Updated to include tips on saving money on heating during the winter.
This spring, it seems like every time I turn on the news there’s a story about how temperature records are being set all over the world. If this trend continues (and I’m sure it will) record breaking summer temperatures will undoubtedly take a toll on your wallet.
There are plenty of expensive ways available to reduce your heating and cooling expenses, like buying a solar thermal system, replacing all your windows with triple-paned glass or re-insulating your home, but many such measures are expensive and time consuming.
By trade and education, I’m an economist. There are very few things that economists love more than efficiency. Below I’ve outlined many free or cheap ways to cut down on your energy bill and keep your home comfortable this summer (and winter).
Install weather stripping around all your doors and windows; it will keep the comfortable air inside your home, and the hot or cold air out. Weather stripping is cheap and easy to install and you can buy it at any hardware store.
Use your light bulbs efficiently. This doesn’t just mean buying energy efficient light bulbs. Compact Fluorescent bulbs are great in places where the lights are on for more than 15 minutes at a time, but don’t forget that CFL bulbs show significantly decreased lifespan when used for short periods at a time. Incandescent bulbs have lasted longer in my bathroom and hallway lights than CFLs have. Keep your old incandescent bulbs to use in fixtures like these.
Lower your blinds/drapes during the day in the summer, and make sure to raise them in the daytime in winter. If your blinds are anything like the flimsy ones in my apartment, you might also want to curtains that block the light better during the hottest parts of the day. Your cat might love the warm patches of sunlight on the floor, but once the heat gets into your home it’ll be there for a while.
Open your upstairs windows to let warm air rise up and out of your home.
Make sure ceiling fans are set properly. All ceiling fans have a switch on the base to select between winter and summer modes. This makes a bigger difference than you expect.
Plant shade trees on the sunny side of your house. Poplars are a good choice because they grow very quickly and have a fairly full canopy (but they do use a lot of water). You won’t begin to reap the benefits from this until next year, but you’ll be surprised at how much it helps. If you live somewhere with cold winters, make sure to consider if the benefit in summer is worth the cost in winter.
Paint your house a light color and install light-colored shingles (ok, that might be a bit more expensive). The light colors will reflect a lot of the sun’s heat and will save you a lot of money compared to a house with dark paint or shingles. And hey, maybe you’ll even contribute a bit Earth’s albedo.
Buy a programmable thermostat, and don’t forget to program it. Programmable thermostats are surprisingly cheap and easy to install; mine set me back $12 and took me five minutes to install. Set it to cool (or heat) your home while you’re there and to turn off when you’re gone.
Turn off your appliances. Stoves and ovens are an obvious source of heat and use a lot of electricity, make sure you’re not leaving them on when they don’t need to be. Please don’t interpret this as advice to use your stove as a heater in the winter (but maybe you could find an excuse to do a little more baking than usual).
Lighting (especially incandescent), computers, and TVs also generate a lot of heat and add to your electric bill, so make sure these items are off if you aren’t using them. I keep many appliances (within reason) plugged into power strips that I turn off whenever I’m out of my apartment for a while.
Hang out in the basement! It stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Most basements stay between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit year round. When you’re in your basement you also don’t need to heat or cool other rooms.
Service your AC, furnace, or hot water heater. A/C units with clogged filters or old coolant are significantly less efficient and will take a lot more energy to cool your house. Old furnaces and water heaters do not heat as efficiently.
Inspect your refrigerator door to make sure there’s no trapped dirt interfering with the seal. Refrigerators use a ton of electricity, so this is great advice. Thanks to reader zeusalmighty for this tip.
If you can think of anything I didn’t add, please leave a comment and I’ll put it in.