Each summer sees an uptick in three things: soft drink sales, ice cream consumption, and utility bills.
To stay cool, millions of families lower the thermostat and raise the AC setting. This results in higher bills at the end of the season. In fact, one estimate says 1 in 3 people see their bills rise by 10% in summer.
To make matters worse, this effect can only go up with the coronavirus pandemic, as more people stay cooped up at home rather than going out freely to enjoy the summer.
So to keep those dreaded bills down, here are five practical things you can do to reduce cooling costs without breaking into a sweat.
1. Seal those windows
The law of thermodynamics says that heat rushes in to fill the cold. Therefore the biggest loss of cooling are areas where heat can seep in. The biggest culprit? The window.
- Keep windows tightly closed to keep hot air from moving inside.
- Check for air leaks.
- During the day, block off sunlight with curtains to keep the ambient room temperature cool.
- Add caulk and check your weatherstripping for any cracks, breaks or deformations.
- Shield your windows from direct sunlight with awnings, overhangs or exterior blinds.
- If exterior modifications are too costly or unappealing, you can opt for solar film tint for an obstructed view of the outdoors.
- If necessary, update or replace your windows to improve heat or cold retention. The Department of Energy has a helpful guide on efficient windows.
2. Maintain your AC properly
Like other home appliances, an AC is only as good as its level of care. To keep it in optimum condition for the summer season, it pays to do a little TLC beforehand.
- Clean the AC coil, vents, and filters…. both outside and inside. External coilscan get clogged by dirt and garden debris, while the filters inside can get encrusted by dust, pet dander, and daily household pollutants.
- Make sure the drain pan and drain line are free of clogging.
- Inspect the fan and fan blades for dirt buildup. Make sure it can rotate freely.
- Shield the fan from direct sunlight so it doesn’t struggle in the heat, but allow enough space for airflow.
- In some cases, poor cooling can be caused by obstructions. Make sure the inside vents are clear of toys, furniture, packaging, misplaced items, and other household objects.
- Have the unit serviced at least once a year, ideally before the summer when it gets its biggest workout.
- Watch for warning signs such as lack of cold air, squealing or banging, or water dripping. If the unit seems to be struggling, turn it off to avoid further potential damage, and call an AC specialist.
For other cooling systems, refer to our maintenance tips for evaporative coolers and heat pumps.
3. Cook outside
Did you know that cooking is one of the biggest sources of heat in the home in summer? Next to poor heat insulation from the outside, cooking in the kitchen is the second largest sapper of cold.
- If you can’t take the heat in the kitchen, bring the kitchen outside! Grilling is one of the season musts, and nothing beats a good cookout on a warm summer evening.
- For food preparation inside, try to minimize using the gas stove when the microwave will do. An induction cooker works wonders too, and is much more efficient at cooking than traditional stoves.
4. Use alternative cooling sources
An AC or swamp cooler is a godsend on a hot day… until the bill comes due.
- Electric fans do not actually decrease the temperature of a room, but they can make the air seem cooler through wind generation.
- Use wall fans or ceiling fans at night instead of running the AC all night long. Reserve it for the day when the ambient air temperature is hotter.
- A block of ice or chilled bottle hanging on the back of a fan can produce the same cooling effect as a mini AC unit.
- Use timers or smart home routines to switch off the AC when the air gets cooler, and automatically switch on the fan.
- Use a dehumidifier to stop the air from feeling heavy. It also does wonders for your respiratory health.
- Consider using evaporative coolers in place of central AC. Not only is it cheaper by almost half to install, it uses a quarter of the energy, which translates to lower utility bills in the long run.
5. Prevent heat buildup inside
One last thing you can do to help keep cool is eliminate heat sources inside.
- Try to avoid using the dishwasher or clothes dryer, as these generate massive amounts of heat that can sap the cold. When possible, opt for washing dishes by hand or drying clothes outside to take advantage of the warm air.
- Don’t place appliances that emit heat near the thermostat, such as TVs and lamps. The heat they generate can affect the thermostat sensor and cause the AC to run longer or more frequently.
- Don’t all congregate in small rooms for long periods of time. The more people there are in a room, the harder the AC has to work in that area. Keep it to the open space of the living room, or spread out a little inside the house.
Lowering the bills doesn’t have to be a sweaty proposition. All it takes is a little forethought and an eye for detail to stamp out heat sources and preserve the chill. Your wallet will thank you for it.