25 Ways to Beat the Heat of a Summer Electric Bill
Temperatures tend to climb in the summer months, but this year consistent triple-digit thermometer readings across the nation are causing electric bills to soar, too.
The Energy Information Administration estimates that running an air conditioner accounts for 12% of all home energy expenditures. And with heat rising well into the 100-degree range in places not used to it, many of us can expect to be using the air conditioner nearly every hour of the day.
That is, if you have air conditioning. The record-breaking highs — over 110 in some cities — in the Pacific Northwest sent residents scrambling for relief since air conditioning isn’t common, especially along the coast. June highs are usually in the 70s in Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
But for those of us with air conditioning, we can spend up to $200 a month to keep our cool. It pays to get creative with how and when you use cooling measures in your own home.
25 Ways to Reduce Electric Bill
From low-tech fans to high-tech tricks to simple maintenance checks and fixes, these two-dozen-plus-one ways to avoid sticker shock from your electric bill are worth your efforts.
1. Get a Free Home Energy Assessment
Many power providers offer free home energy assessments or home energy optimization kits. Xcel Energy, which serves much of the northern midwest and mountain regions of the U.S., provides a free virtual visit with a Home Energy Squad member, followed by a free kit to optimize your residential electrical usage.
2. Seal Cracks and Leaks is How to Lower Electric Bill
When the heat is high, don’t let any precious air conditioning escape due to drafty doors and leaky windows. Seal these money-draining spaces with inexpensive draft tape, often ranging from $9 to $15 on popular sites like Amazon.
3. Upgrade to Efficient Equipment with a Rebate
Although upgrading air conditioning systems, thermostats, and other energy-related systems can be pricey, many electrical companies offer rebate programs. ConEd, which serves New York City, offers rebates on smart thermostats.
4. If You Have a Smart Thermostat, Use It
For those who already have a Nest or other programmable thermostat in your home, take the time to program it. Smart thermostats offer zonal and timed heating and cooling, which on average will save most home owners around 15% on their cooling bills.
5. Take a Time Out on Energy Consumption
No, not that kind of time out. To cheaply lower your electric bill, consider adding an outlet timer to window unit air conditioners. These helpful gadgets cost $10 to $20 and will make your home more energy efficient and limit the amount of “phantom power” (the power your devices leech from outlets even when not turned on) contributing to monthly energy bills.
6. Become a Fan of Fans
Fans are a tried-and-true way to cool down in warmer months. Running strategically placed fans throughout your home uses less energy than an air conditioner and can leverage cooler evenings to provide a naturally pleasant temperature without the energy bill hike.
7. Let Mother Nature Do the Work
Although typical clothes dryers do not themselves increase electric bills all that much (they cost about $100 per year in energy), leaving a hot dryer running multiple times a week can heat up your living space, resulting in you (understandably) cranking up the A/C. Instead, try air drying clothes when possible. Take advantage of the summer sun and heat with an outdoor clothesline.
8. Invest in One-Time Duct Cleaning
A major cause of ineffective or inefficient home cooling may be from clogged ductwork. Over the years, debris like dust, pet hair, and dander can accumulate in vents and make it difficult for air to flow smoothly throughout your space. Cleaner ducts = less need to turn up the A/C. Fortunately, HVAC system maintenance is pretty affordable, and a one-time vent cleaning will only take $200-$300 out of your home maintenance budget.
9. Change Your Air Filter for Lower Electricity Bill
Air filters do just that — filter out tiny particles and debris generally undetectable to the human eye. This provides us with clean air circulating in our homes. However, these filters need to be changed about every six months in order to work properly. Clogged filters inhibit effective air flow and can lead to higher energy costs due to forcing your air systems to work harder to pump out air.
10. Run Appliances at Night
Some electric companies charge higher rates during the day (aka peak hours) and lower rates in the evening (aka off-peak hours). It can help save a few bucks here and there to run larger appliances like dishwashers, clothing dryers, and washing means while you’re getting some shut-eye. And in the heat of summer saving even a few pennies can really add up.
11. Make the Move to LED
Incandescent bulbs release about 90% of their energy as heat. Couple that with the fact that they generally are not energy efficient and it’s enough to make the case to switch to LED bulbs. LED bulbs can save consumers as much as $75 per month and they give off little-to-no heat.
12. Seal the Chimney
Sealing off your chimney — or at least closing the damper — prevents chilled air from leaking out and hot air from wafting in. There are lots of different ways to seal a chimney, from a $50 chimney balloon to using plastic to cover the hearth. Consult with a professional to find out what’s right for your home to lower your electricity bill.
13. Replace Window Screens for Cool Air
As we already mentioned, leveraging Mother Nature when possible to decrease your bill and your energy consumption is a great idea. In this case, replacing snared, ripped window screens with relatively inexpensive new ones will make you more inclined to leave the windows open for a pleasant breeze in the evening while keeping bugs out.
14. Insulate Hidden Areas
Any item in your house that has pipes behind it (toilets, sinks, etc.) likely is simply sitting in an open hole in the wall with no insulation. This means that in the summer cool air could be leaking out or hot air could be seeping in. Consulting with a professional to learn more about how adding insulation behind toilets and sinks can help make your home more energy efficient by eliminating these air leaks across your house.
15. Dinner for Breakfast
Well, not actually. But being smart about using the oven can keep your home cooler and result in lower electrical bills. Cooking with the oven in the morning when it’s cooler can prevent your home from overheating when cooking at 5 p.m. Likewise, using an oven closer to those off-peak hours means it may not cost as much to run.
16. Upgrade the Blinds
It’s no secret that sun-facing windows can cause a room — or the entire house — to heat up beyond what’s comfortable. Flimsy blinds are more than just ineffective, they could be causing your electric bill to rise. Spending around $30 for a set of blackout curtains will help keep your home cooler by entirely blocking out the sun, decreasing your need to crank the A/C. This will save energy too.
17. Close the Door
If you live in a multiroom home, closing the doors to unused rooms will consolidate your A/C usage to fewer rooms, and it will keep that room much cooler. Pick a room or two to hang out in for the majority of the day, and shut the doors to the others to naturally create zonal cooling. A painless way to lower your electric bill.
18. Use Less Water
Although most folks are billed for water separately from power, you can save a pretty penny by being more conscious about how much water your family uses in the summer, when droughts and water shortages are common. Instead of filling up a multigallon kiddie pool at home for children or furry friends to cool off in, consider taking advantage of public pools and beaches, many of which cost just a few bucks for admission.
19. Reduce Phantom Power
Even if something like a lamp or TV are not turned on, the fact that they remain plugged in means those items could be leeching “phantom power” from your home, and jacking up your electric bill. Phantom power refers to the electricity consumed by objects when they are off or in standby mode. This allows them to quickly turn on, but means your electric bill pays the price. Consider unplugging lamps, appliances, and more when not in use to save on your next energy payment.
20. Add an Energy Efficient Power Strip
While you’re unplugging unused objects, think about adding in an energy efficient power strip to cut down on your bill. Some estimate that installing energy efficient power strips (which are only $20 to $30 each) can decrease home power use from 20 to 48%, which translates to more than just a few dollars back in your pocket.
21. Leverage Public Spaces
With the worst of the pandemic behind us, many public spaces such as coffee shops and coworking spaces are once again open. Taking your work, reading, or podcast listening to a public space with air conditioning means you can leave the home A/C and lights off for a few hours, saving you anywhere from $10 to $20 per day and significantly decreasing home electricity usage thus lowering your energy bill.
22. Lower the Hot Water Heater Temperature
The default temperature for water heaters is 140 degrees, which wastes between $36 and $61 a year, according to the Department of Energy.
According to the DOE, lowering the temp to 120 degrees is perfectly fine for the majority of the population. If you or a member of your household has a chronic respiratory disease or a suppressed immune system, though, it may be best to keep your water heater set to the default temp.
23. Decrease Door Drafts with a Draft Stopper
Using the aptly named draft stopper on your doors can further prevent air leaks throughout your home. For only $8, you can keep prized cold air better circulating in your space without losing it to wasteful door leaks. Another painless way to save money.
24. Use Exhaust Fans
Exhaust fans are those that are generally already built into your home, like the kind above a stove or shower. These fans do an exceptionally good job at circulating air and removing moisture and humidity from that air. Running these fans even when not cooking or in the shower can improve air circulation and decrease the need to crank up the A/C and your power usage.
25. Go Through a Checklist
Owning or renting a home comes with all sorts of maintenance. It can be hard to keep track of what to do at what time of year in order to keep your space clean and efficient. Referring to a home checklist like this one can ensure you are ticking off the correct boxes to prepare your home for warmer months, potentially saving you some dough on electric bills throughout the summer.
Colorado-based writer Kristin Jenny focuses on lifestyle and wellness. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.