13 Tips to Cool Down and Save

Boy this summer has been hot. Here in Florida, it’s been up in the 90s on a daily basis with the heat index over 100. I see that the southwest is even hotter. However, I do remember past summers this hot, including the one when I went off to College in North Florida only to end up with a dorm room in the wing that did not have air. As well, someone had removed our window screens and no one wanted to replace them. That year, the thermometer we kept in our room hit 102 on several days. I cringe when I recall the heat and the bugs. I spent a lot of time in the grungy shower.

But most of us are currently using air conditioning to fight the heat. And with fuel prices soaring, the local utilities here in Florida have upped their cost per Kilowatt and are warning us that it will be done again. Heck, I am having a real headache making the payments on what we owe now and can’t imagine it getting hotter and even more expensive. How on earth can I cut my cost? Well, we have gone on budget billing, signed up for cycle offs during peak hours, flip the breaker on the dryer and water heater most days and try to cook without using the stove or oven. Whew. It has cut the cost, but not by much. Perhaps we had a reduction of around $10 last month. Are there any other methods we can employ to help bring this further down? I looked around the web, and here are the best ideas I found.

13 Suggestions for Cutting Air Conditioning Cost:

1. Avoid indoor heat- and moisture-generating activities. I guess this means don’t cook, run laundry or wash dishes in hot water during the sunlight hours. But, conversely, I have found that taking a quick shower and sitting in front of a fan makes one more tolerant. Of course, whether the use of hot water reduces the value of the lower usage of air conditioning is for someone better at numbers than me!

2. Reduce the amount of heat in your home by controlling heat sources such as incandescent lights, dishwashers, dryers, ovens, and solar gain through windows and insufficient insulation. I addressed part of this at number one but there are some good ideas here. Close up those shades and blinds! I have found that cutting sunlight to the room has helped to lower the need for cooling. However, living in the dark is a headache (and an eye-ache, if you get what I mean). Candles don’t cut it when you’re trying to read or write. However, lighting can be used more efficiently if you refer to my post on CF bulbs and make the switch. On the subject of insulation, sometimes this cannot be helped if, as I do, you live in an apartment with a cheapo landlord who won’t upgrade. However, I have found that using caulking around windows, doors and outdoor vents helps reduce the cost dramatically and the cost of the caulking is far paid for by the savings. I mean, really, you could be air conditioning your front yard! Be sure to check this out.

Where Does Air Escape?

3. Remove unwanted heat and moisture at its source (showers, laundry, cooking, wet basements and crawlspaces) with spot ventilation or drainage. Here is the flip side of insulating. I have found that it greatly reduces the heat boost the home gets from a hot shower if you ventilate for a short period afterwards by opening a window. Same for running laundry or cooking on the stove. When you do these things, open a nearby window just long enough for steam or smoke to escape. It greatly reduces the stress heat buildup causes on the closed in location. Of course, close the windows in short order to keep from losing money by air conditioning your patio.

4. Use alternative methods for heat generating activities during the hottest part of the season. By this I refer to using clotheslines rather than running clothes dryers; grilling outdoors in the Summer rather than broiling in a hot oven; taking cold showers rather than hot; hand washing small items in the sink rather than running a full load; turning off lights when watching TV, napping or just chatting; also, turning off TV and Computers when not in use; using fans during peak sunlight hours to reduce the burden on the thermostat; keep the thermostat at the highest number possible without causing sweating and discomfort. Computers generate an enormous amount of heat; heck, I am usually sweating in my seat after a few hours online. Turn them OFF when not in use and turn them off at intervals during the day and night even as they are being used.

5. When discomfort is a problem, start with the least energy-intensive solution, such as a fan. This is a great idea year round! In the winter, try the fireplace or the heating pad before ratcheting up the thermostat. In the hot summer, turn on a hose and send the kids out to play in a water slide or just in the sprinklers when they cry about being hot. It is a great investment to create a shaded outdoor area, whether it’s an attached porch, patio, carport, deck or stand alone canopy or tent. This is a great place to retreat to, with iced tea and a radio, when the house is hot and smarmy. Being creative and making small changes to the lifestyle can bring down the cost of cooling the home. Keep well insulated coolers full of ice on hand for cold drinks and food and just for wetting a cloth. I have been through many a broiling summer with a broken AC unit by keeping a cool washcloth nearby. A swipe or two over warm skin in a breeze or in front of a fan makes a huge amount of difference in your body tolerance level.

6. Shade sunny windows with landscaping, shades, curtains, or awnings. Although this goes without saying and most homes don’t have windows that aren’t draped, I thought landscaping was worth mentioning. I have personal experience with this idea and it works really well. When adding plants to your yard, remember to shade windows and create additional privacy, by adding larger plants in front of windows. Trees are ok but greater security, shading and privacy is provided by bushy plants that stand about 1/2 to 3/4 up the window frame. Total coverage can be a drag when there are days when you would like at least a stream of light. These are inexpensive, attractive additions to the home that enhance the living experience. And in the area of sunlight exposure, these plants save you money by saving your home UV exposure. Flowering bushes and small trees like Hibiscus and Jasmine are highly recommended. They provide beauty and fragrance as well on days when the windows are open and at other times security from intruders, privacy from roving eyes and shade during the hottest hours of the days. These plants are most important on windows facing directly east and west.

7. I hate suggesting this because of security concerns but for those of you living on high rises, you can open the windows at night.and cut AC us age somewhat. Although night time is not the time when our air conditioning is used the most, not using it all during those 10 hours will make a difference. I just don’t suggest this for homes in the suburbs or one story structures where intruders will gain access. If you are on the fourth floor of a building unit, however, this idea will work fine for you. Remember, in all cases to just use natural ventilation instead of AC where possible.

8. When using the air conditioning remember to close all windows and turn off exhaust fans (unless they are removing source heat and/or moisture). This should be a no brainer but it does happen. I have found open windows all throughout my home at various times of the day, air conditioning streaming into the wind. People open them and then forget. So check them often to be sure they are closed. Also exhaust fans are a big problem, especially in the kitchen and laundry areas. Make sure they are off when the air conditioning is on.

9. If this is the year when you can afford it, you should upgrade older central AC systems with new, high-efficiency compressors. This can be done as often as you can afford it. However, most of us don’t want to do it because it is costly and feel we can never afford it. But consider the loss of money you are suffering as a result of an inefficient unit running overtime while your family is sweating and complaining. Heck, if you see that the thermostat is set for 78 and it reads ambient temperature at 80 and it runs non stop, it’s time to have it checked! Compressors need to be replaced fairly frequently, every few years, in fact. They cost several hundred dollars and when you consider that a crumby AC unit can cost you an average of several hundred dollars a month just in inefficient operation, it’s worth it.

10. Increase your AC’s lifetime and reduce its operating costs with proper periodic maintenance such as: checking the refrigerant level, condensate drain, controls, and air filters, and cleaning the evaporating and condenser coils. Clean or change filters monthly and clean the cooling coils and fan blades as needed. Have the compressor professionally serviced at least every two years. Again, these are no brainers but they can be costly and time consuming. In the long run, it is worth it. Don’t wait until you are without a unit in a sweltering summer and short on money. Do it whenever you can. Every one of these suggestions is worth the cost in money saved in an efficient and reliable AC unit.

11. Central air conditioners rely on ductwork. This ductwork needs to be properly sealed, insulated, and balanced to provide maximum efficiency. And I can attest to how this affects your AC performance. I was in a house that was always hot and the air coming through the ducts was weak. The unit was inspected and serviced and certified as fine. However, the place was still hot and the thermostat was always reading an ambient temperature 2 to 3 degrees higher than it was set for. It took a close inspection to locate blockage in the duct system. It was cleaned out and the temperature dropped significantly within 12 hours. Another bonus: If there is mold in the ductwork they can get it out when they clean the ducts. This will improve everyone’s health overnight, especially those of you with allergies.

12. Use a programmable set-up thermostat to automatically turn the AC off when you are out of the house, and turn up the temperature at night. These little gadgets are worth every penny and the pain in the butt they are to install. Once installed and operating correctly, these little goodies run on a timer and do a great job! While you are shopping or off at work, the AC is off, even if you forget it when you leave the house. And while you’re sleeping, the temperature rises according to your settings when you set it up. This is great. I wake up a lot at night shivering because the house is still cooling to the level it does during the day. Brrrr! And a waste of money!

13. Last but not least: when you leave the house, turn the AC off! This is why this little gadget I just told you about is so great. But sometimes you leave the house on an unscheduled trip. A sudden decision to go to your friends house to chat or have a drink. Suddenly, you are gone for hours and while you are, the AC is cooling an empty home. Make a note on a stickie and put in on the inside of the door. As you are leaving, you will see it. Turn the AC off when you leave! It’s that simple and it makes a big difference.

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