We’re just three weeks into summer, and Birmingham’s weather forecast already looks familiar: Temperatures in the 90s, partly cloudy, and humid. Air conditioners all over Alabama will be getting a workout. And that means your next few utility bills could put a dent in your budget.
There’s no way to avoid paying a little more to stay cool when it’s really hot and muggy. But there are several steps you can take to give your air conditioner – and your budget – a little relief this summer:
Many homeowners turn their homes into cocoons over the summer, only rarely opening the windows and relying completely on the air conditioner to keep things cool. That’s a mistake. Here in Birmingham, temperatures often drop about twenty degrees overnight – usually cool enough to be very comfortable. Take advantage of the cool by opening some windows at every opportunity – especially early in the morning when temperatures are lowest.
Another natural way to reduce your utility bill is to create some shade. Smartly-positioned trees and large shrubs can shield your home from direct sunlight, and help to keep your home cooler inside and out. While it may take a while for a tree to grow large enough to shield your home, shielding your windows is an easier goal that can also be an effective means of keeping heat out of your home.
If your windows aren’t already shielded from the sun by some well-placed vegetation, you should take care to ensure that warm sunlight is not pouring in. Blinds and curtains are very effective at keeping heat at bay – or they can be if they are closed when the sun is shining directly on them. Unless you’re enjoying the brightness, you’ll want to keep your blinds and curtains closed against direct sunlight.
Everyone knows that drafty windows and doors can let cold air in and bleed the heat from your home in wintertime. The opposite is true during the summer months, when hot air can enter your home and precious cool air can escape. No matter the season, drafts can add to your utility bill; if you haven’t done so already, check your windows and doors for them. Simply move a candle around your seals, watch the flame to identify a telltale breeze, and then caulk or weather-seal any gaps.
Here’s another idea: If you’ve got a ceiling fan, use it. Ceiling fans are less expensive to run than air conditioners, and while they can’t cool the air, they can help to keep you cooler. Using a ceiling fan when you’re in the room can keep you comfortable even when the temperature is a little higher than ideal. If a ceiling fan or two allows you to remain comfortable even when thermostat set a couple of degrees higher, you can save a lot of money.
Every good heating and air technician in Birmingham will tell you: Change your air filters regularly. If you don’t, the filters will become clogged with dust that makes it harder for your heating and air conditioning system to draw air. And that extra effort will cost you money as well as needless wear-and-tear on your system. Changing filters once a month requires a little effort and investment on your part, but lower utility bills will be your just reward.
Finally – and this could represent a much bigger investment than the others – you should have a heating and air technician evaluate your system. This is especially true if your system is more than a decade old. The technician will be able to let you know if your system is energy-efficient by today’s standards and estimate how much you might be able to save each month by upgrading.
No matter what you do, it’s going to be a hot summer. So plan for it, adopt some better habits, and do what you need to do to stay comfortable without breaking your budget. In the meantime, I’ll be relaxing under a ceiling fan with a cool drink.