Mother and daughter turning on a ceiling fan

Constant air flow from the use of ceiling fans can keep rooms feeling 2 to 3 degrees cooler. (Getty Images)

During hot summer weather, heavily using air conditioners, humidifiers, refrigerators and other home appliances can catapult home electrical bills through the roof. In most regions, power companies charge for electrical usage on a tiered basis – the more power you use, the higher the rates you pay. During any given month, once you use up your allotted baseline amount of electricity, the cost for additional power can double or triple. A key money-saving strategy is to clip off excess usage.

[Read: Home Improvements That Hurt the Value of a House.]

Here are eight ways to save now:

Be Smart With Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is the monster lurking behind devastating summer electric bills. Chill your bills by using less AC. By turning your thermostat up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you can save a bundle. This doesn’t mean you have to live in a hot house. As discussed below, there are numerous ways to make your home feel cooler without AC.

Dirty forced-air system filters restrict air flow, reducing the AC system’s efficiency. Change or clean your AC system’s filters at least twice a year to ensure peak air conditioner efficiency.

Don’t pay for cooling when you’re not there to enjoy it. If you don’t already have a programmable electronic thermostat, install one. You can eliminate wasted energy by setting it so room temperatures automatically rise a few degrees when you’re sleeping or away, and then cool down when you're moving around at home.

Similarly, don’t waste money by chilling rooms unnecessarily. Close the registers in an unused guest room or other spaces not being used. Just be aware that closing registers can create an inefficient imbalance in the system, so check with a heating and cooling contractor if you want to close off more than a couple registers. Be sure to shut the doors to those uncooled areas, but don’t close off a room if the system’s thermostat is located in it.

Over time, the ductwork that delivers cooled air throughout the house can leak expensively chilled air, especially at the joints where sections connect. If you suspect that your ductwork could be leaking, call an HVAC pro or duct-cleaning company to check, clean and repair the ducts.

Open Windows at Night

Unless you live where nights stay hot and humid (or where it isn’t safe to leave windows open), keep the house buttoned-up tight during the heat of the day and, if you have air conditioning, run it. Then at night, turn off the AC and open up the windows.

To manage this strategy, you’ll need an outdoor thermometer placed in the shade and an indoor thermometer located in a room you use. When the outdoor temperature drops below the indoor temperature, turn off the AC and open the windows to expel hot interior air and draw-in cooler outdoor air. Placing fans in front of windows and doors can help boost ventilation.

Don’t be tempted to open windows before the outdoor temperature drops below the indoor temperature. Though you might feel a breeze near an open window, you would actually let hotter air into the house.

In the morning, close windows and doors before outdoor temperatures rise.

Note: This technique doesn't work well in high-humidity regions because the AC must work long and hard to dehumidify the air repeatedly.

Keep Interior Air Moving

When the air is moving inside your home, room temperature will feel 2 to 3 degrees cooler than when the air is still. If your home has ceiling fans, turn them on to get the air moving.

Also turn on your thermostat’s fan switch. Regardless of whether or not the AC is running, the system’s blower will circulate air throughout the house, creating a comfortable breeze and balancing temperatures from room to room. Turn it back off when you intend to leave the house so the system’s blower motor doesn’t waste energy.

Be sure air can flow freely through the forced-air registers and into the room, and back through the system’s return-air register. Registers should not be blocked by drapes, furniture or anything else. Keep doors between cooled rooms open so air can circulate freely.

Employ attic fans to ventilate super-heated air from the attic. If you don’t have air conditioning, consider installing a whole-house fan to extract hot air and draw cooler air through the entire house.

Reduce Humidity

High humidity makes the air feel warmer; low humidity makes it feel cooler. Much of what an air conditioner does is remove humidity from the air, making it feel cooler. You can cut down on the air conditioner’s work by minimizing activities that create humidity, such as washing and drying clothes and cooking. Run ventilation fans when showering and cooking, but don’t overuse them. Turn them off after use to avoid expelling AC-cooled air from the house.

[See: 9 Outdoor Living Renovations to Splurge on This Summer.]

Avoid Heat Gain

You can run air conditioning and fans less if you prevent the house from heating up in the first place. Block direct sunlight by pulling drapes or shades, and consider applying heat-reflecting window films to sun-facing windows. For the long term, consider planting trees or installing awnings to help prevent solar gain through windows.

Inside the house, avoid using heat-producing appliances such as the oven, range and clothes dryer during the day.

Use Electrical Appliances Less

Appliances that produce heat are a double-whammy: Not only do they give off heat when you use them, but they consume a lot of electricity. If you have an electric dryer, only run it with full loads. If you have an electric water heater, turn the water temperature down to below 120 F.

Swimming pool pumps are big energy gobblers. If you have a pool, adjust the timer so the pump runs just enough to keep your pool’s water clean and clear.

As your appliances wear out, replace them with Energy Star-certified, high-efficiency appliances for long-term savings.

Use Lighting Less

Because of summer’s long days, you should be able to cut back on the need for electric lighting. Like appliances, light bulbs create heat and use energy, so use them less and consider switching to LED or compact fluorescent bulbs.

Outdoors, use solar-powered or low-voltage lighting on timers. Equip security lighting with motion sensors to minimize wasted energy.

[See: 10 Ways to Save Energy and Reduce Utility Bills at Home.]

Weatherize Your Home

Last but not least, consider making long-term energy efficiency improvements such as weatherstripping windows and doors, caulking siding, replacing windows and upgrading insulation.

To identify the best improvements for your home, consider hiring a professional home energy consultant to do a home energy audit. This typically costs from $200 to $500. According to the Department of Energy, you can save from 5 to 30 percent of your energy bill by making home energy upgrades. Or you can do your own home energy audit, following instructions available online or by using a do-it-yourself energy audit site such as HomeSelfe.

Don Vandervort is the founder of HomeTips.com.

Tags: real estate, housing, home improvements, summer, energy, electricity


Don Vandervort is the founder of HomeTips.com, a leading home improvement advice site. Don has authored many home improvement books, written extensively for MSN.com, and served as a segment host on HGTV.

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