Stay Cool

Keeping cool this summer doesn't have to cost you a fortune.

The temperatures are rising, which means your energy bill can rise, too, with air conditioners and fans working overtime. Don't worry; you needn't collapse in a pile of sweat and despair to keep your energy bill from skyrocketing this summer. This also doesn't mean that you'll need to take out a loan to afford keeping cool. You may not realize how many little things you are doing during the day or week that are working against your end goal of keeping cool, but don't worry, that's why we're here.

These tips will keep you cool and let your wallet chill out a little.

Double-Check the Simple Things

First, if you have an air conditioning system, make sure all of your AC vents are actually open. These tend to get closed frequently by children, pets, moving furniture and vacuuming. You'll also want to make sure these openings haven't been accidentally blocked by furniture, gym bags, or pet beds. Opening all of your vents will help your AC work more efficiently, which means it uses less energy and keeps more money in your pocket.

Set your fan to spin counter-clockwise in hot weather.

Next, make sure your ceilings fans are going the correct direction for summer. Set your fan to spin counter-clockwise in hot weather, to help bring hot air up higher and out of your breathing space. Most fans will have a switch to change direction if you get on a stool to inspect it closely. Clean your AC unit each spring. Change filters regularly. If you have a freestanding or window unit, be sure to clean the unit thoroughly before installation. Grime that accumulates during storage means the unit has to work harder to do its job. Seal the edges around it tightly to prevent any air leakage.

Tinker with Every Setting

Set your thermostat a degree or two higher than you'd ideally enjoy when you are home, and even higher when you're not home. This can save a few dollars a day. Turn off the heat-dry setting on your dishwasher. This setting burns through wattage and sends heat pouring out into your kitchen. Plan to start the dishwasher overnight or first thing in the morning so the dishes can air-dry while you're sleeping or at work. Wash clothes in cold water for the same effect. Grab a retractable clothesline and spread it in the sunshine for a free dryer cycle. Dryers pour extra heat into your living space, making you use even more energy to counteract it. Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees. You won't need as hot of water in summer as you do in winter to keep you comfortable, so stop spending the extra money.

Use Your Curtains Wisely

Sheer curtains are lovely and light for summer afternoons; but the truth is, they're making your home hotter. Use heavyweight curtains, even in summer. Brightly colored duck cloth (a heavy cotton canvas), lined silk, or lined polyester are all great choices. A white backing will reflect heat back outwards, keeping you cooler. If you already have curtains, sew a white flat sheet to the back for the same effect. Close the curtains and blinds when you're not home. The sun will heat your home up very quickly during the prime sunlight hours when you're probably not home to need the light. Keeping the blinds and drapes closed will mean you need to turn on the fan and AC less later. It works; the only trick is getting in the habit of closing them before you leave the house (but don't try this on humid days).

Switch to LED Bulbs

Incandescent, or traditional, bulbs give off a nice, warm light. That's exactly the problem… their light is warm. It uses more energy and gives off heat to have incandescent light bulbs in your home in summer. LED bulbs are steadily becoming less expensive (and some states are subsidizing LED light bulbs them or offering rebates right now).You can even find energy-star rated LED bulbs as an in-store special-buy at some dollar stores LED bulbs will lower heating costs all year long, but they help particularly in the summer. This is especially important for bulbs that are close to you, such as reading lights in living rooms or tableside lamps in bedrooms. LED bulbs always remain cool to the touch, even if they give off a warm hue. You'll feel the difference when you sit next to a cooler bulb.

Utilize Your Fan Well

Position fans on the coolest side of the house to push cool air into a room.

Fans are one of the most cost-effective ways to stay comfortable in the heat of summer without using an energy behemoth of an air-conditioning system or unit. But make sure you are using your stationary fan to its best advantage by keeping a few guidelines in mind. Utilize the oscillating, or sweeping motion, option that keeps the fan rotating to keep air moving in a bigger motion pattern. This helps the air feel cooler when it gets back to you. Use a sleep timer function if your fan has one for night-time. Open the windows and use the fan to keep cool as you fall asleep. Then, as it cools down outside, the fan will turn off (2 or 4 hours after you fall asleep) to compensate for the new cool air coming in.

This is a great way to save energy and not wake up cold when the temperatures finally drop during the night. Window fans should be pulling in the right direction (counter-clockwise), and double window fans with a vent fan on one side are ideal as they suck the hot air back out the proper way. These are not much more expensive than regular window fans and work wonders. Position fans on the coolest side of the house to push cool air into the room. A cross-breeze is effective if you position a fan at each end of the house, and is particularly useful with open windows to keep air circulating.

Turn off Devices

Most devices soak up energy even when they're not in active use, from cell-phone chargers and televisions to microwaves and coffee makers. Turning off devices that can be turned off, such as the coffee maker, will help. But most will still be taking in some energy…to keep the time displayed on the coffee maker, for instance. While this won't make a huge dent in keeping your home cool and your energy bill lower, it's worth doing because every cent counts. Why pay for energy you aren't using?

An energy-efficient power strip is another way to go; they are inexpensive and will do some of the monitoring work for you, like this one, which stops sending energy to devices that are turned off. You can also turn off the whole strip at once, making it easy to remember to power down before you leave the house. You can also get simple one-outlet adapters with an on/off button so you don't have to unplug, say, your cell phone charger every time. One device not to power off on humid days? Your dehumidifier. This can greatly lessen the need for your air conditioner by making the air that's already in your home more comfortable.

Batch Cooking or Cook Outside

Cooking is a major area where you can easily save money on your energy bill and keep your home cooler at the same time in the summer. Batch cooking so you only have to heat up the kitchen and your appliances once. Bake muffins for the week, cook a double batch of rice, boil eggs for egg salad and bake potatoes all at the same time. Cook and bake in the evening, when the house is already at its coolest, and open windows to get the heat right out. Then, do the rest of the cooking outdoors on the grill or campfire. It's also the perfect time of year for no-cook recipes, such as salads, sandwiches and cold salads that can be assembled ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. Eating cold food also helps you feel cooler, reducing your reliance on fans and AC. You won't have to use the stove or microwave to reheat leftovers either.

Go Old-School to Stay Cool without AC

Basic tips your grandma probably told you are timeless because they work. Hide from the sun in your house…stay in the darker, and therefore cooler, parts of your house during the heat of the day. Block off rooms where the sun is shining especially harsh, as it heats up quickly. Keep the doors shut until the room cools off. Go barefoot to keep your feet cool. Stay well hydrated with cold or room temperature water. Keep washcloths in the freezer to dab on your pulse points and quickly cool off when you get overheated. Make sure you've changed bedding over from thick winter sheets to thin, cotton bedding, which wicks moisture and is cooler on the skin. Place a bowl of ice in front of the fan to increase the cooling power of the breeze. Bonus tip from Grandma's archive: sprinkle salt on the ice to keep it from melting fast. Keep a spray bottle in the refrigerator and mist your face with cool water.


Finally, give your whole home a once-over with the Department of Energy's ideas for staying cool.