Summer temperatures have hit with a vengeance. The daily heat index is now often over 100 degrees. Not only that, we sit in our homes and listen to the central air cycling “on” – over and over again, in a seemingly endless loop. Mentally, we brace ourselves for the next utility bill to arrive, knowing that the number on that page will reflect the severity of the heat.
Many years ago, I began researching ways to lower our utility bills. We were raising four sons on an income which was consistently under the national US median and we were doing it debt free. In order to keep our heads above water and make progress on our goals, we knew that we would need to shave money off of every category in our budget – including our monthly energy bill.
Thankfully, I discovered that there were many low (or no) cost ways to reduce your energy usage. Air conditioning costs vary across the nation. Clearly, in Texas they are going to account for a greater percentage of your overall energy bill than if you reside in Northern Canada. Yet, no matter where you live, there are simple steps that you can learn to insure that your family uses less energy.
Want to see me describing each strategy? Watch the video. I take you on a tour through four areas of my home in this video, giving you tips on lowering electric usage.
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1. Air out the House in the Early Morning
On days that evening temperatures and humidity drops, it’s a good idea to turn off the AC and bring cool air into the house. Then, in the early morning, before the heat and humidity rise, turn on fans to assist you in moving as much of the the cool air in as you can.
After the house is as cool as possible, shut the windows. This will insure that as the outside air temperature rises, the interior of your home will stay comfortable.
The key to this working is the level of the humidity. The amount of water in the air has a direct correlation to your discomfort. Not only do high humidity rates make you sweat, they also contribute to the growth of mold. To avoid these problems, keep the relative humidity in your home under 60%. Purchasing an inexpensive hygrometer to monitor your home’s internal humidity levels is a good idea. You can purchase a 4-pack from Amazon for under $20 and place them in several areas of your home.
Right after you shut the windows, go ahead and draw the drapes. Light colored drapes will work more effectively at keeping heat at bay, while darker colored drapes or metal blinds will tend to have the opposite effect, heating a room up.
2. Raise your Thermostat
One of your main sources of “power” over your utility bill is your thermostat. It’s sometimes hard to convince family members to allow you to touch the Holy Grail, but here are some reasons it’s a good idea.For every degree you raise your thermostat, you save between 1 and 3% on your utility bills. Additionally, leaving your thermostat at the same setting year-round is inefficient for your HVAC system.
By the way, this same strategy works in winter, as well. Simply reverse the process and lower the thermostat on cold winter days.
3. Use the “8 Hour Rule”
I first became aware of this strategy through our utility company newsletters. Your house holds the cool air longer than you think it does during the daylight hours. Last summer, we started turning our AC off at about 7am. We turned it back on by 3pm. I was shocked! The overall level of comfort did not noticeably decrease.
If you turn your thermostat up in the summer while away at work, do not conform to the commonly held belief that you should immediately drop the thermostat down to the depths in order to cool the house down more quickly. This does nothing but cause your AC to run longer, costing you more.
The truth is that once your home’s internal temperature rises above a certain threshold, it will then lose its cool more slowly for every hour thereafter. So, the longer your home is at the higher temperature, the greater your savings.
4. Use Portable Fans or Ceiling Fans
By combining the use of portable or ceiling fans in conjunction with air conditioning, you can raise the thermostat by up to 4 degrees without any loss of comfort.
Here is some important information to consider then using fans.
- Open several windows when you use a powerful fan (like your whole house fan). Otherwise, you risk burning up the motor!
- You could also create a backdraft, pulling gasses from your water heater into your home, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure you have CO2 meters on each floor of your home and next to sleeping areas.
- Understand that if the exterior humidity is high and the windows are open, running a fan has very little effect on your comfort levels.
- Fans cost an average of $.01 per hour to run as compared to $.36 per hour for air conditioners.
- Fans work by increasing evaporation of water and sweat from your body, thus, making you feel cooler.
5. Use Small Appliances and Cook During Off-peak Hours
We sometimes don’t consider the effect that our stove and oven have on our air conditioning costs. Yet, they do. Any time you can avoid adding heat to your home during the summer, it’s going to make a difference not only in your comfort levels, but also on your final bill.
Consider using low-heat appliances like crockpots or microwaves. Pressure cookers run for a shorter period of time than other conventional methods of cooking, creating less overall heat.
Bulk cooking will not only ultimately assist you in using less energy, it will also lower your monthly grocery costs and save you time, too.
6. Clean the Coils on Your Refrigerator
The coils on your refrigerator, along with the condenser, are responsible for keeping your fridge cool. Located on the back of the fridge, when they become clogged, the condenser works harder, the unit runs longer, and the temperature in the fridge is bound to rise.
Twice a year, roll the fridge out from the wall. Locate the coils on the back of the fridge (they are generally near the bottom) Use the hose attachment on your vacuum to clean off the dirt and grime.
7. Change Your AC Air Filter
This is easier said than done. The location of your air conditioner filter varies with your unit and your home. Though most frequently found right next to your furnace, they can found in the air ducts, the registers, or even the attic! If you don’t know where your filter is located, ask your HVAC specialist the next time he or she comes for your bi-yearly system check-up.
8. Clean out the Exterior AC Condenser Unit
The health of your exterior unit is just as important as the interior portion. The fine mesh cage keeps out debris. However, stray leaves, grass, bugs, seeds, and more get caught in the wires. So, you need to make sure it stays clear so your AC unit does its job easier and cycles on less often.
Turn the AC off, remove the top grill if necessary and direct a gentle stream of water through the wire cage. Once the debris is cleaned off, return the top grill and turn the AC back on. Simple, easy, and yet it saves you money.
9. Line Dry Laundry
I have line dried laundry for many years. In fact, I cloth diapered all four of our sons, hanging diapers to whiten them on the line.
Statistically, it costs $.50 to dry a load of clothing in a traditional dryer. I do between eight and ten loads every week. By using the sun to do the work for me nine months of the year, I save over $150 a year on energy costs!