Well it’s officially summer, and it’s officially hot. We are about two weeks into the “calendar” summer season and temperatures are soaring. If you are anything like me you want nothing more than to crank the air conditioning, turn your house into an Igloo, and adopt some penguins. The only thing holding you back is that pesky electric bill. You know that if you crank the air conditioning your electric bill will heat up as your house cools down. So what can you do to maximize staying cool while reducing your electric bill? Below I've got some easy tips to help you beat the heat and keep your electric bill cool to the touch.
Some Like it Hot...I Like it Cold
Ok, now that I've got a bunch of cheesy metaphors out of the way let’s get down to business. I live in Pennsylvania. We get some decently cold winters and some fairly hot summers. Earlier today it was around 90 degrees and humid. Now I know for a lot of you southerners and desert climate folks 90 degrees might be nothing. You might be thinking “geeze, what a baby, it ain't hot till it’s over 105”. Well let me tell you, as a northerner, anything over 85 degrees feels like I’m roasting in an oven. I like to stay cold. I would much rather be cold then hot. As the saying goes, you can always put more clothes on but there are only so many clothes you can take off. All that being said, for the past few years I've been able to keep my electric bill fairly low over the summer months while keeping cool enough to stay comfortable in my house.
This Old House
The house that I live in is an older 1960’s raised ranch with a ton of windows and a walkout basement. It’s not exactly the cream of the crop insulation and air leak wise. Looking at my front door I can clearly see daylight, so I definitely lose a lot of cold air in the summer and hot air in the winter out of all the gaps and cracks to the outside. Another thing about my house is its all electric. I pay close attention to my electric usage because it’s by far my biggest utility bill. The first major project I did when I moved in was install new windows to replace the old single pane windows that were there when I bought the house. The second thing I did was install a central air system so I could remove the ancient behemoths that were being passed off as window units. With those two things done, my ability to get air cool and keep that cool air in my house was greatly improved, even if my house is still more drafty then it should be. I tell you all of this just so you can get a picture with what I’m dealing with when trying to stay cool.
So basically the first thing you need to do when trying to lower your A/C bill is to decide what temperature you can be comfortable enough at. This doesn't necessarily mean what is your ideal temperature; it means what temperature you can go to before you really start getting uncomfortable. Like I said before, I prefer the cold. For me my ideal temperature would probably be in the high 60’s if given the choice and free A/C. My comfort threshold however is much higher. In the summertime I will let my house stay in the 78-80 degree range without too many complaints from my body. Once it gets above that temperature by too much, I’m usually forced to turn on the A/C enough to bring it back down.
Some Free or Almost Free Options to Reduce your Electric Bill
Let Mother Nature Help
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to stay cool in the summer is to use Mother Nature to your advantage. Luckily for us nature provides us with some easy ways to stay cool. There is a wide variance in temperature during the evening and early morning hours, we can use that to our advantage. There are also great opportunities to use the airflow from wind and gusts that nature provides to cool down our houses. Using all the free help that weather gives us will drastically help you lower your electric bill without doing much more then opening and closing few windows at the right times of the day.
Let me explain more on this. One of the main things I do to keep cool in the summer is to make good use of the wonderful windows that my old ranch house has. If my memory serves me correct, I have 23 windows spread out between my 1st story and my basement. That means that I have a huge amount of glass that can be opened up for airflow to keep things moving and cool. Even if your house doesn't have that many windows, use the windows you do have to your advantage.
Open Your Windows at Night
The first tip I have for using your windows to stay cool is to open your windows at night when you go to bed and close them during the day. There is a huge difference in temperatures during the late evening hours and the temperatures during the hottest part of the day which is generally from 3-5 pm. Sometimes it is as much as 20-30 degrees difference. By opening up your windows at night you are allowing all of the hot air to be replaced with the much cooler evening air. This will help you reduce your energy consumption and save big time on your electric bill because you will not have to run the A/C while your windows are open. One downfall is this only works if the outside air is cooler then the air inside your house. If it is still in the mid 80's at night then you will probably still need to run your A/C, or at least I would. By closing them during the day, you are keeping the hot air out of your house. If your house is somewhat sealed, it should take a decent amount of time before the hot air from outside would be able to raise the cooler air’s temperature, so there are another few hours you can go without using electricity to run your air conditioner.
Use Cross Ventilation
The second tip in using your windows is to use cross ventilation if you have it. When I say cross ventilation, I mean windows on opposing or perpendicular walls. As long as it isn't too hot outside, you can open your windows and cross ventilation will draw air into one window and out the other, creating a nice little breeze. The breeze created feels great on your skin, and can be all you need to keep you in that “comfortable zone”, all while not using electricity. This all depends on your house design as it will work better in some than others. My house is great for having cross ventilation. Like I said I have a ton of windows. Basically each room has multiple windows on multiple walls. This lets air flow from one side to the other effortlessly. I've noticed a lot of newer tract houses only have windows on one wall. This will hinder the ventilation aspect, so depending on your layout your mileage may vary.
Take Advantage of Storms
Here in PA we get a lot of summertime thunderstorms. They are not only cool to look at and watch, they are also very helpful in keeping your house cool. Usually when a storm rolls through, the temperature drops considerably, up to 10-15 degrees in some cases. As long as your house has good sized overhangs, and the rain isn't blowing sideways, there is no reason not to leave your windows open during a storm as long as water is not coming in. This gives you the benefit of cooling down your house for free and listening to nature’s symphony in all its glory.
Switch Your Electric Provider
An easy free thing you can do to lower your electricity bill is to switch your electric provider to one with a lower price per kilo-watt hour. Most states these days have programs which will let you comparison shop and choose your electric provider. I was able to switch my electric provider and go from $0.086 per KWH to $0.071 per KWH. That’s a savings of around 20% just for spending 15 minutes of my time looking at providers and signing up with the lowest cost one.
Turn Off Your A/C When You Aren't Home
I would say on avg. I’m away from my house for at least 10 hrs each weekday. That means that for at least 1/3-1/2 of the day I’m not spending money using A/C. This saves me a ton of money then if I were to leave my A/C on that whole time. Yea it can get hot when I first get in the door, but I can open windows, turn on fans, or even turn on the A/C to get my house down to a comfortable temperature in short order. This works for me because I don’t have animals or anyone else living at my house while I’m at work. If you have pets or family members at home then this might not be possible depending on the temperature outside.
Turn Off Your A/C When You Go to Bed
I Know a lot of you reading this are thinking that you need it cool to fall asleep at night and can't nod off when it's hot, it's just too uncomfortable. Well I agree, I'm the same way. I need it cool to be able to fall asleep. Once I'm asleep though I won't really notice if the temperature in the house rises a few degrees. If it's too hot outside to be able to leave the windows open while you sleep, then by turning off or raising the temperature in which your A/C is running you can shave off a lot of electricity usage. If you have a programmable thermostat this can be easy to do. Just program it to turn off or raise the temperature by 5-10 degrees starting an hour or so after you go to bed. You will probably never even notice the difference since it will take awhile for your house to heat up once the air is off.
Close Your Blinds During the Day
Another free and easy way to save money on your electric bill is to keep your blinds closed during the day. By keeping your house cave like, especially when you aren't home, you can prevent the sun’s rays from heating up the air inside your house. This can keep your house cooler for longer and make you spend less money on electricity to cool down your house.
Drink A lot of Ice Water.
Not only will ice water re-hydrate you, it’ll help to cool you down without using electricity. So drink up, stay healthy, and feel cooler all with ice cold water.
Get that Laptop Off Your Lap!
As I sit here typing this I have my laptop on my lap, and let me tell you it is freaking hot. If I was smart I would get off the couch and start typing on the lovely Ikea desk that my girlfriend has in the other room. Laziness and TV are preventing me from doing this, but it would be so much cooler in here without this laptop. Even lifting it off my lap makes me feel 10 degrees cooler. Please don’t be stubborn like me...use your laptop on a desk during the summer. Use it as an actual laptop in the winter and it will keep you nice and toasty.
Some Low – Medium Cost Ideas to Save on Your Electric Bill
Now that I've shared some free ways to reduce your electric bill, I’ll move onto some low cost options that will lower your bill in comparison to blasting the A/C.
Like using the cross ventilation of your windows, the goal of using fans is to create a breeze over your body to help cool you down. Even a slight breeze can make you feel considerable cooler than being in stagnant non flowing air. Fans by themselves use considerable less electricity then using you’re A/C unit. Essentially with a fan you are just using electricity to spin a fan blade which moves air, creating that nice breeze that feels so good.
Depending on your house you might already have ceiling fans installed in the main living areas of your home. If so you are set. Ceiling fans are great devices to move air and get that breeze blowing. If not don’t feel bad. Ceiling fans are relatively inexpensive and basic ones can usually be bought for $25-$75. If you already have a box pre-wired in your ceiling then installation won’t be too difficult. If there wasn't any electrical boxes pre-run for ceiling fans in your house, then installing one could be more difficult and more expensive if you have to hire an electrician. Keep that in mind before deciding to purchase a ceiling fan.
Another great option instead of installing ceiling fans is to use smaller box fans or personal fans. These can be great because you can put them right next to you, getting all the airflow you need to cool yourself down. I personally often bring out my el cheapo box fan and plop it right next to the couch when I need to cool down. I know Zimmy swears by this fan at work, he says it cools down the whole place effortlessly.
If you have central air conditioning in your house you also probably have a whole house fan. Whole house fans basically work on the principle that exchange air from the inside with air from the outside, creating a nice breeze and turning over the hot stagnant inside air in the process. You need to open your windows to get the full effect, but basically a super strong fan pulls in the outside air refreshing your indoor air and cooling you down. If for some reason you have central air conditioning and don’t have a whole house fan, they are a few hundred dollars and will last you many many years.
Upgrade your Thermostat
It’s really easy these days to automate your A/C and electric usage by getting a smart thermostat installed. You can program them to operate at certain times, certain temperatures, certain humidity levels, control them from your smart phones, and even bake cookies with them.(just seeing if you are actually reading down this far) There is a wide range of prices for smart thermostats. Basic ones can range from $50 all the way up to high end ones in the several hundreds of dollars. The high end ones usually offer some sort of home automation features with them, so they are more than just a thermostat. I personally have one of the middle of the more basic Honeywell ones and it suites me just fine.
Use Window Units
So if you already a central air conditioning system installed you might be questioning why I would be advocating to use window units. Window A/C units can actually make sense if you spend most of your time in one or two rooms of the house. You can get a small to medium unit for $100-200 from stores like Home Depot or Lowes. One of these should be enough to keep your bedroom or family room nice and cool. The benefit of just using a window unit is that you will be using a lot less electricity cooling one room then trying to cool down your whole house. Some even come with a remote so you never have to leave the couch!
Keyboard Cool down Lap and the Big Take Away
So there you have it, some free or cheapish ideas to reduce your electricity bill this summer. I was actually able to go up until this past week and the start of July without using my A/C. Just by using the windows and fans you can get through most of the moderate weather. Once it got to the mid 80's to 90's though I pretty much had to throw in the towel and turn on the A/C. I’ll be using it very sparingly though however, I’m trying to reduce my electricity bill as much as possible in sort of a personal challenge with myself.
Hopefully if you've read this far you've gotten the big take away to lowering your electric bill over the summer is to use as little A/C as possible. Air conditioning units are one of the biggest hogs of electricity that your home has, especially when it is extremely hot outside. By minimizing their use and having mother nature and other lower cost items fill in the gaps, you can reduce your energy consumption and lower your electric bill dramatically.
What do you do to reduce your energy usage in the summer? How do you keep cool without blasting the A/C? Please share your thoughts and ideas below…