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Reduce Home Energy Costs This Summer

Most homeowners don’t think about curbing energy and utility spending until winter, when heating bills hit. But it’s possible—and advisable—to curb energy costs in summer, too.

Running air conditioners, taking extra showers, watering lawns, and having kids home from school can all lead to higher electricity and utility costs. Don’t believe you use more energy in the summer? Take a look at your bills from the winter and compare them to summer. Conventional wisdom says that if you subtract your March energy bill total from your July bills’ total, the difference is the cost of your air conditioning and summer utility expenses.

The lion’s share of household energy spending – up to 70% in some hot markets – goes toward air conditioning costs. How much your energy bill costs depends on the market you live in, as rates per “kilowatt hour” of energy used vary by state. But the fact remains that heating and cooling appliances are among the biggest “energy hogs” in any home, with the typical central air conditioning unit pulling 3500 watts of energy. Spending more on water and air conditioning may be inevitable in summer, but there are still several major ways homeowners can curb energy costs:

Watch water usage. Check for water leaks in bathrooms and kitchens. If replacing faucets or showerheads choose models that minimize water use; also consider swapping out old toilets for water-efficient models. Outside, water lawns and plants early in the day to reduce evaporation and maximize plants’ water absorption. Choose pistol-style rather than “open” hoses to reduce water waste. When doing chores, fill washing machines and dishwashers completely before running loads.

Cool it on the A/C. Rather than rely exclusively on air conditioning, consider whether ceiling or window fans can cool areas of the house where you spend the most time and insert window screens so open windows create circulation throughout the house. Use blinds and curtains strategically to block out sun during hot times of day. If air conditioning is a must, service the system regularly and make sure to clean its filters.

Make aesthetic changes that create shade. If you’re planning to paint this summer, choose light shades which deflect heat; dark shades pull heat in. Another positive change: Adding shade trees and large shrubs to your property. Properly-placed shade trees and bushes can lower a home’s interior temperature by up to 20 degrees.

Investigate insulation. Many older homes that grow warm in summer suffer from lack of insulation—the same kind required to warm homes in winter. Check the attic as well as other sunny spaces to see if they’re properly insulated and vented. If you install a “radiant barrier” under the roof—a foil-like material or paint—the roof can actually deflect up to 95% of the heat it receives. Aside from adding insulation, review the home’s windows and make sure they’re not cracked or poorly-sealed.

Conduct a home “energy audit.” The US Department of Energy offers a home energy “calculator” at this site (http://hes.lbl.gov/) which can help you determine which areas of your home are the most costly or inefficient in terms of energy usage. The Department of Energy offers tips on improving energy efficiency here: http://www.doe.gov/yourhome.htm

Switch to energy-efficient products. Many energy vendors offer incentives for your use of efficient or renewable energy sources or technologies. That means by installing new energy-efficient heaters, boilers, furnaces, windows, insulation, or other products that you can receive two benefits—one at the time of purchase, the other when your utility bills go down. For a list of organizations and incentives organized by state, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy here: http://www.dsireusa.org/.