Summer Air-Conditioning Costs Soar – Some Shops Set Thermostat Higher

June 25, 2009

The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Adam Bell

June 25, 2009

Jun. 25--Hot enough for you? In some stores, the answer is no.

A number of shops and offices around the Charlotte area are nudging their thermostats higher, or even turning the air conditioning off, as another way to save a little money in the recession.

At CEO Inc., a staffing and recruiting agency in Charlotte's Elizabeth neighborhood, the temperature usually sits at 74 degrees instead of bouncing between 70 or 72 degrees as it did last year.

Owner Debby Millhouse said she is interested in trimming her energy bills as well as reducing the company's carbon footprint. So far, it doesn’t seem to adversely affect her employees.

"I'm from the West Coast, and we tend to be a little greener," Millhouse said. "Some people will push the (thermostat) button up. But every four hours, it resets to the original program."

Duke Energy says it thinks customers are using less air-conditioning, but can’t quantify it. The economy may be one reason, although weather remains the main factor in usage, spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said in an e-mail.

In recent years, the company also has encouraged customers to conserve energy by setting their air-conditioning temperatures a few degrees higher. Duke Energy generally sets its air-conditioning between 73 and 77 degrees, and turns the air and lights off at night and on weekends, Sheehan said, as part of conservation efforts.

Cooling below 75 degrees in the summer can double a person's bill, Duke Energy said, and for each degree cooled below 78, bills can rise by 10 percent. Conversely, raising the temperature from 73 to 76 degrees could save 30 percent on air-conditioning costs.

So what exactly is the right temperature? For that, turn to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The nonprofit group sets technical standards for designing systems and comfort in buildings.

Scientific studies have found that people's indoor comfort level generally ranges from about 68 degrees when the room is being heated, to a little over 78 degrees when it is being cooled, said association President Gordon Holness.

Resetting temperatures to save money also was common in the 1970s during the energy crisis, Holness said. But simply turning the air on and off is a concern, he said, because it could lead to a buildup of mold and mildew.

Still, many area businesses maintain temperatures as low as they want it to be. Workers in several barbershops, for instance, said they need to have temperatures low for client comfort and to help them do their jobs as they work with hair.

For others, like Sunny's Dry Cleaning in northeast Charlotte, changing the temperature remains a matter of money. Manager Alan Poon said he sets the temperature "not too cold. The owner told me to do it so we don't spend too much (in order) to survive."

Poon said he keeps the store cool for customers, but they don't stay long when dropping off or picking up clothes. "Sometimes I turn it off. When I feel hot, I turn it on."

At Matthews-based Family Dollar, officials in the corporate office are able to regulate temperatures in about half of its 6,600 stores thanks to an energy-management system that the company started installing in 2007, said spokesman Josh Braverman. It sets the temperature at 75 degrees in the summer, though store managers can nudge the temperature 2 degrees in either direction.

The system cut energy usage by 18 percent in its first year and helps ensure that the air conditioning is not running harder or longer than it should overnight.

At Tanner's Restaurant on North Tryon Street in Charlotte, owner Nick Groumbas has begun switching the air off at night. He said he has never done that before and hopes it will save some money.

Stewart Gordon, co-owner of The Buttercup stationery and gift shop on Providence Road in Charlotte, has started readjusting the temperature instead of leaving it at a set level all day.

"It’s cool enough for the customers,” Gordon said, "but it’s not like you're in a freezer."

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696


To see more of The Charlotte Observer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.charlotteobserver.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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