This would not be legal in many locales.

Which part?
posted by mskyle at 10:49 AM on June 10, 2016

The shutting-off of radiators entirely (esp since it would have to be the landlord doing it). NYC for instance, property owners are required to maintain indoor temperatures of 68F during the day and 55F at night during heating season.
posted by yeahlikethat at 11:16 AM on June 10, 2016

Right, but in apartments I've lived in with building-controlled radiators it will stay well above that min temp even if you shut off the radiators in one apartment. I'm assuming a high- or mid-rise building, which may well be incorrect.
posted by mskyle at 12:01 PM on June 10, 2016

What floor is the prospective apartment on? Heat rises. I used to live in one of those brick mid-rise walkup apartment buildings with steam radiators where you had no control over your heat. My ground floor neighbors were always complaining about how cold they were, and since they were home all day, they could just harrass management to keep turning the heat up. I, on the other hand, lived in a third-floor studio. I'd get home from work in mid-winter, after slogging through a blizzard outside, and it would be 85F and steamy in my apartment, so I would immediately strip down, then open the windows and turn on the various fans I had scattered about. I lived in tanktops and shorts inside the whole time I lived there.

For various reasons, I did not want to deal with a window AC unit; what I've learned about them since is that you really don't want to be running them in sub-zero temps, as others have mentioned. I don't know if a "portable" AC unit might avoid some of these problems, but I also know they're generally less efficient. If your assumptions are correct, it's only two degrees difference between what you want and what you're assuming they'll provide - would the moving air from fans be enough?

If two degrees is enough to make a big difference for you, I would find out from management exactly what temperature promises they make and keep - there's the minimums the law mandates, but their building policies may differ. (For example, during the "heating season," Boston mandates 64F minimum at night, 68F minimum during the day, 78F maximum, but doesn't have similar restrictions from June 15-September 15. My building policy said that they aimed for 72F minimum during the day, 68F minimum at night.)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 12:21 PM on June 10, 2016

I'd ask if you could turn it off in your unit, due to health conditions, or one of the radiators off if there are multiple.

I will warn you in Chicago with a bathroom with no heat 2am pee time is very very chilly.

Do not do the cardboard insulation thing. Way to much of a firehazard.

I do not know of a landlords who sets the heat to 74 in the winter, 72 is generous around here, 68 is the law.

If your landlord will not let you use less heat, get another apartment.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:11 PM on June 10, 2016

I've seen malfunctioning AC units spew ice in the heat of southern louisiana summer. An AC unit isn't going to work.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:14 PM on June 10, 2016

AlexiaSky: "Do not do the cardboard insulation thing. Way to much of a firehazard. "

Even steam radiators have an operating temperature hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit below the ignition point of cardboard (note link in Celsius). You can put cardboard in a 350F oven for hours and it won't catch fire; a 150F-250F (steam temp, actual radiator would be much cooler) radiator is no risk at all. People dry clothes by draping them directly on hot water and steam radiators all the time.

Note that this doesn't apply to electric space heaters which can get much hotter than steam or hot water radiators; especial if their high limit stats fail closed (why you should never leave them unattended). But if the OP had electric radiators they would also have individual thermostatic control.
posted by Mitheral at 10:02 AM on June 11, 2016

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