As parts of the United States bake into triple-digit temperatures, Americans are turning on their air conditioners—and driving up their electric bills.
Generally rising bills at this time of year are on the rise as the cost of electricity generation is rising rapidly. According to the US Energy Information Administration, approximately 90% of American homes use some form of air conditioning for cooling. The administration’s latest forecast shows average residential electricity prices rising 4.7% this summer compared to last summer.
Here are tips for managing your cooling bill.
Seasonal tuneups can help keep central air conditioning systems running smoothly. Technicians typically check refrigerant levels and clean cooling coils.
“It makes air conditioners run better, and keep costs down,” said Adam Cooper, senior director of customer solutions for the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents investor-owned electric companies.
If you have delayed maintenance, you may have to wait longer for service during the warmer months. But you can at least replace the system’s air filter yourself, to keep cool air flowing and help the unit work efficiently.
Close the blinds or shades during the day to avoid the sun. You can also try plastic film that adheres to windows to block the sun’s rays. You can get a professional to install it or buy a do-it-yourself kit (about $10 per window). Department of Energy’s “Energy Saver” website This suggests that film is best for regions with prolonged cold climates, as they also block the heat of the sun in winter.
Rough windows and doors that make your home cooler in winter can also make it hot in summer, so seal them with weather stripping, caulk, or spray foam.
Proper insulation is especially important for keeping your home cool and dry in hot weather, said Richard Trethewey, a heating and air conditioning contractor who appears on the television program “This Old House.”
To make sure your home is energy efficient, consider an energy “audit” to identify areas in need of more insulation. Such an assessment usually costs a few hundred dollars, but some utilities do include the cost. To find a qualified contractor, search the website of building demonstration instituteWhich certifies technicians performing audit and recommended work.
Low-flow shower heads can save electricity by heating less water, said Ara Schuur, executive director of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes regional cooperation. And “smart” power strips can lock energy into appliances when they’re not being used, she said.
Ceiling fans can help keep you feeling cooler and allow you to set your thermostat higher. Turn off the fan when you’re not at home because “fans cool people, not rooms,” says the Department of Energy. The department suggests running the clothes dryer and dishwasher during cooler hours and avoiding using your oven on hot days.
Consider a programmable thermostat to help you manage your cooling system, especially if you’re away from home during the day. You can set it to a higher temperature when you are leaving and lower it when you return. If you choose a “smart” version that is connected to the Internet, you can control it remotely with your mobile phone. Utilities may offer incentives or discounts to consumers who install thermostats.
If your cooling system is getting old, consider investing in a replacement because newer models are more efficient, Trethewey said. That said, there are now more options, such as new heat-pump systems that use “inverter” technology to cool your home in the summer (and heat it in the winter).
“It’s like cruise control,” he said.
Some states and utilities offer financial incentives to install heat pumps.
New cooling systems can cost thousands of dollars depending on the type of unit, size of the home, and other variables. Expect to pay $8,000 to $12,000, said Donald Brandt, a fellow at ASHRAE, a group for heating, refrigeration and air-conditioning professionals.
Brandt said residential air conditioning units can last about 20 years, if maintained properly.
Live in an apartment or just need to cool one room instead of an entire house? Look for a window air conditioner that meets federal Energy Star standards. Units are usually available for a few hundred dollars up to $1,000 depending on the size required.
Here are some questions and answers about cooling bills in the summer:
How can I avoid a big jump in my summer electricity bill?
Ask about “level” billing. To avoid shocking customers with fluctuating bills, utilities often agree to charge a flat monthly rate, then settle any differences in payments once a year. Generally, your account must be in good standing to qualify.
If you struggle to pay your bill, the federal government funds the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. To see if you qualify, contact the appropriate agency in your state. For Washington State, information can be found at Website of Department of Commerce, LIHEAP information can also be found here King County site,
Can I really save money by raising my thermostat in the summer?
According to the Edison Institute, raising your thermostat just 1 degree in the summer will cut your electricity bill by 2%. The Department of Energy suggests setting the thermostat as high as you’re comfortable when you’re at home — aim for 78 degrees — and several degrees higher when you’re away.
Employees of the Seattle Times reported on Washington state.