Stay Cool for Less This Summer
After a long winter, it’s finally going to stop being cold, but sure enough, we’re soon going to find ourselves with the opposite problem.
When Mr. Sunshine is being a little too generous, how can you keep cool without racking up a huge energy bill from all the air conditioning? It turns out you may have many more options than you think.
Maximizing A/C Efficiency (Short-Term)
While some might be content to just open a window, many parts of the United States get so hot that air conditioning is the only sane option. Even in the parts that don’t get that hot, many would still rather pay the air-conditioning bill, but would still like to reduce that bill if they can.
So, how can you use your A/C as efficiently as possible?
The HVAC System Itself
First things first, don’t make its job harder than it needs to be. Make sure your central-air vents are not obstructed, such as by furniture.
Furthermore, make sure the vents are clean and aren’t being choked by dust and dirt. You should also be replacing the air filters often; experts recommend doing so once a month if you can. Air that gets stuck is air wasted.
Are you only inhabiting a few rooms of your house? Close the vents in the rooms that aren’t occupied so they don’t dispense air where it’s not needed.
Perhaps you may even turn off the central air altogether and use a one-room A/C window unit. Since it’s only servicing one room, it will be much cheaper to run than the central air.
Keeping that in mind, you could accidentally negate your savings if you buy a room unit too large for the room itself. You want to make sure you’re using just enough to keep comfortable.
Speaking of using “just enough,” you’re also going to want to avoid the most direct way of wasting cool air: using more than you need. If you feel like you need to put on a sweater when you’re watching TV, you definitely have it set too low.
Experiment a bit and find the highest temperature at which you’re comfortable. Then keep your thermostat there, or perhaps a degree or two cooler to accommodate for environmental changes, but no more than that.
Air conditioning is supposed to keep you comfortable, not cold. It also may be helpful to note that many experts say most air-conditioning systems run at peak efficiency at 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also remember that context is king: when it’s especially hot outside, you might find 80-something degrees inside is perfectly bearable. Or when a summer rainstorm rolls through, you might find you can turn the air off altogether.
You may also want to turn the air down at night, partially because it’s cooler than during the day, but also because our body temperatures tend to go down as we sleep due to lack of movement, so you might appreciate that extra warmth in the morning.
Playing to No One
When else should you adjust the thermostat? When you’re not going to be home for a while.
Depending on your area’s climate and the duration of your absence, you may turn the thermostat up into the 80s (just so it’s at least tolerable when you return and wait for it to go back down), or you might be able to get away with turning it off altogether.
Maximizing A/C Efficiency (Long-Term)
Maybe you’re not just trying to save money on air-conditioning right now, and instead you’re willing to spend a little to ensure some long-tern efficiency. We’ve got you covered.
The Big Picture
How old is your thermostat? Actually, how old is your HVAC system altogether? Older things are less efficient, so if your system is showing signs of age, biting the financial bullet now might save you a bigger bill in the future.
Back to the thermostat: Remember how earlier we said you ought to play around with temperatures until you found the upper boundaries of tolerability? You should, but try to find your answer quickly.
Manually changing the temperature often consumes more power, but you can greatly lessen the blow by getting a thermostat with a timer or a smart thermostat, which can more efficiently change the temperature when it needs to, such as when your home is unoccupied.
Playing the (HVAC) System
Regardless of the thermostat’s age, where is it physically located? If it’s on a wall that’s particularly sunny or shady, its attached thermometer will get readings that don’t accurately reflect the overall temperature of your home. If it’s in a (literal) hot spot, it will send out more cold air than you need.
Air is also wasted when it gets lost. There are many places it can be led astray: leaky ducts, thin walls, and drafty doors and windows, to name a few. You can save a lot of air and money simply by locating these leaks via resealing, caulking, insulating, or applying aluminum-foil tape.
If you’re really gung-ho about making your home a cool, temperate place, plant trees and shrubs around your home to absorb and block the heat, especially on the south and west sides of your home which get the most sun (with afternoons being hotter than mornings and all).
You could also simply refuse to let the sun into your house by applying films and treatments to your windows, so you get all the light and a fraction of the heat.
Other Tools for Keeping Cool
Whether you’re turning on the A/C or not, there are things you can do to make your home a more “chill” place to be. For example, don’t forget the effectiveness of a good ceiling- or table-fan to circulate the air. Also, are you sure there’s no breeze? Opening a window might do you a world of good.
Or you might decide to keep the window closed and run the A/C, in which case you might as well close the drapes. It might seem hermit-like to shut out the sun, but it’s making your house hotter and your air-conditioner work harder.
Do you want to know what sounds even more antisocial than spending a summer’s day indoors with the curtains shut? When you’re inside with the curtains shut and all the lights are off.
But you may see where we’re going with this: more light, from the sun or otherwise, will raise the temperature, especially if you’re using incandescent light bulbs, which infamously radiate more heat than light per spent wattage.
Do you want to go another step further into isolation in the name of staying cool? Do you have a basement? Heat rises, so the lowest part of your house will invariably be the coolest; hang out down there.
If you don’t have a basement, the coolest part of your house will probably be somewhere away from a window. Again, we acknowledge this sounds like shut-in behavior, but when your other options are to sweat or to pony up on your electricity bill, does it still sound so unappealing?
To get even further off the grid, turn off (or even unplug) any appliances or electronics that might radiate heat, ranging from toasters and microwaves to computers and TVs.
You may even go as far as to unplug or unscrew some lights you don’t plan to use, since anything that’s plugged in is consuming at least some electricity. Even beyond keeping your home cool, this will save you more electricity if you’re willing.
Now that you’ve completely disconnected yourself from the world, you realize you’re hungry. Do you like grilling? Well, you’re in luck. Because any sort of cooking inside will heat up your house, cooking on the grill as often as you can is a legitimate strategy to combat overheating indoors.
If all of that seems like a bit much, you can still make sure you’re staying cool, even if your home isn’t quite as much.
You can buy a spritzer or spray bottle and fill it with water to apply to yourself when you feel like cooling off. It’s much more resourceful than wasting water by taking a cold shower or filling a pool, and you aren’t completely soaking yourself in the middle of the day.
You can also just use a cool, damp towel to wash your face off every so often to give yourself that reinvigorating chill.
As of this writing, summer isn’t quite here yet, so you still have time before it really gets hot to decide how little or how much of this advice you want to implement – unless, of course, you live in the Southwestern desert, in which case, good luck out there.