By Marilyn Pribus –
Most of us dread our electric bill after summer’s first hot spell. You might be surprised to learn that air conditioning accounts for about five percent of all the electricity produced in our country, approaching $30 billion annually. Closer to home, air conditioning can contribute as much as 45 percent to your mid-summer energy bill. Here are some proven ways to reduce that cost.
If your unit is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR® energy-efficient system. It could greatly reduce your energy consumption and pay for itself in several years.
There are less expensive tactics as well.
Check your ductwork, particularly looking for dirt streaks at the seams, which often indicate air leaks. Seal them with duct mastic.
Ensure your air registers aren’t blocked by furniture, rugs, or toys. Changing your unit’s air filter regularly saves up to 15 percent of AC electric consumption compared to a clogged filter. Experts say it’s not wise to reuse disposable filters because simply vacuuming a filter can compromise its efficiency. A better plan: employ reusable filters that are designed to be washed repeatedly and save money in the long run. Besides, you’ll never be caught without a fresh filter.
Set your thermostat at 78 or higher. This reduces energy use while keeping humidity low. For every degree you cool below 78, you increase your energy usage by 3-4 percent.
If you’re leaving home for longer than an hour, turn the AC off. 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.
There’s a reason those “Casablanca” fans are popular. They don’t just look pretty, they cool things by increasing the “wind chill” in your home. Even on low, so that you hardly notice a fan is wafting the air around, you can raise your thermostat setting 3-4 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 table or floor fans 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 low can bring in cooler, fresh air and expel hot air from the attic.
Made In The Shade
If at all possible, keep your AC unit cool. If it’s in direct sunlight much of the day, 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.
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 allow it through to 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 ext.vt.edu for recommendations on the type of trees to choose and how to plant them where they will not interfere with water lines, driveways, or your home’s foundation.
Radiant barriers reduce heat in the home by blocking direct rays from the sun that come in through the windows and raise the indoor temperature. The least expensive barriers are blinds and drapes. If your budget allows, purchase insulated “honeycomb” blinds, which work year round keeping heat out in the summer and in during cold weather. These are more expensive, but you might be able to supply one room at a time until your house—especially the sunny side—is completely furnished.
Awnings can provide both shade to your windows and 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 hung outside that can be deployed during the time the sun is most direct on windows.
A more ambitious scheme that can add considerable visual appeal to a home is framing sunny-side windows with trellises supporting deciduous vines blocking the sun in the summer but admitting its warmth in winter.
Play it Cool, Man
Avoid heating up the inside of the house. Don’t use 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. One family even put their often-used pizza-heating-sized toaster oven on a shelf just outside the kitchen.
Remember, too, that lighting can produce considerable heat, especially with old incandescent bulbs where as little as 10 – 15 percent of the electricity actually produces light while as much as 90 percent simply creates heat. Replace old lightbulbs with more energy efficient styles.
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. Their yard has many mature trees providing good shade and they spend a lot of time enjoying the ceiling fan on their screened porch.