In some parts of the country, it may feel like you are playing a losing game with your electricity and gas bills during times of extreme weather. During the morning and night, you turn up the thermostat to keep yourself warm. Then during the day, the summers raging heat pounds onto your rooftop — sending you running to turn on the AC.
Stop the thermostat tango and read on to find actionable ways to save money on your energy bill year-round, no matter what the weather is like.
Turn Your Thermostat Up in the Summer
Avoid the temptation to keep the air conditioner churning while you’re away from home. Pacific Power recommends maintaining a temperature of about 85 degrees when you’re not home. You can save up to 10 percent on your bill with this smart energy strategy.
When you are home, turn on a fan and bump the air conditioner up to a warmer-than-normal temperature — up to 4 degrees higher, according to the Department of Energy. Fans move the air to cool you down rather than reducing the temperature in the room, so they’re cheaper to run.
Fans serve another purpose as well. They attack heat and humidity in rooms where you don’t spend much time, such as bathrooms and laundry areas. Turn fans on in these rooms when you’re done showering or as you’re drying those damp clothes. Just make sure the fans vent outside and not into your attic.
Keep Cooling Systems and Appliances Clean
Regularly cleaning your appliances can help you save money on your next utility bill. Cleaning or replacing air filters on your air conditioner once a month or as recommended will help it to cool more efficiently. When the system has to strain to work, that extra energy needed can lead to larger electricity bills.
You should also regularly clean the condenser coils on your refrigerator because dust and dirt that accumulate on coils impairs the refrigerator’s efficiency. An EPA study found that dirty coils can increase energy use by 35 percent.
Finally, keep range-top burners and reflectors clean to help them heat better, and reap savings.
Invest in a Smart Thermostat
Smart thermostats are WiFi-enabled devices that automatically regulate temperature settings for optimal performance. Look for a smart thermostat that has earned an Energy Star label.
Smart thermostats can learn the temperature you prefer, as well as when you are home and away to adjust settings accordingly. They also allow you to adjust your home’s temperature using your smartphone or tablet. Some Energy Star-certified smart thermostats are compatible with incentive programs that might be offered by your utility company, so you can earn rewards by using one.
Nest estimates that the average smart thermostat user will save $131 to $145 annually on heating and cooling costs. A Nest smart thermostat sells for $249, so it’s estimated that the device will pay for itself in under two years. Plus, you might be eligible for rebates on the purchase, which means the savings could add up even sooner. For example, if you live in Los Angeles, SoCalGas offers a $50 rebate when you purchase a Nest thermostat, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power offers an additional $75 rebate.
Upgrade Your Lightbulbs
Take an inventory of your lightbulbs — if they’re the old-fashioned incandescent kind, they are likely generating more heat than you know. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, only about 10 percent of the electricity these lightbulbs draw goes to lighting your home. Roughly 90 percent is devoted to generating heat.
Of course, you don’t want to stumble around in the dark, so upgrade to more efficient lighting sources. In fact, traditional incandescent bulbs aren’t even manufactured these days.
About 5 percent of your energy bill is devoted to keeping you in the light. You can save up to $75 a year by installing Energy Star bulbs and fixtures. Choose from LED, halogen and CFL bulbs.
Open Your Drapes and Blinds
During periods of cold weather, sunshine can keep your home warm, even on days when the temperature dips to uncomfortable levels. Open the blinds and curtains on windows that face south, and let those sunbeams stream in to keep you toasty.
Just don’t forget to close them again at night when the temperature drops and on cloudy days, as well. If your windows are older and on the drafty side, consider replacing them with Energy Star windows. Purchasing energy-efficient windows can cut heat loss by up to 20 percent.
Your drapes should also be insulated to keep the colder air out when there’s no sun. Tuck them in tightly to curtail drafts. It might be a little unsightly, but it could help cut your energy bills.
During the summer, use blackout drapes will also keep your home cool from blocking the suns heat.
Check for Air Leaks
When the temperature starts to plummet, it’s wise to assess your home for air leaks. Fortunately, you don’t have to hire a professional to find them. For doors and windows, place a dollar bill in the jamb and close it. If you can slide the bill out easily, air can easily get in or out, too.
Or, do the smoke test by holding a lit incense stick near suspected areas. If the smoke doesn’t rise straight up, you have a leak. You can do the same test with a lighter or candle. If the flame flickers, the spot isn’t airtight. These tests work best on windy days. Make sure all your doors, windows and fireplace flues are closed first, so you don’t get any false readings.
You’re most likely to find leaks around pipes under the bathroom or kitchen sink and near venting behind “hidden” unfinished spaces in your home, like the attic or the backs of closets. Add caulking to plug leaks, and use weatherstripping to seal around windows and doors. Caulking works best when the gaps are narrow and small. You can save up to 15 percent on heating costs — and cooling costs — by sealing up these leaks.
Plug Up Drafts
Of course, your windows aren’t the only culprits when it comes to letting in the cold. You can shave up to 20 percent off your heating bill by upgrading the insulation in your attic. Additionally, your fireplace can actually remove heat from the home rather than generate it. In fact, about 90 percent of the heat created by a fireplace goes straight up the chimney.
Still, you can drop your thermostat to the 50 to 55 degree range for a while if you’re going to be in the room where the fireplace is located. Don’t forget to open the dampers at the bottom of the fireplace, and open a window about an inch to help draw hot air into the room.
When you’re not using your fireplace, follow the U.S. Department of Energy’s advice and close the damper. If you don’t plan on building a fire in the near future, you might want to plug and seal the flue. For best results, block it off with a piece of firm, tight-fitting insulation or buy a chimney balloon that you can insert and inflate. You can save up to $100 a year by blocking off your unused fireplace. Just remember to remove the balloon or insulation before attempting to build a fire in the future.
Move Furniture Away From Exterior Walls
Saving on energy costs can be as simple as moving your furniture around. Get a jump on extreme weather by readying your living space for any type of weather.
Even though you’ve caulked and weather-stripped, your home is still going to be a little cooler or hotter by windows, doors and exterior walls. Consider moving sofas and chairs to the interior parts of rooms — maybe near the television or that big pole lamp that’s generating heat.
Appliances don’t just throw off heat in the summer. They do it in winter, too, only now you’ll want to make use of that warmth. If you stay away from drafty locations, you could set your thermostat a bit lower during the next snowstorm.
Open Your Windows
Mild spring temperatures don’t mean you’re off the hook as far as energy-saving efforts are concerned. Before summer hits in full force, you might want to start prepping your home for the hotter temps.
Consider opening your windows and turning fans and air conditioning off while you’re sleeping. Then, when you close the windows in the morning, you’ll trap that nice, cool air inside. Even if the day heats up, it might be a while before you have to turn on the air conditioner.
Additionally, you should keep the blinds and drapes closed during the day. You’ll want to block that warming sunshine as the mercury climbs.
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Move Appliances Away From the Thermostat
From cooking our food to broadcasting entertainment into our houses at night, home appliances are indispensable. However, these essentials also generate a fair amount of heat in the summer.
Try not to place your TV or lamps near your thermostat. The thermostat will sense the heat and ramp-up to reduce nearby temperatures. Your air conditioning unit will then run longer and harder, costing you money.
Your oven is not your friend in the summer, either. Use the stovetop — or even better, an outdoor grill — for cooking. Even your microwave is more cost-friendly than your oven, capable of using up to 80 percent less energy. And, it won’t have any effect on the temperature in your kitchen.
If the idea of washing dishes by hand makes you shudder, at least avoid running your dishwasher during the hottest part of the day. The same goes for your clothes dryer. Pacific Power recommends restricting the use of major appliances between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. when the weather is hot.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
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