There are two things you can say about Oklahoma, and they are almost always true during the summer months: it is windy...and hot. In fact, we typically pay just as much for air conditioning in the summer as we do on heat in the winter. Recently, I noticed a big jump in the electric utility bill, and it was more than the usual jump we see when the mercury hits 90 degrees on a "cool" day.

"When was the last time the central air unit was serviced?" I asked my wife. She didn't know. After all, it's not our house. We live in my father-in-law's "retirement" house (rent free!), and we just moved into it about six months ago. This is our first summer in the house.

I opened the door to the utility closet which contains the central air unit. The last date of service written on the chart read "2003". Oh, that's not good.

We called the plumbing and cooling company that installed the unit and explained that although the AC in our home is set on 74 degrees, the unit actually runs until is hits 70 or 72. "It sounds like you need a new thermostat, and you're definitely overdue for service," he said.

It's a good rule of thumb to have your central air unit inspected and service once before the heavy "air conditioning" season, and again before the winter "heating" season. In our case, a service call is going to cost about $55, plus the cost of the thermostat. However, that's a small price to pay in comparison to the extra money we have spent on electricity. That bill went from $75 last month to $177 this month. The service call by the HVAC guys will more than pay for itself over the course of the rest of the summer, which will only get hotter.

Savvy Frugality tip: A little bit of maintenance on your home's central air systems will save you plenty of money down the road on your utility bill, and by avoiding more costly repairs in the future.


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