Friday, July 6, 2012

Cooling Bill. . . Tips to Save

It's HOT outside. 

I opened up last month's electric bill and got a shock.  May's bill was higher than June's bill LAST YEAR.  Last year, for those who don't remember, was also HOT.  I am sure rates went up and there's not much I can do about that but there are a few ways we make our home more efficient.  We go into "Cool Mode."  That's what I call it in my head.  Brian calls it something else with a reference to a past dictator.  It's entirely uncalled for since I have noticed that his forehead vein pops when the kids leave the garage door open and the hot air is rushing in. 

Here are a few things we do around the house to keep our bill lower and the house cooler.  Some days it gets so hot outside that the air conditioner can't keep up.  It runs non stop but the house creeps up in temperature.

For those who want to know, we set our thermostat at 73 degrees.  Brian would like it cooler and so would I but 73 is my compromise to our electric bill and the AC I am sure will quit either this summer or next.

Here are a few things we do at our house.  I don't claim to be an expert so don't take these as gospel.  They just work for us.

Tip #1  Close off all rooms not in use.  Our house isn't huge but we do have a spare bedroom that isn't used on a daily basis.  We close off the vent to that room.  I also take the precaution of putting a vent cover on the actual vent.  It's not pretty. . . the vent cover is a piece of magnet.  It doesn't stick very well on the side of a wall. . . it slips. . . .so I add magnets around the edges to help.  The nice thing is that we can take it off if we have a guest.  Taping off the vent works, too, but it isn't as pretty!

 Magnetic vent cover.  These come in a four pack for about five bucks.  They're great for floor vents but need some additional "help" when the vent is on the wall.

Tip #2  Use ceiling fans.  Most rooms in our house have a ceiling fan in them.  We picked up some cheap ones at Lowes when they were on sale and spent a day installing them.  It's not too hard if you follow directions.  They've made the world of difference.  They don't actually LOWER the temperature in the room but they do move the air so it FEELS cooler.  If you can't afford a fan that fits into your decor, buy a cheaper fan and a can of spray paint.  Give the outside and the blades a quick coat making sure to not plug up any holes.  You can always decoupage or mod podge some scrapbook paper to the blades to jazz up the fan.  We bought a cheap fan but changed out the glass bowl for my daughter.  It cost an additional eight dollars but it helped turn an ugly fan into something a bit more custom.

Tip #3  Use dehumidifiers.  This was probably one of the single things we did that dramatically helped keep the house cooler and the AC not working as hard.  We purchased a dehumidifier and put it right next to the furnace in the basement.  It actually worked so well that I picked up another when I saw it at a garage sale last year and put it down there, too.  They have to be emptied every day - we have a lot of humidity in Kansas- but there is a very noticeable difference.  I would suggest purchasing the biggest one you can afford.  I pour the collected water over my outdoor plants every night and once every other week collect the water for my houseplants.  They thrive on this water, for some reason!  Turn off the dehumidifiers when you don't have to empty them as often.  Ours are turned off for the season when I am only emptying them once a week.  Wash the collection container with bleach water to stop algae growth and wipe down every part of the dehumidifier you can get to with the bleach water.  Let it dry completely before putting the collection container back in and storing it for the winter.

My beloved dehumidifier.  It's been repaired several times with Mighty Putty and it's still glugging along!

Tip #4  Quit using your clothes dryer.  This one sounds hard but it isn't.  I start a load of laundry (on cold) right before bed.  In the morning, I take it out of the washer and hang it on my drying racks.  I put those into my bathroom for the day since my bathroom is the least used one in the house and I don't care to dodge clothing.  There are a few ways to do this and get good results.  First, use a bit of fabric softener if you have hard water.  Second, hang them close together and you can fit more on the racks.  Third, don't hang shirts or pants over the supports that stick up. . . you will end up with lumps.    Fold the shirts in half before hanging them over a bar and you can avoid looking like you had botched plastic surgery.  These bumps can get quite amusing depending on the placement.

Tip #5  Don't use the dry cycle on your dishwasher.  My fancy and smarmy new dishwasher doesn't have the option to turn off the dry cycle.  I do have the dishwasher wash the dishes in super hot water - the "sanitary cycle" (stupid name) but I don't have it do the drying.  Since the drying isn't the "sanitary" part of the cycle (at least on my washer) I set a timer when I push start.  When the dry cycle turns on, I turn off the dishwasher and open it up.  I do all this around nine pm so that it's air drying all night.  The kids get to unload it in the morning, lucky them!

Clean dishes.  Really.

Tip #6  Keep your blinds and drapes closed.  I hate this one.  I really, really hate this one.   I love the sunlight and I love it when my house is bright and sunny.  Unfortunately, during the summer months, we try to keep it dark.  Dark and cool.
             I have a window in my kitchen that faces the southwest and the sun just shines straight in it all afternoon.  I ended up buying an hideously expensive window film to put over it ($50 to cover my window).  That helps a LOT!  I chose this film because it's not a sticky film (for the most part).  You use windex to help position it and then squeegee out the bubbles.  It should come off quite easily if I ever need to do that.

This was from Home Depot and is discontinued. . . you can do a search online and still find it, though.  It's called Energy Film.

Tip #7  Close your basement door.  Warm air rises and cool air sinks so it would seem to make sense to keep the basement door open so that you can benefit from the cool basement air.  Not so.  Think about it.  Warm air is rising and the cool air conditioned air is sinking, sinking, right into your basement.  You want to keep that on the main floor since the basement is naturally cooler, anyway.  Close that door!  And, on the other end of it, open it up during the winter unless you need to trap the warm air in your basement.

Tip #8  Don't use your oven.  If you have to, use it at night when the sun has gone down.  The air conditioner works better and more efficiently if the air around it is cooler.  When the sun is shining on it, it works harder.  Wait until the evening and you have a better chance of the air conditioner being able to cool the house back down.  So, what to do?  You have to eat, right?  At our house, we do a lot of grilling and we eat later.  During the school year, dinner is 5pm, sharp.  This allows time for homework, for playing and for everyone to get where they need to go.  During the summertime we eat between 6pm and 7:30pm.  This is the time that the back patio tends to show some shade (essential if you are the poor cook hanging over the grill).  I also do a lot of cold meals during the summer.  We eat a lot of salads. . . pasta salads, lettuce salads, tomato salads, chicken salads, etc.  I cook enough for several meals and put it into the refrigerator to be used as needed.  I also cook pasta and any stove top items at night and put them in a zip lock bag while still warm with a squirt of olive oil.  (Reheat pasta IN the zip lock bag in the microwave. . . it takes less time and doesn't taste like reheated pasta.  Add 1/4 cup of water to the bag if it looks a bit dry.)  The crock pot gets a work out in the summer months, too.  I use it at night and cook enough for a week.  Last night the crock pot was cooking black beans.  Tonight it will cook some baby potatoes to be used in potato salad later this week.  Tomorrow it will work on some chicken breast I don't feel like putting on the grill.
Them there's a lot of beans!

Tip #9  Visit your furnace.  There's a few things you want to do here.  First, check your filter.  We use the cheap ones but make sure to change them on the first of the month.  A dirty filter isn't good!  Second, check the settings on the ducts.  There's a spot on our duct work (right behind the furnace, on the ceiling) that there is a lever thing.  This lever controls where the air goes to.  Some wise soul has labeled it for me.  Putting the lever at one point pushes most of the air upstairs to the bedrooms.  Moving to another point will put most of the air on the main floor.  Since warm air rises you want most of the cool air going to the upstairs bedrooms during the summer.  During the winter it might be opposite, depending on your house.   If you don't know which is which, I'd suggest asking someone the next time you need repair work done on your AC or furnace.  The cheaper, less accurate but more fun way would be to have someone stand upstairs with their hand over the vent and yell to you when it seems like it's coming out stronger.  It will be noticeable so this is a viable option!  Don't forget to label it!  When you are done visiting your furnace, visit the vents in each room and take a look.  Does the air blow up behind a set of curtains?  Does the vent position make no sense?  Close off vents you don't think you need (more air will come out of the others) and put an air deflector on ones that need it.  It helps if your cool air isn't blowing up behind your curtains!

Yeah, that's my lever thingie.  I couldn't get a good photo nor one that was in focus.  It was a tad dark there!

This is an air deflector.  Buy them at WalMart or Home Depot for less than $3 apiece.  Note to self:  Vacuum baseboards.

Tip #10  Don't go in and out.  This one seems like a no brainer but when you have kids and dogs, it's something that you end up yelling on a daily basis.  IN OR OUT.  Every time the door is opened, you let the hot air in and the cold air out.  Limit your coming and going.  Also, don't stand with the door open.  There's a vein on Brian's head that tends to pop out when the kids open the door, lean in and start a conversation.  That's their cue to get IN OR OUT.  When the doorbell rings I go out on the porch and shut the door behind me to figure out what they want greet my guest.  (The additional bonus is that you don't have to invite them in and the conversations tend to be shorter if it's really hot!)

I stopped at ten tips in hopes that this posting didn't come off as pompous and preaching.  I wanted to share a few tips that work for our family to keep the cooling bills as low as possible while we are still comfortable.  Saving money is always a great idea and sharing tips on how to do it is just the right thing to do!  If you have any, leave a comment.  We would all like to benefit!

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