This blog was authored by my colleague Ashley Leung
Summer is coming, which means it’s time for sunscreen, barbecues, and flip-flops. Now that temperatures are getting higher and sleeves are getting shorter, it’s also time to turn on the air conditioning and brace for higher electricity bills.
But here’s the good news: you can stay cool and comfortable while also lowering your utility bills through energy efficiency. Smarter energy use is one of our most powerful tools for saving money. It also helps avoid pollution from the power plants generating the electricity to run our fans and air conditioners, including the carbon that warms our planet.
Here are some ways to use efficiency to make the most of your air conditioning this summer.
Keep Your Cool
Don’t let that cool air and your hard-earned dollars sneak out the window! Windows, doors, and other openings in your home’s envelope are often leaky, and many buildings don’t have enough insulation in their walls or attic to effectively contain the air you are paying to cool. Sign up with your utility or a local contractor for a home energy audit, which will help reveal exactly where you’re wasting the most energy. Many utilities and local governments offer rebates or other incentives for energy audits, adding insulation, and upgrading air conditioning equipment.
Then seal the leaks, install weather-stripping, and add more insulation to ensure a comfortable home and lower energy bills year-round. Maintain your appliances so they are functioning at their best, too. Change your air conditioning unit’s filter when it looks dirty (typically every 1 to 3 months, but timing may depend on the season and your usage habits) and be sure to tune-up your HVAC equipment regularly.
Use Your Ceiling Fan and Physics
Staying comfortable when it’s hot outside is more about how the air feels on your skin than the actual temperature. Used with your air conditioning, a ceiling fan can help a room feel up to 4 degrees cooler and uses just 10 percent of the energy of a central air conditioner (saving you money). Here’s a brief physics lesson to explain why: The movement of air helps to increase the rate at which heat is displaced from your body due to the wind chill effect. Lesson two: Set your fan to run in the counterclockwise direction so it pulls up the cooler air from the floor and blows it back down to you, creating a breeze to keep you feeling comfortable. Just remember to turn off the fan (and the lights) when you leave the room. If there’s no one there to use it, you lose it!
One of the simplest and cheapest ways to beat the heat is to keep curtains and blinds closed during the day when the sun is at its hottest. If your windows are older or your home gets a lot of sun, the heat gain through the windows can greatly contribute to the indoor temperature. Some good news: Manufacturers are beginning to put labels on window attachments they offer for retail sale, such as shades and blinds, to inform consumers about the energy savings they can provide.
Get a Programmable Thermostat–and Use it Properly
Using a programmable thermostat is a great way to keep your home cool while you’re there to enjoy it, but that your air conditioner isn’t working overtime when you’re away. If you have a regular schedule, it’s easy to set the thermostat so your home is warmer during the day and more comfortable by the time you walk in the door. Avoid placing it near heat-generating devices like a lamp or television–it may sense the heat radiating off them and run your air conditioning longer than necessary. The ENERGY STAR® website has more tips on how to properly set your thermostat to make the most of it. A bonus: A programmable thermostat is beneficial to your winter cooling bills too: when used properly, the right thermostat settings can save you up to about $180 in annual energy costs.
If you need to replace your air conditioning unit or other appliances, look for ENERGY STAR®-labelled products. They’re more energy efficient so they’ll help you cut your electricity bill and lower your carbon footprint. ENERGY STAR® room air conditioners use approximately 10 percent less energy than conventional ones, and ENERGY STAR® central air conditioners use 8 percent less than other products. For the cream of the crop, seek out ENERGY STAR® Most Efficient appliances. While the most energy efficient products sometimes cost more upfront, your lower electricity bills will help them pay off over time and end up saving you money.
Minimize Heat and Humidity
You also can keep your home cooler by taking simple steps to make sure you generate less heat and humidity in the first place.
- Turn on the bathroom fan when you shower or take a bath.
- Your laundry room might also benefit from spot ventilation.
- Make sure bathroom and kitchen fans are vented to the outside (not just to the attic).
- Use the stove instead of the oven, or cook outside.
- Let the air dry your hair instead of using a hair dryer.
- Replace older light bulbs with LEDs. About 90 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs is given off as heat. LEDs stay cool to the touch while drawing a fraction of the power used by incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. The average home has 40 sockets so replacing even just a few incandescent or halogen bulbs with LEDs will help.
It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to beat the heat. Use these tips and tricks to make the most out of your air conditioning, which will also save you cold, hard cash. Energy efficiency is a breeze!