Published July 07, 2014
The summer heat might be a welcome change after winter’s brutal temperatures--until the electricity bill arrives.
“When you think about summer, 55% of your total utility bill goes to cooling,” says home improvement expert Danny Lipford. “[Your air conditioner is] the highest use system that you have in your home all year round. It only makes sense to take steps to make it more efficient and work less to drive that cost down.”
You can lower your cooling costs by 30 to 40% by making your home’s systems work efficiently and tweaking your behaviors, experts say.
The obvious cost-cutting tip is being mindful of a home’s temperature. After all, every degree that you turn your thermostat up will save you money.
Here are experts’ money-saving tips that will keep you cool this summer and your budget intact:
Use Ceiling and Exhaust Fans
Running a fan counterclockwise will have a cooling effect of six degrees, but they won’t lower the room’s temperature, according to Lipford.
Since a fan saves you money only when the room is occupied, be sure to turn it off when you leave.
To keep moisture at bay, turn the range fan on when cooking and run the bathroom fans during and 10 to 15 minutes after a shower. “The moisture in the house makes it harder to keep it cool and causes your air conditioner to work more,” says Lipford.
Don’t Block Registers in Your Home
“It’s very important not to put furniture on top of [registers] so you don’t interfere with the airflow that’s coming out,” says Joe Fernandez, vice president at F.W. Webb Company.
If registers are covered, the system will be less efficient since the cool air won’t be able to enter into the house.
Limit Appliance Usage
Ovens, dishwashers and clothes dryers generate a lot of heat. Using a microwave, or even better, grilling outside during this time of year, will prevent heat from building up in your house, says Lipford.
Also, consider using a clothesline to dry your clothes outside instead of the dryer.
Block the Sun From Entering
Pull down shades and close curtains to block off the sun and slow a room from heating up.
Planting trees directly in front of larger windows that block the sun from shining into the house will also prevent some heat from getting in that can cause the air conditioner to work harder.
Maintain Your Air Conditioner
Air conditioners need to be serviced once a year by a professional so that they’re cleaned, adjusted and working properly.
“It costs $50 to $100 and having the unit cleaned makes sure it operates efficiently and nothing is wrong with it,” says Lipford. “If it’s not operating as efficiently as it can, it’ll cost a lot more money.”
Experts also recommend changing your air filter at your return air grille. “All the air in your house passes through that filter at least two to three times per hour,” says Lipford. “If it’s straining to pull that air through there, it’ll cost more to operate and your system could fail a lot faster than it normally would.” He suggests using an electrostatic filter that costs between $12 and $15 and will last for three months.
Use a Dehumidifier
“When your house is cooler and dryer, you’ll have the ability to put your thermostat up a few degrees higher,” says Fernandez. By keeping your home’s humidity at about 50% during the summertime, you’ll save money by being able to raise the temperature on your thermostat.
Install a Programmable Thermostat
Programmable thermostats can adopt your heating and cooling system to your lifestyle year round, experts say. These thermostats can raise your home’s temperature when you’re not home and lower it prior to your return. They cost from $35 to $65, which you’ll save in lower utility bills in just a few months.
Insulate Your Attic
Most homes don’t have at least 14 inches of insulation in the attic, which is what’s needed to keep your home insulated properly. “This prevents the hot attic from influencing your living space, which will save you a lot of money year round,” says Lipford. He suggests using stone wool insulation that’s easier to cut and doesn’t irritate your skin, but has the same value as regular insulation.
Although this will be a great return on your investment, don’t be intimidated with having to insulate the entire attic. “If your time or budget won’t allow you to do it all but even if you do a portion, it’ll cut your home heating and cooling costs,” says Lipford. “It’s always best to do it first thing in the morning when it’s not as hot yet.”
“Good landscaping habits are important with your condenser unit,” says Fernandez. Clear any shrubs and make sure the grass isn’t too high around your air condition so that there’s enough air around the unit.
Also, make sure the exterior of the unit is clean and that there aren’t any leaves or anything else on top of the unit that can interfere with the unit’s airflow. You can either have a professional deep clean your unit or carefully spray it with a hose.
Inspect Your Home’s Ductwork
Oftentimes, whether the ducts are under the house or in the attic, the elements may not have been wrapped properly or can crease and come loose where they join together. When this happens, a portion of the air leaks out and doesn’t get blown into the house.
“This is easy to trace — just turn the fan on and trace each duct to see if you feel any air coming out of it,” says Lipford. Use metal duct tape or duct mastic, which is like a thick heavy paint, to cover these areas. Also inspect areas where smaller ductwork ties into larger sections that are distribution points to make sure air doesn’t leak out at these areas.