The advent of air-conditioning replaced these time-tested methods of staying cool during summertime temperature spikes. But with quick relief from stifling heat also came higher electric bills. Now, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 9 percent of Americans’ household energy costs are dedicated to cooling – and that number probably is a little higher for many Iowans. But you don’t have to sacrifice comfort and convenience to save on your bill. All it takes is smart planning, a little elbow grease and dedication to beating the heat – and high power bills.
Stop air leaks
A home that feels cold and drafty in winter becomes hot and stuffy during summer. Taking time to seal air leaks around your house will result in cooler tem- peratures inside and lower elec- tric bills year-round.
Add caulk and weather strip- ping around doors and windows, and check where walls meet ceilings and floors. Look at items that might seem innocuous but usually leak, such as recessed canister lights, outlets and switches.
Also check the air barriers that work in conjunction with your insulation, to make sure they’re not hanging loose or otherwise damaged. Sealing up the cracks around joists in your attic will help your insulation do a better job too.
Leaky ductwork will make your air-conditioning system work a lot harder than it needs to, which drives up your electric bills and wears out the heating and cooling equipment more quickly. It’s one of the first plac- es you should look if you’re try- ing to lower your warm-weather energy costs.
According to Energy Star®, about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system in a typical house is lost due to leaks, holes and poorly connect- ed ducts. If the duct system is exposed, you can seal the leaks with a paintbrush and mastic purchased at just about any home improvement store. If the ducts aren’t easily accessible, hire a professional heating and cooling contractor to seal them.
Install a programmable thermostat
Even if you’re not upgrading your entire heating and cool- ing system, you should install a programmable thermostat. But remember that to get the great- est benefit from the device you have to program it to match your family’s schedule and lifestyle – a step many people fail to take.
“A programmable thermostat is an excellent tool to improve your home’s energy efficiency, but you have to actually program it – and then you have to leave it alone,” says Brian Sloboda, senior program manager for the Cooperative Research Network. “Fiddling with the settings won’t help – but getting the settings to where you’re comfortable when you’re home will really help with energy savings.”
Landscape to shade your home
Planting a tree or climbing vine not only adds a little variety to your home’s landscape; it also can cool your house when the sun beats down. Trees in the right spot can decrease your home’s energy use by up to 25 percent, according the Department of Energy.
Plant deciduous trees – ones that lose their leaves every year – to the south and west of your home, and you’ll gain shade in the summer while letting the sunshine warm your home in the winter. A 6-foot- tall deciduous tree with an 8-inch trunk will begin providing shade the first year, and it only gets cool- er after that – reaching your roof- line in 5 to 10 years.
If you want shade all the time or need to block wind, choose evergreens. But when you’re pre- paring to choose your greenery, keep in mind that trees never should be planted underneath a power line. Call your electric co- operative to find out how far from lines you should plant, and then check www.arborday.org to learn about the types of trees that are best for your home’s landscape. And when it’s time to plant your trees, be sure to call Iowa One Call at 800-292-8989 to have the underground utilities in your yard marked before you dig.
Buy the right size air conditioner
If you’re in the market for a new central air conditioner, logic would indicate that a larger air-conditioning unit would keep your rooms cooler. In fact, the opposite is true. A unit that’s too large for the space will operate in- efficiently, wear out faster because it cycles too often and even cause mold problems because it won’t adequately remove humidity from the air.
A reputable heating and cooling contractor will need to do a lot of investigating and calculating on an industry-standard worksheet or computer program to come up with the correct rating for your cooling system. The licensed pro- fessional will consider things such as the size, style, orientation and shading of your home; insulation levels; window types, locations and sizes; air infiltration; location and condition of ducts; lighting and appliances in use; weather; your family’s lifestyle; and your comfort preferences.
Be sure to purchase a system with an Energy Star label, which means the product has met specif- ic energy efficiency standards set by the federal government. Central systems with the Energy Star des- ignation are about 14 percent more efficient than ones that don’t have it. And don’t forget to add a pro- grammable thermostat for maxi- mum efficiency.
Call your electric cooperative for help
As you work this summer to beat the heat, don’t forget about your local electric cooperative. One of the experts there can help you determine the right steps for making your home more energy efficient, including whether a complete home energy audit will help find more savings. Also ask about the latest rebates and other incentives for the energy-saving home improvements or the pur- chase of energy-efficient applianc- es and air conditioners.
Finally, visit the Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives website at www.togetherwesave.com to find out how the changes you make around the house can add up to big energy savings.