The two biggest home energy expenses for most Americans are heating the house in the winter, and cooling it down in the summer. Of the two, cooling costs are harder on consumers because while you can burn cheap natural gas or wear a sweater in the winter, in the summertime there is usually only one practical option: air conditioning, running on electricity – and electricity isn’t cheap. So how can you beat those high summertime electric bills and still stay cool and comfortable in your home?
Stop Heating The House!
You may not realize it, but in the midst of that sweltering August heat wave, you’ve actually got a whole assortment of heaters running in your house. Every incandescent light bulb turned on is a heater. Your refrigerator is pumping heat into the air. Your hot water heater, washer and dryer, your television and your computer – all of these things produce heat. That waste heat can be a real boon in the wintertime – more than a few small home offices are kept comfortably mild in January from the hot exhaust coming out of that desktop PC case – but in the summertime it’s extremely counterproductive, to say the least.
Turn off whatever you can turn off. Replace your incandescent bulbs – which turn 85 to 90 percent of the power they use into heat, not light – with compact fluorescents, LED bulbs, or natural light. Break the habit of automatically turning on the lights when you enter a room – first check to see if you NEED the light, or if natural daylight will suffice. Rather than turning on the stove – a 3000-watt space heater right in the middle of the kitchen! – use the stovetop, grill outside, or pop your meals into the microwave. Run only full loads in the dishwasher or washing machine; line dry your clothes instead of running the dryer (another thousand watt heater). Run your loads in the cool evening or early morning hours when the waste heat can dissipate, instead of midday when they will make your air conditioning work harder.
And speaking of the air conditioner…
Stop Running the A/C All the Time!
You want to be comfortable and you should be – but a lot of the time, your air conditioner is costing you money without producing any real increase in comfort. Use a programmable thermostat to make sure that the A/C turns off during the hours when nobody is home, and turn the A/C down or off once the sun goes down and your house begins to cool naturally. You can spend a lot of money keeping the house at 69 degrees all night, when it would be 73 degrees with the A/C off – quite cool and comfortable, especially since the sun isn’t blazing through the windows.
It may seem obvious, but make sure your appliances, outside windows, or lights aren’t giving your thermostat an inflated view of the house temperature – the thermostat should be in a shady place away from lamps and electronics. Replace your air conditioner filter on a regular schedule – you can examine the filters to gauge how often you really need to do it. Dirty filters make your air conditioner run much harder. When it isn’t an absolute scorcher of a day, consider opening a window on the shady side of the house instead of using the A/C. Finally, consider adjusting the thermostat and tolerating a little bit of extra warmth. A one-degree difference in the temperature can translate into a 7% difference in the electric bill.
Move the Air!
Ceiling fans to circulate air around the house can make a huge difference in comfort at a minimal cost in electricity. A reasonable array of fans in the major rooms of your house will let you turn the thermostat up by four degrees (almost a 30% reduction in your bill, remember) and the air will have the same perceived temperature. Fans aren’t very expensive, are easy to install, and can dramatically improve the habitability of your home, particularly in rooms that tend to get stuffy and overheated. Here’s a pro tip – if you aren’t in the room, the fan in that room doesn’t need to be on.
Open interior doors throughout your home to allow the air to circulate and equalize in temperature. If the A/C isn’t on, then opening windows and outside doors on the shady side of your home can provide a refreshing breeze and increase comfort greatly. On mild days, place a window fan set to blow air OUT of the home in the warmest part of the house (usually an upstairs bedroom) and open a window in the coolest part of the house, and you can establish a “cooling tunnel” effect throughout the whole residence.
For more tips on cutting your electric bill this summer while still keeping cool and comfortable, check out the federal government’s Energy Savers website, or this air-conditioning company site, both of which have great ideas and information.
Return to Blog