Using a Timer with an Air Conditioner

air conditioner with timer and temperature controls

If you think paying those winter bills is a nightmare, just wait until summer comes and you're blasting the AC. Using a timer with an air conditioner is a good way to save money...but you've got to figure out how to do it first.

If you're thinking about using a timer with an AC unit, you're thinking of ways to save money on those summer utility bills. But you might find yourself thinking again when you're confronted by all the different options and confusing stuff out there.

The Benefits of AC

When the summer months start getting hotter, it is nice to know that the air conditioner is there to keep things cool. Many homeowners have small window or portable air conditioners to keep living rooms, bedrooms, and even kitchens cool and comfortable.

An air conditioner also helps to keep the air pure by filtering out impurities, and it can help people who have medical problems with heat and humidity. The cool air makes the environment so much nicer and more comfortable and it can really change things for you during those super hot, humid summer days.

The only trouble is, running the air conditioner is expensive. When that first summer utility bill comes in, it can be a real shock.

One of the ways to make the air conditioner more energy efficient is to place a timer on the unit. The timer will help control the times that the air conditioner is in use.

This means that the AC will not be running all the time and can be started before you get home to cool things off before you get there.

Installing and using a timer is supposed to be a simple process but with all the different types of thermostats and air conditioners out there, it can all get really confusing. Figure out which type of timer you want based on how easy it is to install and the number of features it has to offer.

Using an AC Timer

Using a timer is a great way to run the air conditioner only when you need it and spare yourself the cost when you don't. But first, you have to figure out what type of timer you need, how to program it, and how to use it the right way.

After all, you definitely don't want the air to kick on in the middle of December or to find that the air is running the entire time you’re at work but turns itself off once you get home and you’re ready to relax.

Choosing Your Timer

Appliance timers come in a very wide variety of sizes and costs. They can be a simple plug-in type or a very elaborate digital timer.

These timers allow you to do a lot of different things, from adjusting the time they turn on and off to even adjusting the temperature. Whichever you choose for your air conditioner timer, it needs to be durable enough and handle the wattage of the unit.

Check the specifications for the timer carefully to make sure it can support the amount of power your AC unit is putting out. To get this information, check the labels on the AC unit.

You also need to choose the type of timer you want, from a simple manual model to a digital job that connects wirelessly to your smartphone and has a bunch of bells and whistles. There are many different options out there, from low-tech to very high-tech devices.

hand holding remote toward AC unit

Wireless Remote

A remote AC timer is decently easy to use because it has a familiar remote control look to it, with clearly-marked buttons in most designs. The only trouble with this is, it's a remote.

Sometimes, remote controls seem designed to cause the most frustration possible. You’ve probably experienced this a number of times while trying to work with your own remote controls.

You will have to program both the "on" time and the "off" time for the air conditioner. Wireless remotes often allow you to turn the AC on or off, but they also allow you to change the temperature based on specific timers.

For example, you can program the timer to raise the temperature by a few degrees while you’re at work and then lower the temperature again when you get home.

You will also have different functions, like sleep mode. This enables you to raise or lower the temperature during a specific block of time when you plan to be asleep.

Smart controllers connect to your smartphone, turning your smartphone into a remote control for the AC.

This only works when your home wifi is working, however, so there may be times when the signal is out through no fault of your own and suddenly you can no longer control your AC with the phone or remote.

In this case, timers may not work because the system is offline.

Electronic Timer

A simple electronic timer has no more than a handful of buttons and settings. You will set the timer to one hour, two hours, four hours, and eight hours in many designs.

These timers often also have a "hold" button. Electronic timers are made to be very easy to install.

Timer Switch

Timer switches are made to be incredibly low-tech. This is a very old design by smartphone standards, one that uses dials so you can set timers.

You manually turn the dials to set the timer, which generally has an on, off, and auto option. The designs are made to be easy to install on a variety of appliances, including air conditioners.

Digital Switch

A digital switch will have many functions and programming options. This switch is a device that you install according to the manufacturer's instructions in a process designed to be easy.

Digital switches are made with lots of programming functions, including options like a vacation mode. You can pre-set timers in advance and set them to repeat and use a variety of different functions.

Install the Timer

Most of the appliance timers on the market are simple in-line timers. This means that you simply plug the air conditioner into the timer and plug the timer into the outlet.

This design is the simplest to install and has the easiest learning curve. However, these plug-in styles can also break easily.

In some styles, the timer connects to the air conditioner control panel through wiring connections. This is a more involved installation process, but it allows you to do more with the timing.

If you're connecting to the wires of the AC unit, unplug it first. You want it to have no power whatsoever because you will be cutting wires.

Remove the casing on the power cord cable to expose the wires. There should be two wires, and you will cut them both.

Connect both wires to the timer. The timer will also have wires that need to be re-connected to the power cord.

Set the Timer

Before you start to set your timer, become familiar with it. An in-line timer works with a dial selector or digital screen that you use to indicate the cooling time.

Figure out what times you want the air conditioner to turn on. If you are home during the day, a mid-afternoon time would be good. It can then run into the evening before shutting off.

If you are not home during the day, then have the air conditioner turn on 30 minutes before you get home to cool off your space.

Adjust It for Off Days

Do not forget to adjust your timer for the days that you are not working, or are going to be away for a vacation. This is easily done with an in-line timer.

A digital timer will allow you to pre-program for several different times, including vacations and times away.

Bottom Line

Using a timer with an air conditioner is a good idea. This little change will save you money, which you will need during those summer months.

There's enough stuff driving up your utility bill. Use a timer to actually save money on paying for your AC.

Air Conditioner Timer FAQs

central air AC vent

Can you turn your air conditioner timer off in the winter?

You don't use your air conditioner in the winter, so you don't want the timer to kick on suddenly and start cooling your home when it's freezing outside.

You can set AC timers to the off position so the air won't come on at all. You can also program the air conditioner to turn itself off during the winter.

How do you program an air conditioner timer?

Different air conditioner timers are programmed in different ways. Some timers have only a few buttons that allow you to program the air for several hours at most.

Other timers are extremely intricate and connect to your smartphone so you have lots of different options and many different timers you can set. To learn how to program a specific air conditioner timer, refer to the manufacturer's instructions.

How many different timers can you set on an air conditioner timer?

The number of different timers you can set on an AC timer depends on the type of timer you have. Some timers allow you to set many different timers and programs for your AC unit, while other models might allow you to set only one or two timers.

If you want to have a lot of features and different timer options, look for a wireless AC remote or another type of wireless timer that syncs up with your smartphone. This will give you the widest range of options when it comes to programming your air conditioner.

What's the ideal temperature for your air conditioner?

The U.S. Department of Energy says that the ideal temperature for your AC is 78 degrees F. This will help you stay cool while still providing energy savings.

When you are not at home, however, you can raise this temperature a few degrees so that your AC will work less and, therefore, burn even less energy.

Your house will be warm, probably too warm for you to be comfortable, but you can always set your AC timer to lower the temperature about an hour before you're due to arrive home so that things are nice and pleasant when you arrive.

When is the best time to turn off your air conditioner?

The best times to turn off your AC is while you're at work or somewhere else. You might be out of the house for several hours. Unless it gets very hot or humid during the day, the AC doesn't need to be on when you aren't at home.

If you have pets, of course, it's not a good idea to turn the AC off entirely but you can bump it up a few degrees. Many timers are elaborate enough to change the temperature for you based on the times you set.

Unless it remains very hot or humid at night, you can also turn the AC off while you sleep at night. You can tolerate higher temperatures while you sleep, particularly if you have a fan running in the room while you are sleeping.

When it comes to times of the year, you can turn your air conditioner off when the temperatures remain steadily cool through the day and night.

When you start to feel hot and sweaty inside your home, it's time to start thinking about setting those air conditioner timers again.

Further Reading

3 DIY Air Conditioners

The 4 Main Types of Air Conditioners

11 Ways To Save Money on Air Conditioning

About Ductless Air Conditioning

How to Clean Your Air Conditioner at Home

How to Identify a Leak in Your Central Air Conditioner

How to Install a Window Air Conditioner

How to Remove Musty Smells from a Home Air Conditioner

How to Service and Maintain Your Air Conditioner

How to Troubleshoot and Repair Your Window AC Unit

Top 10 Ways to Save on Your Cooling Costs

What Does it Cost to Run a Room Air Conditioner?

What Is a Propane Air Conditioner?