By Lora Shinn
Chill air-conditioning costs
Hear that? It’s the sound of your air conditioner running and the sound of your bank account drying up.
Heating and air conditioning your home take a 43 percent bite from your monthly utility bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Here’s how to reduce those costs in summer.
Improve plantings around your house
“Most heat that accumulates inside a house comes directly from the sun shining onto the roof or through windows, and heating the house directly,” says John Krigger, owner of Saturn Resource Management, which offers energy conservation training in Helena, Mont.
Planting leafy trees around the building’s exterior will stop the sun from reaching inside your home. “Even for the cost of going to the nursery and buying a 15- to 20-foot-tall tree, trees are still the best value,” Krigger says.
If the trees or shrubs shade your air conditioner, you could boost your AC’s efficiency by up to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Clothe your windows
Solar screens, or mesh-like window screens, intercept up to 70 percent of solar energy before it gets into the house, Krigger says. Window screens are particularly effective on east- and west-facing windows, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Window films are another option. They are transparent, metalized sheets that reflect heat before it can be transmitted through glass.
However, windows must be shut for window films to work, while solar screens do double-duty, keeping sun and insects out even with windows open.
Flip a switch
Go ahead, get comfortable. Lower your air conditioner’s thermostat setting to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re at home. But let that number rise to a warmer temperature at night or when you’re away from home. You can save 5 percent to 15 percent on your air-conditioning bills by raising the temperature setting on your thermostat when you’re away and don’t need cooling, according to the Department of Energy.
No need to invest in fancy fans. Krigger says the key is to circulate air inside the house. If possible, locate fans on your house’s upper level and open windows on a lower level. If you live in a one-story house or apartment, you should close windows near the fan and open windows in rooms far from the fan, preferably on your home’s windward side, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Moving air also helps evaporate the sweat from your skin, says Paul Scheckel, an energy efficiency consultant in Montpelier, Vt., and author of “The Home Energy Diet.”
“Evaporational cooling is an incredibly efficient process for removing heat, and our bodies do it all by themselves. A little help can increase the cooling effect,” Scheckel says.
Chill in the basement
Camp out in your basement, says Stan Cox, author of “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer).” In your eco-cooled basement, a television, couch or futon and a cold drink may be all you need.
However, Scheckel says don’t open basement windows when outdoor air is heavy with humidity. “Warm, moist air will cause condensation on cool surfaces such as basement walls, ultimately increasing the humidity in your home,” he says.
Don’t bake or cook on the stove
Skip the stove-top boiling and oven baking, Cox says. Decrease indoor heat by making microwave nachos or eating a cool salad. If you must boil pasta for tomorrow’s potluck, cook in the evening.
After cooking, turn on the kitchen exhaust, and use the bathroom exhaust fan after a hot shower. “Remove heat and moisture at the source,” Scheckel says. “Reducing humidity can help increase comfort.”
Maintain or replace your AC
“AC efficiency is mostly a function of the technology,” Scheckel says. “Keep the filter clean to allow for good air movement and keep the unit level so the condensation drains properly.”
If you replace your older room air conditioner with a newer unit, you could cut your energy costs in half, according to the Department of Energy. Look for a high-energy-efficiency ratio, or EER, or an Energy Star-qualified unit. Higher EER ratings mean a more efficient air conditioner. Energy Star refers to a system adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy to identify energy-efficient products.
Let humidity set your AC pace
Set the AC fan speed on high, except on very humid days, says the U.S. Department of Energy. On humid days, set the speed on low. The slower air movement through the air-condition equipment removes more moisture from the air, improving comfort in your home.
Splash in the bath
Hop in the shower, spray yourself with a water bottle or use a cool cloth on the back of your neck. And if you don’t chill out right away, don’t give up, says Cox, the environmental writer and scientist. “Our comfort range depends on the temperatures we have experienced in recent days and weeks,” he says. “The body and mind adjust to rising temperatures.”