Ready for a heat wave? Yep, it's the time of year when temperatures spike and utility bills go berserk. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, climate control uses more energy and costs more money than any system in your home, accounting for up to 48% of your monthly bill. And no doubt, the percentage climbs when you're running the AC nonstop.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can keep your electricity bill from climbing in lockstep with the mercury. Check out these no-sweat tips for keeping your house cool this summer.
Create a natural wind tunnel
Opening your windows for a cross-breeze might seem like a no-brainer, but there's a bit more strategy to it.
"Hot air rises -- so if you have a two-story house, you can create a natural draft by opening downstairs windows on the shady side of the house, and upstairs windows on the hot side of the house," says Myria Allen, professor of sustainability communication at the University of Arkansas. "Or if there is any natural breeze, open downstairs windows on the side of the house the wind is hitting, and upstairs windows on the side of the house away from the wind. This will pull hot air out of your home."
Install a retractable clothesline
Using the clothes dryer can raise the temperature of your home 3 to 4 degrees, says Allen. While that may be nice in the winter, Allen suggests that in the summer, people should use dryers only in the early morning, or consider air-drying their laundry.
"Second only to refrigerators, clothes dryers are the main energy users in the home," she says. "The average dryer uses 3.3 kilowatt-hours of energy and costs about $0.36. At my house we've installed a retractable clothesline on our screened-in back porch, and I can hang two loads out at once, saving $0.72 per day." A cooler house and fresh clothes for the energy win!
Prevent air leaks
In a typical home, about 20% to 30% of the air that moves through a house is lost due to leaks.
"Check for signs of air leaks, including drafts, visible gaps, noticeable dust accumulation, and evidence of peeling paint around the windows and frames," says Connie Rankin, president and CEO of CRES + Associates, a commercial real estate firm with a focus on sustainability. Repairing such leaks by weatherstripping doors and caulking windows can lead to a much cooler home (for insulation instructions, the Energy Star site is a good place to start).
Roll up area rugs
Walking around on naked floors will actually make you feel cooler at home, so remove carpets where possible during heat waves.
"Carpet is a poor conductor of heat, so when your feet touch the rug, it can't remove heat from your feet easily," Allen says. Wood and tile, however, are great conductors of heat, so strip off those socks and roll back those carpets to reap the benefits!
Clean your filters
To ensure your air conditioner runs efficiently, it's important to perform regular maintenance of the system; this includes replacing or cleaning the filters.
"Regularly changing clogged, dirty filters improves efficiency drastically by providing savings in energy consumption of up to 15%," says Rankin. Energy Star guidelines suggest changing filters at least every three months; during high usage times like summer, your home may be kept cooler by cleaning or swapping your filter monthly.
Decrease your AC run time
"If possible, remove lamps or TV sets located near the air-conditioning thermostat," says Rankin. "The relocation prevents the thermostat from sensing heat from these appliances, reducing the air conditioner from running longer than required."
Throw some serious shade
The U.S. Department of Energy has found planting trees or shrubs to shade your air conditioner reduces air temperatures directly under trees as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows the AC units to work more efficiently to conserve energy and reduce energy bills by as much as 10%.
However, remember that placement is everything. Make sure to leave 2 to 3 feet of open space all around the unit so as not to obstruct the airflow or impede access for repairs. Also space trees far enough from your home so that once they mature, the root systems will not damage the foundation or the branches damage the roof.
"Keep in mind that shade trees planted on the south and west help cool homes, but those planted on the north and east increase your utility bills," says Allen. Also, while it may take a long time to grow a big shade tree, in a single season you can grow annual vines on trellises to shade walls or even roofs, which can reduce an unshaded home's summer air-conditioning costs by 15% to 50%.