If you’re lucky, you’re already avoiding the 100-plus degree heat some areas are experiencing; hunkered down at home, sipping a glass of iced tea, staying downwind of an air conditioner or a fan. But while you’re hiding from the sun, your electric meter is out there, whirring like a tiny tornado, diligently toting up all the energy it takes to keep you cool. Don’t worry, the bill’s in the mail.
Noah Horowitz, director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards. “Days of 90-plus degrees and high humidity are very high energy use days and can lead to occasional power outages.” And power outages in high heat can be not only miserable, but dangerously hot for people and pets. Here’s a refresher on how to keep cool, keep the power on for everyone, and keep that electric bill low.
• Turn off what you can. “While keeping comfortable and running your AC,” Horowitz says, “be extra careful to turn off things you aren’t using and to delay washing your clothes or running your dishwasher till right before you go to bed, when there is less electricity demand on the system.”
• Seal the leaks. Remember how you work to make sure drafts don’t get through windows and doors in the winter? Those same cracks can allow cool air to escape if you are using an air conditioner. Installing weather stripping around windows and doors is a year-round fix, but it can’t hurt to break out the same draft catchers you use at the bottom of your door or on a drafty windowsill in winter.
• Use the ceiling fan. If you’ve got one, set it to run counterclockwise so that it stirs the air and pushes cold air back down to you. Moving air around with any kind of fan really does work. The wind chill created actually increases the rate at which heat is displaced from your body.
• Be smart about the thermostat. The NRDC recommends a programmable thermostat, so that you can easily set central air conditioning higher when you’re not home, but have it work to lower the temperature before you get back. “It’s OK to crank up the air conditioning when you are home,” says Horowitz, “but when you aren’t going to be there, select a set point around 78 degrees.” Window-unit air conditioners should be turned off when you’re not at home, with one exception: Make sure your pets can stay cool. Horowitz suggests leaving one window unit on so that pets don’t overheat. “This is particularly important if you live on the top floor of a building,” he says, “as top floors can get particularly hot during the day. When you get home turn (the room air conditioners) on, close the doors and your room should cool off pretty quickly.”
• Keep the sun out. Heat gain from sunshine pouring through your windows can have a huge impact on indoor temperatures. “You want to pull the blinds down and close curtains during hot summer days when the sun is out to minimize the heat entering your house through the windows,” says Horowitz. “Later in the day and early mornings, you can keep them open and enjoy the light and view.”
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• Check the details. “Another no-brainer is to check and replace, as needed, the filter on your AC,” says Horowitz. “That way, you aren’t making your equipment work harder than it needs to and you will also have a lower energy bill.” Other ways to make it easy on an air conditioner that’s working overtime: use the bathroom fan to remove humidity after a shower; don’t add heat by blow-drying your hair; use the stove for cooking, not the oven; and change out any remaining incandescent or halogen light bulbs with LEDs. “Those bulbs give off up to 90% of their energy as heat,” says Horowitz, “and given that the average home has 40 light sockets, that can add up.”