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Take the Bite out of Summer Utility Bills!
Your home's heating and air conditioning systems account for about 48% of your utility bills. Here are a few tips to keep air conditioning from draining you financially that do not involve raising the set temperature.
- Keep the sun out. Use drapes, blinds or shades to block the sunlight, especially during the hottest part of the day. Use reflective window films that reflect heat before it can come through the glass (these are transparent, so you can still see out). Or use mesh solar screens especially on east- and west-facing windows and doors (these also keep the bugs out!). Plant trees close to your home to provide shade. This can boost air conditioning efficiency by up to 10%.
- Use a programmable/smart thermostat: Why pay to cool the house when no one is home? By setting the temperature up a few degrees when you're not at home and at night, you can lower your bills by 15% or more. At night, there's no need to cool the entire house when you're spending the next 8 hours in only one room. Use a fan in the bedroom and chill pillow (pillow filled with cooling gel) to keep you cool, while setting the temperature up a few degrees.
- Circulate the air: Use a fan to keep the air moving, especially on an upper floor. Moving air causes faster evaporation from the skin and has a cooling effect - making it feel up to 8 degrees cooler - even without changing the air temperature. Ceiling fans are a great idea for both summer and winter; make sure the switch is pointed the right way.
- Migrate to lower floors: Because heat rises, spend more time on the lower floors of your house. If you have a basement, use it! Not only is it the lowest floor of your house, but it likely has fewer windows (keeps the sun out) and is at least partly (or entirely) underground, providing a "geothermal" effect.
- Smart cooking: Decrease indoor heat by using a microwave oven, rather than your thermal oven or stove, for cooking whenever possible. Better yet, eat foods like salads that do not require cooking. If you must boil or bake, do so in the evening when it's cooler.
- Use exhaust fans wisely: After a shower, turn on the exhaust fan so the humidity can escape. But be sure to turn the exhaust fan off as soon as the majority of the heat and humidity has left, so you are not exhausting cold air to the outside!
- Proper maintenance: Things you can do to maintain optimum air conditioning efficiency include: keep all doors and windows closed and make sure they're well-sealed, make sure all supply and return vents are open and unblocked, insulate your attic, make sure there is no debris blocking the outdoor unit, and most importantly, make sure your air filters are clean!
- Get a tune-up or update: Money Magazine and Good Housekeeping Magazine both advise getting regular maintenance inspections of your HVAC systems by a professional. This ensures it is running at optimum efficiency and will address potential failures, thus saving you money in the long-run. If your HVAC system is more than 15 years old, you can cut your utility bills by up to half if you switch it out for one of the new high EER (energy efficiency ratio) units. Or use some of the newer technologies, like a mini-split, in certain areas. Think of it like doing a technology update: you wouldn't use a 10-15-year-old computer, so why would you use 15 year-old HVAC technology?
- Light colors: Just as wearing light-colored clothing helps keep you cooler, painting the exterior of your house a lighter color and having a white roof will keep the home cooler, and save 10-20%. Although your house won't absorb as much heat in the winter, the U.S. Dept. of Energy showed that the net energy savings in summer far exceed the energy penalty in the winter, especially in our region of the country.
Even if money is not your prime concern, think of this: Summer is the time when the energy grid is stressed the most. When you lower your bills using these techniques, you are also helping the environment. This is because most electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants.