Iowans expect summers to be hot, and when outdoor temperatures edge thermometers upward, the easiest way to stay comfortable is to set our air conditioning units to a cooler temperature. Of course, that action can result in higher utility bills. But other than sweltering in the heat and humidity, what can you do?
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) offers a list of thoughtful choices that can help control costs and also help you stay more comfortable:
- Protect your home from the western sun. If you don’t have trees, a porch overhang or awnings shading windows exposed to afternoon sun on the west side of your home, there’s a good chance radiant heat could be driving up indoor temperatures and adding to your overall cooling costs. Make a plan on how you can add a west-side buffer to protect your home from the searing sun.
- Hang the right window coverings. Some types of blinds or shades can deflect intense sunlight, and draperies lined with a thermal radiant barrier can block up to 95% of sunlight and 100% of ultraviolet rays. Some window coverings can also help keep cool air from escaping your home (and can keep warm air inside your home in the winter, too).
- Take advantage of air flow. Moving air has several advantages. Since warm air rises, a ceiling fan can pull warm air up above your living zone and leave cooled air below where you can feel it. In addition, the evaporative effect of circulating air blowing across our skin makes us more comfortable. Just remember that that benefit of fans completely disappears when we leave the room, so turning fans off in unoccupied rooms will save energy. Note that there is an exception to this rule: In the evening or anytime it’s cooler outside your home, putting a fan in the window and pulling in cooler air (and/or pushing out warm air) will allow you to shut off your air conditioner.
- Keep your system in tip-top condition. HVAC filters have a lot to do with airflow through your heating and cooling systems. Dirty filters restrict circulation through your returns, requiring your cooling system to work harder (and using more energy to operate, too). If you can see dirt in a filter, it’s likely 50 percent clogged. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on replacing disposable filters or cleaning permanent ones. If you’ve got pets, consider checking them more frequently. In addition, an annual check and cleaning of your AC system can pay off in more efficient operation.
- Choose chore time to save money. You can save money and electricity by time-shifting some of the most energy-intensive activities away from peak energy use periods that normally occur during the hottest hours of the day. Because of the high demand during this time, we all pay more for using this peak energy. In addition, cooking, doing laundry and using power tools can increase both heat and humidity inside your home, making it harder to reach or maintain a comfortable temperature, putting more of a demand on your AC unit and our power supply.
- Recognize the cost of running aging appliances under harsh conditions. An old refrigerator stored in a summer-hot garage is not efficient on several levels: If the refrigerator is ancient, it is likely not an Energy Star model, so it is costing you more to run it than a newer version. In addition, a fridge will struggle to keep up with cooling in a hot environment, which uses more energy. Several more efficient solutions: Have a newer, smaller second fridge in a basement or utility room or simply keep beverages chilled in a cooler filled with ice.
- Encourage family members to help keep your electric bills lower by avoiding waste. Many small factors can raise your electric bill in big ways. For example, one open window anywhere can be like an uncapped chimney, pulling to the outside the conditioned air you pay to cool. A gaming system, computer, or big screen television left on but unwatched produces nearly as much heat as it does when it’s in use (while also continuing to use electricity).
Check with us for details on programs that can help you control energy costs and avoid seasonal billing challenges or for more information on ways you can control your summer energy costs.