Smart Ways to Save on Summer Cooling Bills
by Gary Foreman
During these hot summer months, we strive to keep inside temperatures low and cooling bills even lower. Keep your cooling costs in check with a few of these tips.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
What is the best way to save on cooling bills? We live in a 1962 house that gets direct sun and no shade. More insulation in the attic?
Gail in Texas
Gail’s right. It’s that time of year again. When the temperatures rise and shade is a wonderful relief. What can she do to reduce those cooling bills?
Ways to Passively Cool Your Home
Experts say that the main source of heat build-up in your home is sunlight being absorbed through the roof and walls. A secondary source is appliances generating heat inside your home.
We’ll begin by investigating ‘passive cooling’. That’s using natural methods to reduce the amount of heat in your house.
Put a coat…on your roof
According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, about a third of the heat in your home enters through the roof. Even white colored shingles absorb 70% of the solar radiation that hits them.
One way to increase reflection is to use a roof coating. There are products for different types of roofs. Gail will find them at her local home center. (See 11 Ways to Save at Home Depot.)
Make sure you attic is adequately insulated…
Built in 1962, Gail’s home was constructed when insulation wasn’t a major consideration. So she’ll want to make sure there’s enough in the attic. Fortunately, insulation is not that expensive. And adding it is a simple do-it-yourself project that doesn’t require special tools or training. (See How to Insulate an Attic for Lower Energy Bills.)
Gail should also make sure that the attic has enough ventilation. Hot air rises. Vents in the eaves will allow cooler air to enter. A ridge vent or attic fan will allow the hotter air to escape. Proper attic ventilation can reduce cooling costs by 10%.
Consider painting your home a lighter shade…
Homes with darker colors will absorb more heat. Whether Gail is choosing new shingles or an exterior paint she’ll want to consider lighter hues. (See Exterior House Painting: A Do-It-Yourself Project?.)
…and growing some shade
She mentioned one common method of passive cooling: shade. Trees, especially on the south and west, can block enough sunlight to reduce her bills by 30%. Unfortunately for Gail, it takes time to grow shade trees. So she’ll need patience.
Block the sun
In the meantime, she might want to consider keeping the drapes closed during daylight hours. Awnings can also block sunlight. And reflective window tint will pay for itself in a short time.
Seal doors and windows
Speaking of windows, Gail will want to make sure that windows and doors are properly sealed. Also pipes or anything else that enters through the walls. Caulking is inexpensive and pays big dividends.
Newer windows are much more energy efficient. Unfortunately, the energy saved will not pay for new windows in the short term.
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Ways to Efficiently Cool Your Home
Once Gail has blocked and reflected as much sun as possible, she’ll want to make sure she’s cooling her home as efficiently as possible.
Give your A/C a check-up
She’ll want to give her air conditioner a check-up. A professional should service the unit each spring. Contact your local electric company. They often have special deals or even pay for the inspection.
Seal those ducts leaks
While Gail’s investigating, she’ll want to check for any duct leaks. No sense filling the attic or basement with cool air. She may also want to consider insulating the ducts.
Let the compressor breathe
Next check the a/c compressor outside. It needs room to breathe. The heat removed from your home is exhausted there. Don’t trap it with overgrown bushes.
Of course all shrubbery isn’t bad. Your a/c unit runs cooler if it’s in the shade. So plant bushes close enough to provide shade, but far enough away so that the air flow isn’t blocked.
Keep the filter clean and temperature consistent
Clean or replace dirty a/c filters monthly. This simple step will improve efficiency dramatically.
Thermostats should be set at 78 degrees. A six-degree higher setting will reduce your cooling costs by 20%.
Become a fan of fans
Inside Gail will want to make maximum use of fans. Circulating air will feel 2 degrees colder than it really is. If ceiling fans aren’t practical, Gail can pick up inexpensive room fans.
Encourage cool thoughts with a room makeover
She may also want to consider a minor room makeover for the summer. Replacing warm colors (browns and reds) with cooler colors (blues and greens) sets a psychological tone. Just changing throw pillows could be enough to encourage some cool thoughts.
Consider an evaporative cooler
In drier climates like the southwest, Gail might want to check out an evaporative cooler. It’s a little like a humidifier used for cooling. Their operating costs are about one fifth of an air conditioner’s.
Make no heat
Finally, avoid generating heat inside your home. Try to move cooking outdoors. Or use a crockpot and the microwave. Use the ‘air dry’ setting on your dishwasher. Any heat that’s generated must be removed by your air conditioner. You’ll pay once to create the heat and then again to remove it. (See Summertime Kitchen Energy Efficiency Tips.)
Here’s to a wonderfully cool summer for Gail and her family!
Reviewed May 2022
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.
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