KEEPING YOUR COOL
during the summer heat can be expensive.
Typically, the average household spends $1,400 a year on electricity and gas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But you can expect that amount to jump this year by as much as 120%, warns Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy.
But there's no need to resign yourself to spending the dog days of summer hiding out at the nearest mall or movie theater. There's plenty you can do now to significantly cut your summer energy bills. These nine tricks can save you 30% or more:
Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances.
If you're in the market for a new air conditioner, refrigerator or even windows, consider the energy-efficient versions. Air conditioners with the Energy Star label, for example, must use 10% less energy than conventional window models.
Granted, energy-efficient appliances are still somewhat pricier than the regular versions, but thanks to federal tax credits and increasingly competitive prices, that initial purchase price is becoming more attractive. Consumers who purchase energy-efficient windows, for example, are eligible for a one-time tax credit for 10% of the cost, up to $200.
For more, see Energy Efficient Home Upgrades.
Be a night owl
If your electrical supplier offers a time-of-use plan, reserve energy-hogging chores say, running the dishwasher or doing laundry for off-peak hours, advises Anne Dalton, a spokeswoman for the New York State Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities. These widely available plans charge you different rates per kilowatt hour. Price differences for on-peak and off-peak usage may only be a cent or two during the winter, but summer savings can be substantial.
Wisconsin Public Service, an electric and gas supplier that serves parts of Michigan and Wisconsin, estimates that consumers can save 15% on their monthly bill. You'd pay about three cents per kWh during off-peak times (7 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, and all day on weekends and holidays), compared with 12 cents per kWh during peak times. Contact your power supplier for information about its time-of-use rates and hours.
Get with the program
Your programmable thermostat, that is. How cold you keep your home is a personal preference, says Jennifer Thorne Amann, senior associate at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit that advocates energy efficiency but try to set it 10 degrees warmer when you're not at home. "For every degree you let the house warm up, you can save 2% to 3% on your energy bill," she says.
You may find you don't need to use the air conditioner at all, says Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumer Reports' Greener Choices. "Ceiling fans can make a room feel six to seven degrees cooler," she says.
A dust-free appliance works more efficiently, says Callahan. Clean your air conditioner filters and coils every month. "When filters get clogged, they impede the flow of air," she says. And that makes your appliance work harder to maintain its output. While you're at it, take a vacuum to the dust collecting on your refrigerator's coils, too, suggests Rangan.
Blow off steam
Chances are, you really aren't excited about scalding summer showers. Lower your hot water thermostat to medium heat, or 120 degrees. Your boiler will use less energy, and less heat will escape from the device into your nicely cooled home. That's a savings of about 10% off your bill, says Rangan.
Green your yard
Doing some landscaping gets you two kinds of green: the kind that you put in your wallet and the kind that makes your yard lovely to look at. Drought-resistant perennials, shrubs and trees use significantly less water which can cut your bill by 50%, according to Consumer Reports. And leafy trees can shield the house from direct sunlight, keeping temperatures down, while still permitting sunlight to hit your house during the winter months. Planting just three shady trees can knock $100 to $250 off your annual heating and cooling costs, according to the Department of Energy. For more, see our column Cheap Landscaping Tricks.
Seal it in
It's easy to find a leak in the winter, says Amann the freezing draft in your otherwise warm house must be coming from somewhere. Leaks are harder to find in the summer, but you don't want your pricey, cooled air dissipating into the mid-July swelter. Sealing leaks can save you anywhere from 5% to 30% on your monthly bill, according to the Department of Energy. To spot them, conduct a home energy audit. You can do this yourself or hire a professional. For references, contact your state energy office.
Free your outlets
Just because an appliance is turned off doesn't mean it's not using any energy, says Rangan. A major culprit: chargers for cellphones, MP3 players and other devices. Unplug those when you're not using them to charge a device. Keeping your computer on all day would rack up an additional $88 per year on your electronic bill, according to GreenerChoices.org. Putting it on sleep mode or shutting it off when not in use could cut that expense by 80%. Other energy-sucking appliances include televisions, VCRs, DVD players, stereos, and microwave ovens. When you go away on vacation, unplug the appliances that don't need to stay connected while you're away.