By Marilyn Pribus – “I can’t believe we’ve already had the AC on and it’s only April,” laments a Lake Monticello resident. “I don’t even want to think about our electric bill this summer.”
She’s not alone. Air conditioning soaks up about five percent of all the electricity produced in our country, approaching $30 billion annually. Fortunately there are tactics to lower bills, some are free, and many are not expensive.
Of course, you can leave cute little personal hand fans around and gently waft air currents on yourself like a pre-AC Southern belle. A better way to cool things is to increase the “wind chill” in your home by using ceiling fans. This may take an investment, but even at such a low setting you hardly notice a fan is on, you can raise your thermostat three to four degrees and still be comfortable.
Ceiling fans come in many styles these days, from Victorian to modern. Actually any sort of fan that circulates air will serve, but be sure to place them away from high traffic areas, young children or pets.
Running a whole-house fan in the evening or early morning on days when the outdoor temperature is lower can bring in cooler, fresh air and expel hot air from the attic.
In summer, air conditioning can account for as much as 45 percent of your energy bill. (Compare your energy costs in April and August and you’ll see what a big difference the season can make.) Here are some proven ways to save on your power bill.
If your unit is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR® energy-efficient system. This could greatly reduce your energy consumption. Eyeball your ductwork, particularly checking seams for dirt streaks which often indicate air leaks. Seal them with duct mastic.
There are less expensive tactics as well such a changing your unit’s air filter regularly. A clean filter can save as much at 15 percent of electric usage of your AC unit compared to a clogged filter. It’s not a good idea to reuse disposable filters because simply vacuuming a filter can compromise its efficiency. A better idea might be to buy one of the reusable filters on the market. These save money in the long run and you’ll never be caught without one.
Be sure your air registers aren’t blocked by furniture or other items.
Set your thermostat at 78 or higher. This uses the least amount of energy while keeping humidity low. For every degree below 78, you increase your energy usage by three to four percent.
Turn the AC off if you’re leaving for an hour or more. It’s a myth that leaving the AC on low uses less energy than cooling down a space that has gained heat in your absence. Setting the thermostat lower when you return doesn’t cool things any faster, either.
Shade your AC. If your unit is in the sun, provide some sort of roof, awning, or trellis to create shade. Be certain you have adequate clearance so the shading device doesn’t interfere with air flow around the unit.
Made In The Shade
While shading your AC unit can help keep things cool, shading the house itself can pay bigger dividends. Trees to shade the roof are a wonderful benefit, especially deciduous trees that block the sun in the summer, but let it warm your home during cold weather.
If you don’t have trees now, plant some that will shade your exterior as they grow. Check with a nursery or Virginia’s extension service at www.ext.vt.edu for recommendations on the type of trees to choose and how to place them where they will not interfere with water lines, driveways, or your home’s foundation.
Employ radiant barriers to block both direct rays from the sun and high summer temperatures. The least expensive barriers are window blinds and drapes. If your budget allows, purchase insulated “honeycomb” blinds, which work year round keeping heat in during the winter and out in the summer. These are a bit expensive, but you might be able to supply one room at a time with insulating blinds until your house—especially the sunny side—is completely furnished.
A more ambitious scheme that can add considerable appeal to a home is framing windows with trellises supporting deciduous vines blocking the sun in the summer but admitting the sun in winter. Awnings to shade windows have a nostalgic charm. Newer schemes such as solar screens and films can also reduce the sun’s heat through windows. A thrifty alternative is roll-up sun blockers, such as bamboo screens, which can be deployed during the time the sun is most direct on windows.
Keep The Heat Down.
Don’t heat things up from the inside. Avoid using the oven during the heat of the day and remember that microwaves use less energy and produce much less heat. Even better: a chilled summer meal of salad and sandwiches or grilling outside. And there’s always take-out food.
Lighting can produce considerable heat, especially with old incandescent bulbs where as little as 10 – 15 percent of the electricity actually produces light with the rest being released as heat.
Computers, washing machines and dishwashers, hair dryers, clothes dryers, and TV sets all generate heat. Reduce their usage, especially during the heat of the day.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County and have several ceiling fans in their home. When they added a screened porch, they included another ceiling fan for comfort.