Oakland, it’s hot outside: 5 ways to keep your home cool and save big bucks this summer

Joe Dickerson Group
Joe Dickerson Group
Published on June 26, 2017

 

The weather folks are saying that residents of the eastern U.S. can look forward to warmer-than-average early-summer temperatures, while those in the west (that’s us!) will have “well-above average” temperatures come mid-to-late season.

Summer brings flip-flops, tank tops, shorts, swimsuits, picnics, camping, and high electricity bills, especially if you’re one of the lucky few with air conditioning in Oakland.

Learn how to handle the heat and keep your home cool with these tips.

1. Turn it off when you’re not home

Sounds like one of those “duh” statements, right? The Energy Information Administration, however, finds that fewer than 4 percent of us turn off our central air conditioning when nobody will be home.

Air conditioning systems reach peak efficiency when they operate for long periods, according to the experts at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Shutting off the system when you leave in the morning and then turning it on when you return home will use less electricity than the unit would use cycling on and off for short periods to maintain the set temperature while you’re away.

If the house remains unbearably hot while the unit is working to get to a comfortable temperature, invest in a programmable thermostat. This way you can set it to start the a/c before you get home.

2. Circulate the air

Fans don’t necessarily cool the air, they circulate it. As the air moves over your skin, it lowers your body temperature, sometimes by as much as 6 or 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Saving energy (and money) by using ceiling fans involves setting the air conditioner’s thermostat to a higher temperature while the fans are in use and turning off the fans when nobody is in the room.

The longer you use the ceiling fan with the A/C thermostat raised, the more you’ll save. The fan will cost you about a nickel every 12 hours, according to New York Times’ Michael Tortorello. The higher thermostat setting will save you about 10 percent (for each degree you raise it) on your cooling costs.

No ceiling fans or a/c? No problem. Open doors and windows and set up floor fans, window fans, and box fans in strategic locations to move air through the space.

 

3. Maintain the a/c system

Even the most energy-efficient air conditioning system won’t lower your cooling costs if it’s not maintained routinely and properly.

A dirty filter, for instance, can cause reduced air flow and the unit will need to work harder to cool the home. The more inefficient the system is, the more power it requires which leads to skyrocketing power bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a clogged filter causes the a/c system to use from 5 to 15 percent more energy.

Other routine maintenance you should perform includes:

  • Ensure sufficient airflow around the unit’s condenser by cutting back shrubs and other foliage to at least 2 feet.
  • A dirty condenser coil can increase the cost of cooling your home by 35 percent, so ensure that it remains clean.
  • Clean the floor registers periodically so that they remain dust-free.

4. They’re called “window coverings” for a reason

An easy way to keep the heat out during a hot summer day is to keep the window coverings drawn over the windows.

The Department of Energy suggests purchasing reflective blinds, because when completely closed and lowered on a sunny window, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by around 45 percent.

Drapery can block the sun and heat, provided the fabric is closed weave and medium-colored. Buy them with plastic backing, and you’ll reduce the amount of heat coming through a window by 33 percent, according to the DOE. They also suggest that you hang your drapes as close to the windows as possible and let them fall onto either the windowsill or the floor.

Reflective films on the glass in your windows are also a brilliant way of blocking summer heat but their effectiveness depends on the size of the window, which direction it’s facing and whether or not the window has interior insulation. The DOE suggests that you will get the most savings by applying the film to west- and east-facing windows.

5. Let Mother Nature lend a helping hand

Strategically placed trees help conserve energy and reduces energy bills, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. In fact, you’ll save up to 35 percent on your air conditioning costs by planting large trees on the west, east and northwest sides of your home. The Foundation also suggests planting a shade tree over your air-conditioning unit to keep it cool as well (but don’t neglect cleaning up the leaves and other debris that may clog the condenser).

Even something as simple as a trellis with a climbing vine can shade a home and help save money.

So, go ahead — throw on a pair of shorts and a tank top and slip into those flip-flops, because you’re ready to take on the Oakland summer heat.

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