In many areas of the U.S. the months of March, April and May bring more moderate temperatures and lower heating and cooling costs. But the arrival of June, July and August can mean sharply rising electric bills, primarily because of increased use of air conditioning. However, there are ways to make these summer months easier on your budget without sacrificing comfort.
For starters, air conditioning accounts for more than eight percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S., according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). In most parts of the country, that cost is concentrated during the summer months, costing consumers an estimated $15 billion a year.
You can reduce costs by making sure your equipment is in good repair and running efficiently. Sometimes this can be as simple as replacing the air intake filter on a regular basis.
It can also mean investing in a new system when your current one gets old and in frequent need of repair. In the short run it will be less expensive to keep having the service company come out and repair it but installing a new system will not only reduce those inconvenient breakdowns - they normally occur on the hottest days of the year - but will also cut electricity costs. New air conditioning equipment is much more efficient than equipment that's eight to 10 years old.
ACEEE stresses efficiency as the primary way to cut cost. Using the air conditioner less saves money, as well as wear and tear on the equipment.
Keep the cold air in
A place to start is with insulation. How tight is your home against the elements? A simple thing like adding insulation and plugging up holes around doors and windows can keep cool air inside.
Keeping heat from entering your home in the first place is another important way to reduce the need for air conditioning. To keep high-angle summer sun out, consider horizontal trellises for your east- and west-facing windows.
Protect south-facing windows with leafy trees or climbing foliage so you can take advantage of low-angle sun in the winter, when the leaves fall. If you replace windows on the walls that get the most summer sun, they should have low-e glazings to block unwanted heat gain.
Having "cool" exterior finishes on your house can also help. When replacing your roof or painting your house, using light-colored or other cool roofing and siding products can reduce your peak cooling demand by 10-15%, according to ACEEE.
Update old appliances
Take a look around your home at other appliances. Things that run on electricity tend to put off heat. Not only are they probably using more electricity than necessary, they're making your air conditioner work harder.
Incandescent light bulbs, for example, generate lots of heat and require significant amounts of electricity to generate light. Florescent bulbs are cooler and cheaper to operate -- and LEDs are better yet.
If you use external hard drives for your computer, the large brick-sized drives you bought five or ten years ago produce lots of heat. In many cases, they can be replaced with high-density flash drives that generate almost no heat.
A recent innovation -- actually, an improved version of old technology -- is the evaporative cooler, which the Department of Energy reports can be very effective in areas with low humidity. They work by evaporating water into the air, providing a natural and energy-efficient means of cooling.
Evaporative coolers, also called swamp coolers, have been used for decades in Arizona and other low-humidity states. But newer versions are much more efficient. They work by cooling outdoor air by passing it over water-saturated pads, causing the water to evaporate into it. The 15Â°- to 40Â°F-cooler air is then directed into the home, and pushes warmer air out through windows and vents.
Consider adding ceiling fans to several rooms throughout the house. They can help keep things cool by creating a low-level "wind chill" effect throughout a room. As long as indoor humidity isn't stifling, they can be quite effective. Just remember that a fan cools people - it doesn't actually reduce room temperature - so turn it off when you leave the room.
Things like programmable thermostats are also effective at reducing costs, in both summer and winter. If the home is unoccupied for several hours during the day, there's no reason to keep it cool.
Taking just a few simple steps might keep you more comfortable during weather and make your electric bill more manageable.