That warm summer sun is a beacon for everyone looking forward to vacation and cookouts, but it can also signal the beginning of astronomically high summer utility bills.
The typical American household spends $2,200 per month on utilities, with nearly half of that going toward heating and cooling. During the summer months, those air conditioners are a matter of necessity especially for those living in the South and other extremely hot climates. Near round-the-clock cooling can double or even triple your electric bill for several months.
There are steps you can take, from the easy fix to the long-term investment, that can drastically cut down on your summer utility bills and use of electricity on the hottest days of the year.
Replace Your Light Bulbs
The average home has approximately 45 sockets or bulbs, according to the EPA, and about 60% of US sockets contain an inefficient bulb. That adds up over time for homeowners and renters alike.
The EPA recommends replacing outdated bulbs with Energy Star-certified LED bulbs.
“Certified LED bulbs use up to 90% less energy than standard bulbs and last 15 times longer,” said EPA spokesman James Hewitt. “A single light bulb that has earned the Energy Star can save more than $55 in electricity costs over its lifetime.”
That translates to nearly $1,500 in savings for the average home just by switching out those inefficient light bulbs.
Get a Programmable “Smart” Thermostat
This is a quick fix that can save you hundreds of dollars, and takes just a few minutes to install. Many smart thermostats use geofencing and wifi to communicate with you when you are on your way home to automatically cool the house down. This way, you don’t have to leave the air-conditioning running when no one is home.
Jill Kissick, a teacher whose job keeps her out of the house for the hottest part of the day, bought and installed a Nest for less than $200 when she and her family were living in southern Louisiana.
Kissick, who is originally from New York state, said the hot Louisiana climate (which averages in the mid-90s in the summer months, but often climbs into the triple digits) meant she had to rethink her summer electricity usage for their two-story 2,200-square-foot house.
“Our old thermostat was not measuring temperature accurately,” Kissick said. “We found we saved about 10% on our bill, [which was] normally around $200 for the summer months.”
Kissick communicated with her smart thermostat from her phone, remotely turning down the thermostat before she left work in the afternoon. She also made sure to close doors to rooms that weren’t in regular use to avoid wasting cooling energy.
“When at home we kept the thermostat at 70,” she said. “When we left we would keep it at 75 or 76.”
Seal and Insulate Your House
The biggest air leaks are likely hiding in your attic or basement, Hewitt said. Sealing windows and doors with weather stripping, caulking around outlets and pipes, and adding extra insulation can save you up to 10% on your annual utility bills.
Kathie Steinert spent about $4,000 on additional, higher quality insulation added to the attic of her 2,800-square-foot Connecticut home a few years ago. Not only is it cooler in the summer, but they saw the benefits in their utility bills right away, both in the warmer months and the harsh New England winters.
“I saved a couple hundred a year on AC electricity costs,” she said adding that they keep their thermostat around 72 degrees, “and about $300 a year on heating.”
Keep up Regular Maintenance on Filters and HVAC Systems
Dirty air filters and clogged ducts will slow airflow and put more of a strain on your cooling system, wasting energy and costing you more money as it works harder than it would if it was clean.
The EPA recommends inspecting and cleaning or replacing air filters once a month during “heavy use” seasons, like summer and winter.
“There may be may be other things wrong with your HVAC system that wouldn’t be obvious to the average person,” Hewitt said. “Have your system serviced annually by an HVAC contractor to ensure that it’s running at optimum efficiency to save you energy and money.”
Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances
This is one investment that’s good for your bottom line and the environment.
“A typical household equipped with Energy Star-certified products can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 77,000 pounds of CO2 and save about $8,750 on utility bills over the life of these products,” Hewitt said.
The top cost-cutting energy efficient appliances for summer are:
- Central Air Conditioners: Replacing an A/C that’s more than 12 years old with an Energy Star model could cut your cooling costs by a whopping 30%, according to the EPA.
- Windows: Depending on where you live, you can save between $100 and $580 per year by replacing single-pane windows with Energy Star windows.
- Ceiling Fans: Energy Star-certified ceiling fans with lights are 60% more efficient on average and can save you up to $130 over the fan’s lifetime.
Consider Solar Options
Gary and Dawn Ross were a quick study in energy efficient cooling systems after they retired this year from New Jersey to Hawaii’s Big Island. They are in the process of installing photovoltaic panels on the roof of their 2,300-square-foot home.
“Our house has a full day of sunlight hitting our roof,” Gary Ross said. “Because we are close to the equator, our hours of daylight are relatively unchanged all year.”
While the initial cost for the solar system may seem steep—they are paying about $32,000 for panels with batteries for those occasional cloudy days—the Rosses will get back about half the cost in federal and state tax credits and rebates. And their electric bill will plummet, a big plus in Hawaii.
“Hawaiian electricity is one of the highest costs in the nation, so I thought solar would be good for us,” Gary Ross said. “We are hoping to have an extremely low electric [bill], if not zero.”