The cost of cooling a home in the middle of summer is enough to make you sweat if money is tight. Electricity demand can get so high, as it did in Southern California recently, that it triggers power outages. Talk about sweating.
You can’t control the temperature outside, but there are things you can do to make your house cooler and minimize air-conditioning costs. Use these tips to save money and beat the heat.
“Most heat that accumulates inside a house comes directly from the sun shining onto the roof or through windows, and heating the house directly,” says John Krigger, founder and president of Saturn Resource Management in Helena, Montana. Krigger, an energy conservation specialist, writes books, lectures and trains others in energy conservation for buildings.
Planting leafy trees around the outside of your home will help block the sun and cool your house. “Even for the cost of going to the nursery and buying a 15- to 20-foot-tall tree, trees are still the best value,” Krigger says.
Using trees or shrubs to shade your air conditioner can increase its efficiency by up to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Solar screens, or mesh-like window screens, intercept up to 70 percent of solar energy before it gets into the house, Krigger says. Window screens are particularly effective on east- and west-facing windows.
Window films are another option. They are transparent, metalized sheets that reflect heat before it can be transmitted through glass.
However, windows must be shut for window films to work, while solar screens do double duty, keeping sun and insects out, even with the windows open.
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Flip a switch
Lower your air conditioner’s thermostat setting to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re at home. But set it to a higher temperature while you’re at work. You can save 5 to 15 percent on your power bills by raising the temperature setting on your thermostat when you’re not home, the U.S. Department of Energy says.
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If possible, operate fans on your home’s upper level and open the windows on a lower level. If you live in a one-story house or apartment, close windows near the fan and open windows in rooms far from the fan, preferably on your home’s windward side, the U.S. Department of Energy advises. Krigger says the key is to circulate air inside the house.
Moving air also helps evaporate the sweat from your skin, says Paul Scheckel, author of “The Home Energy Diet.”
“Evaporational cooling is an incredibly efficient process for removing heat, and our bodies do it all by themselves. A little help can increase the cooling effect,” Scheckel says.
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Chill in the basement
Camp out in your basement, advises Stan Cox, a scientist, environmental writer and author of “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer).” In your eco-cooled basement, a TV, a couch and a cold drink may be all you need.
Scheckel warns against opening basement windows when outdoor air is heavy with humidity. “Warm, moist air will cause condensation on cool surfaces such as basement walls, ultimately increasing the humidity in your home,” he says.
Don’t cook on the stovetop or use your oven during hot spells. Reduce indoor heat by cooking in the microwave or eating cool foods, such as salads and fruit. If you must bake lasagna for tomorrow’s potluck, do it in the evening.
After cooking, turn on the kitchen exhaust fan. Turn on the bathroom exhaust fan after a hot shower.
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Maintain or replace your AC
“AC efficiency is mostly a function of the technology,” Scheckel says. “Keep the filter clean to allow for good air movement and keep the unit level so the condensation drains properly.”
You can cut your energy costs in half by swapping your older air conditioner for a new unit, the U.S. Department of Energy says. Look for a high-energy-efficiency ratio, or EER, or an Energy Star-qualified unit. Higher EER ratings indicate a more efficient air conditioner. Energy Star is a system used by the U.S. government to designate energy-efficient products.
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Let humidity dictate AC settings
Put the air-conditioner fan speed on high, except on very humid days, says the U.S. Department of Energy. On humid days, put the fan speed on low. The slower air movement through the air-conditioning equipment removes more moisture from the air, improving comfort in your home.
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Splash in the bath
Step in the shower, spray yourself with a water bottle or use a cool cloth on the back of your neck. If you don’t chill out right away, don’t give up.
“Our comfort range depends on the temperatures we have experienced in recent days and weeks,” says Cox. “The body and mind adjust to rising temperatures.”