Wahoo! The first day of summer is finally here. This Friday we will officially transition from spring to summer!
For me the transition won’t be that noticeable at all. As a resident of South Florida temperatures have been hovering in the upper eighties since May. Not to mention the 100 percent humidity we experience that accompanies those temps. Ugh we are burning up down here!
Living in this tropical climate for the last nine years has forced me to learn a few tricks about how to keep my house cool in the summertime without raising my utility bills too drastically.
One summer my husband and I were what you call a little lax with the A/C. We had just moved into our first home together and in our excitement hadn’t thought about any utility bills yet. We both work from home a lot and we would turn the air conditioning down to the lower 70’s, so we could work in pleasant temperatures. Neither one of us thought anything of it until my husband showed me our electric bill. It was over $300! I nearly collapsed from shock right then and there.
After that initial bill we got serious about bringing down our electric and energy bills. We knew it would be hard though since we’re home all day long and are essentially running the A/C day and night!
One of the very first things we did after receiving that bill was to plant shade trees on the east and west sides of our house. We choose trees with big leaves to reduce the amount of direct sunlight hitting the windows and doors. If you have any windows or doors that get direct sunlight for most of the day consider plants trees or shrubs to provide shade.
All paved areas of your home can use shade trees and shrubs to reduce your energy bills. We have dark colored pavers that make up our driveway. You can’t walk on them barefoot without burning your feet on really hot summer days at my house. So we planted leafy shrubs on both sides to provide more of a shaded walkway.
If you are planning on repaving your driveway this summer you may want to look into using a material other than asphalt. I know asphalt is the cheapest, but what you save in paving material you end up paying for in energy bills. Asphalt generates a considerable amount of heat from direct sunlight and that heat can very easily make its way into your home and cause the temperature inside to rise. Instead of asphalt you may want to consider laying down light colored stones or pavers, or cement. It will help to reduce your A/C bills in the long run.
There are a bunch of things you can do on the inside of your home to reduce your energy bills too. More on those things in a minute, I want to tell you about what else you can do to the outside of your home to help keep your utility bills low.
Step outside and look at the exterior of your house. What color do you see? Is it a dark navy blue or grey color? If so you may be inflating your home’s A/C bills. In fact homes painted a dark color usually have A/C bills that are twenty percent higher than homes painted in lighter tones. Crazy I know! Darker paint colors absorb more heat than lighter ones. Light paint colors actually help reflect sunlight which helps keep homes cool and reduces air conditioning costs. Whenever my family from Cleveland visits me in South Florida they always comment that homes down here are painted in light and bright coral colors, now I know why!
Ok, let’s move to the interior of your home. One thing I have learned to do is to keep the blinds drawn and the drapes closed during the morning hours when sunlight streams through my large front windows. Just like planting shade trees, blinds and drapes keep out direct sunlight that heat up my home quickly.
This totally free action also allows me to keep the temperature in my house to keep from rising significantly. I’ve learned over the years that every degree below 78 we put the thermostat at increases the amount of energy we use by three to four percent.
This means when you leave the house set your thermostat at least this high, if not higher. Some people mistakenly believe that they should set their air at a comfortable temperature while they are gone because it costs less money than if they were to only turn it on when they get home. This is an old wives tales and is simply not true.
It is true that your unit will have to work hard to bring down the high temp it reached during the day, but that does not drive up your energy bills more than if you left it running all day. According to Energy Star programming your thermostat to allow your home to reach higher temperatures during the daytime or anytime you’re not there can reduce the average household’s electricity bill as much as $180 a year.
To help your A/C unit not have to work so hard close all doors and registers in rooms that aren’t being used. The less space your air conditioner has to cool the less it has to work and the less money you spend. Think about doing this to rooms that are only used sparingly like the spare bedroom, formal living and dining rooms, the office and laundry room. There is no need to cool down areas of your house that aren’t even used that often.
If you don’t think you can stand being in a house that is 78 degrees or higher but you still want to save money then purchase a stand-alone fan or two. I started using this tactic a few years ago at my own house and noticed a difference in my bill the very next month! Keep your thermostat set at 78 and then turn on a ceiling fan or plug in a stand-up fan in whatever room you’re hanging out in.
Fans are a lot cheaper to run than A/C units because they use less energy. Most fans will cost you less than a penny an hour to run. The bonus is that they can make a room feel three to eight degrees cooler. So setting your thermostat to 78 and running a fan could potentially lower the temp in the room to 70 degrees, a very pleasant temperature indeed.
The one thing you need to double check before relying so heavily on ceiling fans to cool your house is the direction in which they are blowing air. You might not know this but ceiling fans have a switch located on their base that can change the direction of the air flow. In theory you should be turning that switch once a year.
Now I know it’s not always easy to reach your ceiling fans. So before you go out to the garage and drag in the heavy ladder, stand directly underneath the fan. Are you getting hit hard with air? If so then the switch is in the right position to help cool you down. On most ceiling fans a counter-clockwise rotation of the blades also signals that it is blowing air down. You want your ceiling fan to force the room air down on you, giving you the wind chill effect that makes you feel cooler. When winter comes you want the blades of the fan to run clockwise, this will draw the room air up toward the ceiling and force the warm air down to where you are.
I know a lot of people don’t even think about their central A/C until there is a problem with it. Usually when this happens it’s the middle of summer and you end up paying hundreds of dollars to rush out a technician because you can’t stand the heat. Instead this year give your unit a tune-up so you don’t have that problem. I don’t know about your neck of the woods but A/C repair companies are running ads constantly here in South Florida advertising this service for as low as $20. If the technician finds your coils are about to burn out or a part is broken they can fix it before the air goes out completely. Think of the headache and extra expense you’ll save yourself!
Good luck this summer and stay cool!
Keeping Money in Your Pocket,