Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - June 2008
10 Cool Ways to Save Energy
Utility bills making you sweat? Plug into these strategies to cut both your energy consumption and your cooling costs.
Baby, it's hot outside! The temptation to crank up the air conditioner is understandable, but it comes at a price to the planet. According to the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, residents of the Southeast consume more electricity per person than those living in any other region of the country. Take action to ease the burden on both the electric grid and your energy budget this summer. Some of these suggestions are easy fixes with little cost, while others are smart investments that will save energy for years to come.
1. Close the curtains. Use curtains or blinds as insulators when the sun beats in on the southwest side of the house on a hot summer afternoon. Sun streaming through windows can make the air conditioner work two to three times harder.
2. Stir up a breeze. Ceiling fans create a windchill effect, reducing the need for cooling by about 5 degrees. Rozanne Weissman, spokesperson for the Alliance to Save Energy, recommends Energy Star-qualified models, which can be up to 30 percent more efficient than regular ceiling fans. But turn them off when you leave. "Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms," she says.
3. Check your cooling system. "A well-maintained cooling system is the number one thing you can do for energy efficiency in the summer," Weissman says. Besides having the system and ductwork inspected, don't forget to change the air filter once a month. A dirty filter slows down the system and makes it work harder to perform.
4. Get with the program. A programmable thermostat can save up to 10 percent on your cooling bill if you program it to dial up the temperature at night and when you're out of the house. Danny Lipford, host of the syndicated television show Today's Homeowner, says installing the thermostat is a simple job to do yourself, or you can ask your air-conditioning contractor to install the thermostat while inspecting the cooling system.
5. Plug leaks. Although most people consider this a winter job, it's just as important in the summer. "One of the easiest, cheapest things you can do to reduce the cooling bill is seal cracks in the doors and windows," Weissman says. Use sealant or caulking to plug leaks between nonmoving parts, and weather stripping around moving parts such as doors and windows. Choose good quality materials that will expand and contract with weather changes.
6. Replace lightbulbs. "We joke that incandescent bulbs are a great heat source that waste 5-10 percent of their energy as light," says Katie Ackerly, coauthor of Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (9th edition; New Society Publishers, 2007). Instead choose compact fluorescent bulbs, which can save up to $60 each year in energy costs and last up to 10 times longer.
7. Lighten up. Just as you wear white clothing to stay cool in summer, a light-colored or reflective roof will absorb less heat. The Cool Roof Rating Council (coolroofs.org) can connect you to resources, members and appropriate products. Similarly, if it's time to repaint your house, consider a lighter color to better reflect light.
8. Choose Energy Star-qualified appliances. They've met strict efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. "Old appliances not only waste energy, they give off excess heat," Ackerly says. "The top heat producers are old refrigerators, dishwashers and dryers."
9. Insulate. In warm climates, focus on the attic first. Heat rises through the house, and the sun beats down on the roof. "The attic can get up to 150°F in the summer," Lipford says. "If you're not insulated between that hot spot and the cooler temperatures below, the air conditioner will have to work even harder to compete with the heat of the attic." He recommends at least 12 inches of attic insulation in the Southeast. Visit simplyinsulate.org for more insulation know-how.
10. Branch out. Plant leafy trees to block the summer sun. According to the Department of Agriculture, a shade tree has the cooling effect of five air conditioners. Take cues from your house and note where the sun comes in hottest during the summer; where you plant will depend on the direction your house faces.
"These tips may not appear to make a big difference taken one by one," Lipford says. "But if you couple two or three together, you'll definitely see a difference in the comfort level of your home and the money you spend on cooling."
LEARN MORE: Visit Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org) and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (aceee.org).