NEW YORK (MainStreet)Nothing puts a damper on the fun of summer like that dreaded electric bill, which can skyrocket during the warm months as you pump up the air conditioner or lower your thermostat to keep your home feeling cool. But soaring temperatures don't have to mean soaring energy costs, experts saythe trick is to know how to keep your energy use in check without sacrificing comfort. Achieving this delicate balance is actually quite simple if you keep some basic tips in mind. Read on for six great ways to get started.
You can save money on your electric bill by not only monitoring how much you use your air conditioner and other appliances, but also by monitoring when you use them throughout the day. "Check with your utilities company to see if they offer a time-of-use rate, which will allow you to save money by using appliances at off-peak times," says Suzanne Jones, vice president of marketing for the Association of Energy Services Professionals. For instance, the energy company Consolidated Edison offers lower rates during weekends, holidays, and weekdays from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m.when usage and the cost of electricity are lowthrough its Time-of-Use program.
Window treatments and coverings aren't just decorative; they can also help save energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, window awnings can reduce solar heat gain in the summer by up to 65% on south-facing windows and 77% on west-facing windows. Choose an awning that is opaque and tightly woven, and keep in mind that a light-colored awning will reflect more sunlight. Window blinds can also reduce summer heat gain. The Department of Energy says that when completely closed and lowered on a sunny window, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by about 45%. You should also close draperies on windows receiving direct sunlight to help keep your home cool.
Although it may be tempting to set your thermostat at a low temperature when the summer heat rolls in, doing so could be a waste of both money and energy. Instead, set your thermostat as high as is comfortable for you during the warm months to save on your electric bill. To make this more bearable, consider turning on a fan while the air conditioner is running. "I live in the southwest and can keep my air conditioner set at about 79 or even 80 degrees, and if my ceiling fans are on, it's very comfortable," says Jones. "Fans really do make a difference in air flow and comfort." You should also consider keeping your home warmer than usual when you are away, then lowering the thermostat only when you're home. To make the process easier, you can purchase a programmable thermostat, which you can set to automatically adjust the temperature at different times of the day. For a high-tech version, consider Honeywell's Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, which allows you to control your home's cooling system from your smartphone. "What's great about programmable thermostats is that if used properly, you can save up to 30% on your home's heating and cooling bills," says Jones.
Another way to cut cooling costs is to reduce the amount of hot air that leaks into your home. Simple techniques include caulking, which is used for cracks and openings between stationary parts of the home, such as around window frames, and weather stripping, which is used on parts of the home that move, such as doors and windows. Jones also suggests checking with your local heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor to make sure you have proper attic ventilation "so that hot air can get blown out more efficiently and effectively," she says.
"One of the biggest things I'd recommend is to get a free energy audit from your local utility [company]," says Jones. "They're extremely helpful in saving energy and saving money." During the audit, a certified energy auditor will come to your home and look at your windows, heating and cooling system, insulation, appliances, and thermostat settings, among other things. "When they're done, they will give you a report listing all the measures you can implement on a short-term, mid-term and long-term basis," Jones explains.
The latest technology is helping to make energy conservation easier than ever these days. Smart power strips, for instance, combat a type of energy consumption in your home that often goes unnoticed. "A lot people don't necessarily realize that even when [electronics such as] your game consoles, your printers, your cameras, your computers and your phone chargers are turned off, when they're plugged in they are still drawing power, which is called standby power," Jones explains. "What these smart power strips do is sense that the device is no longer being used and it takes that standby power down to a tiny little trickle charge, so you're automatically saving money and energy." Companies that sell smart power strips include TrickleStar and AM Conservation Group. Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet