The Real Reason Your Summer Energy Bills Are So High – And Seven Simple Ways to Fix It

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Yes, it’s almost always painful to receive that first energy bill of the summer months. That first month where the outdoor heat kicks into overdrive usually results in a friendly notice from the electric company with a number that sometimes has an extra digit that we didn’t expect or a “3″ in place of the “1″ we’re used to.

Yes, it’s the air conditioner. Go outside and watch your energy meter for a while and observe the difference between the times that your air conditioning is running and the times when it is not running. When it’s on, your energy meter starts spinning like a 78 RPM record or a CD still rotating in place – when it’s not spinning, it looks like a lazy carousel.

That’s money down the drain, folks. Thankfully, there are several things that people can do to significantly reduce the energy use of their vacuum.

Get some maintenance
Building Operations and Management Magazine notes that “[f]acilities in which proper HVAC maintenance is completed will use at least 15 to 20 percent less energy than those where systems are allowed to deteriorate.” My own experience has matched this statistic – we saw a 10% drop in our overall energy bill year over year when accounting for every other change we could conceive of.

How do you “get some maintenance,” though? You can do some of it yourself by simply changing the filter, as a clean filter cuts down on the resistance against air flow passing through the filter (and improves filtration, of course). More importantly, the drain on your air conditioning unit needs to be cleaned out regularly as well – annually is best. Dirt builds up in there and with the moisture present, it can also mold and clog, drastically reducing the efficiency of your unit. I encourage you to hire a maintenance person to take a look at your external air conditioning unit annually and perform maintenance on it. The energy savings will allow you to break even (at the very worst) on the cost and it’ll also greatly extend the life of your unit.

Draw the blinds
Yes, we all like to have plenty of brightness in our home, but when direct sunlight is pouring in a window, the one thing you’re also guaranteeing is that the house is heating up.

The solution? Draw the blinds (or curtains) unless you’re in the room. Leaving the blinds open when you leave the room for a while does nothing more than allow a lot of extra heat into the room and that has but one guarantee – it slowly heats up the room.

By all means, if you like a bright room and you happen to be in there, throw open the blinds and curtains! Just don’t leave them open when no one is there to enjoy the brightness and sunlight.

Run your ceiling fans the correct way
Most people don’t realize this, but ceiling fans should run in different directions during the summer and winter. During the summer, most ceiling fans should be run on high and the blades should be moving in a counterclockwise direction.

Here’s how to make sure your fan is spinning correctly. Stand right under the fan and turn it on high. You should immediately feel a breeze. If you don’t, turn off the fan, then adjust the fan to have the blades run in the opposite direction.

Air flow is vital for improving the sense of coolness in your home, much like a breeze cools you off on a hot summer day. This leads to the next tip for reducing your cooling costs…

Raise your thermostat a bit
Most of us have a temperature that feels the most comfortable for us and that’s what we leave our thermostat at. The problem with just sticking to a default temperature, though, is that the “perfection” of that temperature has a lot to do with the humidity in your home, the direct sunlight flooding in, and the air flow as well.

Many of which you just altered with the previous two steps.

Now that you’ve made the other changes, try raising your “default” temperature a degree. This will likely not change your sense of comfort in the home, but it will reduce your energy bill because your air conditioning won’t have to kick on nearly as often. Don’t be afraid to try another degree, too. Find your new normal temperature

Turn it off at night
At night, you’re asleep. The air outside is cooler. Many people sleep directly under a ceiling fan, which keeps the air circulating. In other words, it’s the perfect time to shut off the air conditioning entirely.

This tactic (and the next one) is most easily achieved with the installation of a programmable thermostat, which makes overnight temperature adjustment automatic. At our house, the air conditioning turns off at 10 PM and turns on again at about 10 AM or so as the day is really warming up.

Turn it off during the workday, too
Similarly, don’t run your air conditioner when no one is home. For many families, this happens every weekday when both parents are out of the house and in their workplace. Just turn the A/C off when you leave, then flip it on again when you come home. If it’s really warm, run a fan near the cool air vent to help the cool air circulate.

This tactic (and the previous one) is most easily achieved with the installation of a programmable thermostat, which makes weekday temperature adjustment automatic. For us, however, this tactic doesn’t work too well since I work at home, though I do uusually turn the temperature up several degrees when I’m the only one in the house.

Add some simple shade
This can either be a short term solution – like placing an umbrella on your deck so that it blocks some sunshine from going into the house – or a long term solution, like planting a tree that will eventually shade your roof. Any effort you can make to increase the shade of the exterior of your house helps because it reduces the direct sunlight that reaches your home, which is a big factor in raising internal temperatures.

Good luck!

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63 thoughts on “The Real Reason Your Summer Energy Bills Are So High – And Seven Simple Ways to Fix It

  1. I live in Florida and it is truly not much cooler out at night. It is hot and humid. In fact, during the day, my AC stays at 77 and at night, I bump it down to 73 because the body needs to stay cool to get adequate sleep. if i am hot, i will be up all night!

  2. A lot of good info in here. Living in the South, we run our upstairs a/c only at night. Every we run a large fan during the day to bring down the second story air, it never cools off enough up there -cooler air outside or not. We live in an 1858 home with window a/c’s. If we run the large a/c from 3-5 each day, the downstairs stays cool enough even during 90+ humid weeks like this one.
    Then we turn the bedroom a/c’s on about 8 pm and run them all night. What we found made a difference in our energy bills is caulking every single room. Immediately we saw a drop in the bill. Also changed over (all at one time) to the compact flourescent bulbs -cost us $119 for enough bulbs for the house (inluding an extra pack,which we haven’t opened 2 years later) and we saw an almost $80 drop in our monthly bill. Of course, over the last 2 years the power company has raised their rates, but not a lot we can do about that.

  3. Turn off the air at night?! No way. I’d rather leave it off all day and only run it at night if that’s the choice.

    I’ve lived without air conditioning most of my life (and only one of those summers was in an area with a beautiful and cool summer), and I can handle 100+ degree days if I have to. It’s the nights that are absolutely miserable. No amount of energy savings is worth sleeping like crap the entire summer.

  4. Some good general advice, but oviously written buy a guy who probably lives in the northern half of the us. Turning the ac off at night works only if you can open some windows and if it in fact gets enough cooler at night to be a benefit. In many parts of the country right now, it remains close to eighty at night. Also, people with pets should not be turning off the air during the day. While they may be able to riase the tolerance level abit, it would be cruel to do anything more to a family et.

  5. #1: It depends on where you live, though. Around here we have *very* hot days and (usually) lovely cool nights, so we open up the house at night. By comparison, keeping the house shut and the AC on makes the air stale and icky.

    We have a whole-house fan, which is wonderful, and we run it first thing in the morning and last thing at night to pull in cool, fresh air. That really helps with the AC bill. If you live in a climate where it would be helpful, IMO a whole-house fan is well worth the money.

    The other thing we do is to install shade screens on the windows that get a lot of sun (this is a common strategy here). You can make them or buy them, they’re just a simple frame with dark screening and you install them over the window. It cuts down the heat quite a bit on the heat that comes in, and it’s a help with the sunlight too, which is unbearably strong in the summer.

  6. Some good advice. Another thing that will help is to shade the air conditioner itself. It will run cooler and run less if it isn’t overheated from the sun.

  7. And then there’s the really cost-effective measure: open any windows the sun isn’t hitting directly and do without air-conditioning. I live in inland Australia, where we frequently get *weeks* of 40+ degrees Celcius (well over 100 F) and I’ve never had anything more than a portable fan. Sleeping is hard in really hot weather, but the cheap solution is to stand under a really cold shower for a minute before you go to bed. If it’s really hot, I do that in my night shirt, don’t get dried and then direct a portable fan directly at yourself for a few minutes.

    BTW, my cats have coped fine with this sort of temperature, provided they have access to plenty of water – they just hang out on the bathroom floor.

  8. yeah, not only would we not be able to sleep, the kids would be screaming all night, and our trash would start to rot overnight if the AC were off. this is not realistic advice for half the country.

  9. I live in FL and we need to have the AC on pretty much 24/7 from March until October. We do have a digital programmable thermostat and that helps a lot.

    Two ways people in hot climates can lower some bills are with reflective window film (be prepared though – its not the prettiest stuff) and black out curtains.

  10. @Britany, Barb and Brandy (comments 1, 2 and 3):

    No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Apply the tips here that will work for you and leave the remaining tips (uh, like turning off the AC at night) for others to try.

    Yes, granted, there are places in this country with truly ferocious summers, but believe it or not, it gets pretty brutally hot in Iowa (where Trent is from) too. And even in hot regions this advice can be useful for those not-quite-so-hot summer nights, or not-quite-so-hot months like May or September.

    Sorta makes you wonder how in the world humanity could *possibly* have survived back before AC was invented. :)

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

  11. Here’s another little tip—
    watch how long you let the exhaust fan run in your bathroom, or even your stove. Run the fan just long enough to do it’s intended job. Any runtime longer than that is just sucking conditioned air out of your house, and this loss adds up FAST.
    As the fan is pulling out this cool air a negative pressure is created that pulls in warm outside air, usually through another vent or a fireplace chimmney. This warm air now has to be cooled by your air conditioner which makes it run that much longer.
    Thanks for the good work Trent..

  12. A lot of it depends on how you define summer. I know technically summer doesn’t start until Summer Solstice but here in Florida, it’s been summer since End of April.

    Today has been unusually cool, right now it’s actually 85F (of course with 92F heat index) but that’s the coolest it’s been since the start of June.

    For the past few weeks it’s been highs betwen 97F-100F with heat indexes around 105-111F Last weekend at 9 at night it was 89F but with the heat index 98F, the high had been someting like 98F with heat index of 110F. So not a big temp drop at night.

    People lived here without a/c, my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all did it. But they did it by spending the evenings on the porch and having sleeping porches (where it was only slightly cooler). So it can be done, although they were miserable a lot.

    Still there are some things you can do – if you can’t go without the a/c at night figure out how warm you can keep the house. Try using fans,if you don’t have a ceiling fan try a box fan.

    Turn off your computer or put it to sleep when you aren’t using it, tha’ts a big energy draw.

    One thing I do is keep a container of aloe gel in the fridge. It feels really good to slather it on my arms, neck, legs, face and then lie under the ceiling fan while it sinks in and evaporates.

    Taking cooler showers helps.

    I have 2 cats but I keep my ceiling fans on all the time during the day and keep the house around 80 when I’m not here.

    When I get home, I turn down the a/c to cool things off and then set it back to 80. At night I usually have it on 78 or so and also have a ceiling fan on high.

  13. I agree that people shouldn’t immediately dismiss Trent’s advice about turning the A/C off at night. We live in the Missouri where it can be miserably hot and humid, and there are still nights throughout the summer when we can open up the windows at night. It will actually be cooler in the morning than if we had left the air on, say, 77 degrees, since at that temperature the air rarely cycles on if it drops below 70 at night. What we do is use several window fans (the ones with a thermostat that fit directly in your window, not the cheap box fans that don’t work very well) to bring all the cool night air in. It would work even better if you are lucky enough to have a whole house attic fan (love those!). Of course, I wouldn’t use a programmable thermostat for this, since there are many nights when this wouldn’t work. My rule is that if it drops below 68 degrees at night, we will turn off the air. Otherwise, I can’t deal with it. We are having brutal heat right now, and I wouldn’t even think of turning the air off at night.

    Another thing we have done is install a window unit in our bedroom even though we have central air. That way we can turn up the air in the rest of the house really high or turn it off entirely and put window fans in. But we can still sleep with it quite cool and not feel like we’re breaking the bank. Of course, this doesn’t work as well now that we have children who occupy other bedrooms!

    I don’t understand why people feel the need to put their thermostats at a low temperature during the day just for their cats or animals. Sure, if you live in the desert, don’t turn off your air and let your animals cook in the house, but animals are remarkably good at finding the optimal coolest or warmest spot in their environment. If you have a basement, your animal could hang out there. I dare say you could leave it at 82 degrees or more and your animals will be fine. My cats love to lie in the sun in the dead of summer – I don’t imagine that they would be that bothered if it were 85 degrees in the house!

  14. I live in the midwest and only use the a/c maybe once per summer on a particularly unbearable day. It’s mostly just a waste of money. I’m never uncomfortable in the heat (at home; at work, where I have to dress up, is a different story) and I actually don’t really enjoy the smell of circulated air. Besides, I’d rather just cool down in the evening outdoors with a mojito.

  15. Don’t underestimate how much heat small appliances add to your home. I notice this when I am ironing in a small room. Also incandescent bulbs put out a lot of heat. So much so, that I have seen it argued that in colder climates switching to CFLs can increase your heating bills. So in warmer climates switch to CFLs, and/or don’t leave lights on. Ovens put out a great deal of heat, so use your oven wisely.

  16. Wow I feel fortunate.
    I live in the SF Bay Area, in a home built in 1920, so no AC. I’ve never missed it, we have a Mediterranean climate, no humidity.
    I’ve also never turned on our heater, though we do have one of those old floor-based ones.
    When it gets hot I turn on the ceiling fans in each room.
    I realize that most other regions in the US do not have our (in my mind, wonderful) climate.

  17. @ cathleen- I’m also feeling fortunate- living in an older home in Denver. We do have to heat our home in the winter, but summertime’s a drop in energy bills for us.

  18. Good tips. However, since I live in Oklahoma and have endured hot-and I mean HOT- 60 plus days of 100 and over- I will gladly spend extra to be cool, especially at night. I remember lying in bed with no a/c as a child hoping, praying a breath of air would come in the window. So, I will go without something else, even FOOD, to keep cool in the summer!

  19. I am really glad I don’t have to rely on air conditioning to heat or cool my home. Obviously, part of this can be attributed to our mild, Mediterranean climate, but the building helps too — it just feels cool in the summer, which is great.

    As for me, I use blinds on most of my windows, and most of my floor is tile, which might be a factor as well.

    I have spent vacations in incredibly hot and humid places and, if most of you live in such climates, I can certainly understand why you feel the need to use air conditioning. I certainly did!

  20. What #1 said. We only cool at night (would have to rewire the house for anything more than a window unit) because I am miserable sleeping hot.

    We may have our first heat wave here this week (Philly)- too bad it’s only June.

  21. One other thing – I would make sure that you are investing in a quality fan if you are planning to leave it on at night.

    I think the instance of box fans being left on for hours an hours at a time can be dangerous. I used to work for a moving company and occasionally we would have to pack up houses that had fire damage from fans (or space heaters) that people just left running mindlessly.

    If you are using one to cool your house make sure its in good working condition before leaving it on for long periods of time and in places where you walk past it often.

  22. @Jeff: I don’t mean to discount the power of prayer, but wouldn’t putting a fan in the window have worked better?

  23. Would never raise my thermostat at night. I remember doing a work-study program one summer in college (Virginia) with the crappy dorm AC that let the room get up to 78+ at night, and having to put my sheets in the freezer during the day to hopefully get enough relief from the heat to fall asleep. No thanks. We currently have our thermostat programmed to go DOWN to 73 at 11:30pm. We do, however, have it set to 82 during the day while we’re gone. Our cats are perfectly fine.

    Unfortunately hubby also has fairly prevalent seasonal allergies which limits how much we can open our windows at night too. We have a small place though, so our bills are usually less than $100 (8-9 months of the year).

  24. Re#13: We didn’t have ceiling fans or box fans back then- it was the 50′s and early 60′s. I do remember sleeping outside a few times. We have mosquitos, big ones, in Oklahoma, so that wasn’t a real option.
    My main point is that I choose a/c, even if I have to do without other things. I am frugal, even with a/c. But I do not want to live without it when the heat is so stifling as it has been the last week.

  25. @cathleen. I don’t know what part of the SF Bay Area you live in, but the biggest lie I was ever told by a real estate agent is that we wouldn’t need AC when we moved to the SF Bay Area. Granted, it’s only a necessity for a few weeks each summer, but those weeks are miserable without AC! And we certainly used our heater during the winter. Many SF Bay Area homes are very poorly insulated, probably because so many people perpetuate the myth that the climate does not require heating or cooling!

  26. People did actually manage to survive 100-degree-plus summers without air conditioning. :-) I did it for an entire summer in Memphis. The trick is to let your body acclimate to the heat. Yes, the first two weeks of the acclimation process are miserable. You’re sweaty, you can’t sleep, and then magically one day you don’t notice the heat anymore. This is exactly what used to happen before AC–people let themselves get used to the heat. If you turn it off completely, throw open the windows, use ceiling fans, and leave the AC off in your car, in about two weeks you won’t notice the heat either. :-)

  27. I live in Las Vegas, and this is the first time I’ve lived in a city AC is a necessity. It can be 100 degrees at midnight here, so for most of the summer it’s too hot to open the windows. I like keeping the house at 83 all the time, or otherwise the AC is on 50% of the time, and every time it kicks on, I think of all the money I’m spending and I get paranoid it’s going to break (which it has already). My cats get slightly hot and lethargic at 83, and my computer starts to overheat, or otherwise I’d keep it even warmer. My boyfriend, on the other hand, hates the heat so we are always fighting over the thermostat.

  28. Oh, to have to fret about the air conditioner! I am writing this in a sweater and a blanket…It’s in the low 50′s here in the Pacific Northwest. I turned on the heater in my daughter’s room earlier this week b/c she was shivering in her sleep. Pure stubborness is keeping me from turing it on in the rest of the house. My point is, these are some really good things to think about (even if summer is only a figment of your imagination). Use what you can and leave the rest.

  29. Portland Or, here. I’m still running the heater. we have had like 2 warm days so far. I found moss growing on my car window today.

  30. We just got our first summer utility bill and our total is much lower than even the month prior. The biggest draw in the summer for us is the dehumudifier, which adds about $40/mo. I like to keep cool at night too but I don’t think 78-80 is too hot to be comfortable.

  31. We live in Philly, where it gets pretty hot in the summer (highs in the 90s expected for the next few days, and it’s not dry heat), and the winters are usually mild enough to only include 2 or 3 significant snowfalls. But our biggest utility bills come in the winter, not the summer. In the winter, the heat is central. In the summer, the AC is room-based.

    It can take quite a bit less energy (and therefore less money) to cool a few rooms that you use frequently, or sleep in, than to cool an entire house. This won’t work in all climates (or for all households); but if you’re in an area that doesn’t get *too* constantly hot, you may want to rely mostly on window units, or tightly zoned central air, rather than trying to cool the whole house to your ideal temperature.

  32. Dan, what happened before air conditioning was that all kinds of people including children became ill, nothing got done in the summer, food spoiled and disease was more rampant.

  33. I’ve always found this to be a useful tip for me since we have a pool. By having your thermostat set higher, you will save energy because the A/C won’t turn on as much. If you start to feel hot, you can take a quick dip in the pool. Once you get out you will feel refreshed and comfortable for a few hours. The hours really add up over the month.

  34. @Dan,

    My dad and my grandmother were just talking about what they did before a/c. My grandmother is 89 years old and has lived in North Florida and those were the things she was talking about.

    They sat outside on porches with fanning themselves and drinking lots of water and iced tea to keep cool. They had sleeping porches, and of course if it rained (and summer is the rainy season in Florida), they all had to move inside and stifle under the heat.

    Also houses were built differently then they were built with rooms laid out and windows placed for cross breezes.

    To quote To Kill a Mockingbird about Southern summers

    “Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

  35. Note that if you live in an apartment or condo rather than a house, clicking off your air at night may actually be pretty feasible no matter where you live — the thermal mass of the building around you keeps you pretty well insulated, particularly if the common areas of the building are air conditioned all the time, and if you and your neighbors are keeping the A/C on during the days. The one disadvantage I’ve found is that this doesn’t keep the humidity down, which is admittedly something I just plain don’t want to deal with some days. But hey, it’s my house, and my rules.

  36. The drawing the curtains thing really helps. We live in a small apartment and only have a window A/C unit. If I keep all doors and windows shut, close the curtains/blinds and run the window unit, it stays in the mid 70s on hot days, or at least high 70s when it’s brutal. It’s not 68, but I consider that doing my bit for Mother Earth. LOL and it just won’t go that low…..

  37. We live in the central valley (i.e., desert) of California. Our house is very old, farmhouse style, with lots of windows in every room, deep eaves. First thing we did when we moved in was to plant shade trees to the east & west & south – deciduous, so we do get sun in the winter. That alone has made a huge difference.

    We also put in major insulation in the attic (floor & roof line) along with a whole-house fan. At night we turn off the cooler (if we’ve had it on during the day) & use the ceiling fan in the bedroom. We only have a few uncomfortable nights (usually August) where we might decide to run the cooler anyway so we can sleep.

    And when it’s really hot, we prepare salads or sandwiches instead of cooking indoors.

  38. Best hack I know for high AC bills is an attic fan, or rotating vents with electric closures. Either should be turned on at daybreak, or before if you’re an early riser, and be allowed to run until the house is cool. During the spring and fall, these can be used to replace AC entirely.
    Toaster ovens for light cooking, and/or using a camp stove and cooking outside, also work great. Just don’t cook sweets outdoors, because the bees and ants will arrive unannounced for dinner.

  39. My summer energy bills are not high — they are much lower now than in the winter, despite the fact that we keep our house at 60 in the winter! Although we live in a hot southern state (Virginia) we’ve only turned on our A/C once since we moved in. We are fortunate that our yard is fairly shady. We keep the windows open at night to cool off the house and close them fairly early in the morning (along with the curtains) to ward off the hot air. Ceiling fans run constantly, as does a dehumidifier. When we’re hanging out at house, we always have a glass of ice water or iced tea on hand — you would be amazed at how much that helps, and how simple it is! It gets uncomfortable sometimes, but not terrible, and it’s worth it for the lower cost and the conservation of electricity (in this part of the country, all our electricity comes from dirty coal, usually mined via mountaintop removal, so energy conservation is HUGE for even without considering personal cost).

  40. Curtains:

    Close during the day, open at night (maybe not in your bedroom, but try it in living areas and bathrooms).

    Also try to limit your cooking where you can (e.g. aim for foods that does not require cooking, maybe fresh vegetables instead of boiled)

  41. Hahahaha! This is hilarious to read from up north. My energy bills are practically nothing in the summer. We have the exact opposite – January/February bills are about twice July/August bills. As for all that summer, I am excited to have finally turned the heat back off this week – perhaps turn your fans to blow it northward? :D

    That said, we do get some hot days, just during a much hotter summer. Because AC doesn’t exist in most homes, we rely on this sort of thing. Due to the desert climate, it does get quite cool at night most of the time, so keeping the windows closed and blinds drawn in the hot days, and opening everything in the cool nights can give some amount of thermoregulation. It would help if more trees were better-designed for airflow though.

  42. Hahahaha! This is hilarious to read from up north. My energy bills are practically nothing in the summer. We have the exact opposite – January/February bills are about twice July/August bills. As for all that summer, I am excited to have finally turned the heat back off this week – perhaps turn your fans to blow it northward? :D

    That said, we do get some hot days, just during a much hotter summer. Because AC doesn’t exist in most homes, we rely on this sort of thing. Due to the desert climate, it does get quite cool at night most of the time, so keeping the windows closed and blinds drawn in the hot days, and opening everything in the cool nights can give some amount of thermoregulation. It would help if more houses were better-designed for airflow though.

  43. I currently live in a northern-ish central state and use a trick we discovered in Massachusetts. Chill only the bedroom with an efficient window unit. Costs $25 a month. Let the rest of the house sit at 85 on the central air.

    We also use a swamp cooler, which costs only water (since we flush the unit often) and the electricity to run the fan. Works only in lower humidity, though, and temperatures under 100. Well, really WELL under 100 degrees. They did use them during the building of the Hoover Dam since the temp was 130 on the valley floor.

    Also yes on the attic fan and sun reflecting shades. Makes all kinds of difference.

  44. I’m in a climate where I can run a evaporative cooler. Its pretty much a fan, a pump and some pads. I turn it on when I get home and turn it off when I’m turning in for bed. I also just run the ceiling fan at night with the window open. Sure it never gets cold in the house, but its certainly more comfortable. If its going to be getting above 100 much I might leave the cooler on all day, just because it takes too long to cool the place off otherwise.

  45. The all time record high in Colorado Springs is 99, and lately we’ve been upper 80s for highs & lower 50s for lows. I know I’ve got it great, and that’s part of the reason I choose to live here, leaving the cornfields of Illinois. We don’t have AC, and I live by the closing the curtains during the day & opening the windows all night. Our upstairs gets to the 80s before the sun sets, but our main floor sits between 65 & 78 for most of the summer. I work out of the basement which never hits 70. We are also shopping for shade trees to put on the western side of our house as mid-late afternoons are when things really start heating up. It’s great for our dry climate, but I know what you all mean about the high humidity nights, I couldn’t stand it.

  46. The A.C. factor is one of the biggest things I’ll consider when the time comes to shop for a retirement residence. I don’t like A.C. and hope to live without it.

    Just read a newsletter from Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island, WA … they haven’t had a day over 75 degrees yet this year.

    Meanwhile, thanks to our apartment being 1st-floor and north-facing, we have not had to turn on A.C. at all in 2010. Our big west-facing window in the home office, though, means that room will cook later in the summer. We keep it closed most of the time. In the rest of the space, bare skin and fans work well. :-)

  47. Everyone-try this for even better performance that drawing the blinds- Get exterior shading. The problem is that interior blinds only isolate heat in the room it doesn’t limit heat build up. This means that convection will heat up the room.

    Exterior shading could be blinds, shutters an awning. Or if you’re poor like I was in graduate school, spring rods with coffee bags on the outside.

    On the south side you can prevent the summer sun coming in, allow the winter sun to come in all while still allowing daylight for a triple energy saving whammy. The east and west sides are harder to deal with but if you are going to pull the blind anyway do it on the outside and keep that heat from ever entering the building envelope.

  48. Hilarious to me. I haven’t turned on my fan in two years. On the other hand I own 8 different winter coats, 4 pairs of boots, and innumerable hats and gloves. So take your choice, hot or cold.

  49. I appreciate your trying to help, but you really need to become expert in things before you pass on advice as one.

    Programmable thermostats work well in changing comfort levels a few degrees. I have been told by more than one HVAC repairman that shutting it down during the day and then trying to cool a home after 6pm when you get home will not work well and can even cause the unit to freeze up. It basically runs constantly trying to cool a hot house during hot temps, defeating the purpose.

    Comfortable sleep has been shown to be highly related to cool temps. In the south you cannot just turn off the AC at night, as it quickly gets uncomfortable. And yes, it isn’t just temp but humidity that matters. So this is a bad idea, especially as the unit works less hard at night to maintain the cool temps.

    I didn’t see improving insulation, eliminating cracks and other air loss, closing off unused areas of the home, making sure basement registers are closed off, ensuring returns are unobstructed, and other commonly known tips here.

    Stick to finance.

  50. In our city apartment, which faces both east and west, we do keep shades drawn and ceiling and floor fans on.

    However, once the hot and/or humid weather starts, the whole apartment heats up with the average temp (even with fans) at around 87 degrees. That’s VERY uncomfortable. Even with AC on, it sometimes only goes down to 82. I don’t know what kind of apartments the folks commenting here who say it stays cool live in. The whole building is not air conditioned and even if it were, the walls are old and solid and thick. Once the heat is in, it’s in.

    So unless there is a breeze, we have to put the air on. We have newer energy-efficient models but the reality is they do not work as well as the old ones we replaced. Yea, it’s cheaper (even with KWH increases from Con Ed) than the old units but before we could run one unit in the bedroom and cool the bathroom and living room as well as the master bedroom. Now, if you are not three feet in front of the A/C in any room, you don’t even know it’s on.

    As for doing without, we try to do without as much as we can, but the reality is, you feel awful, you end up sweaty and stinky and everyone starts growling at each other. And you can’t have people over without it being on.

    Some things ARE worth the money, even if we have to cut back elsewhere, as we sometimes have to do.

    People may have lived like this before, but that was a different time and with home offices, many more activities done inside, no porches, no place to sit outside, there are no alternatives.

    Then is then, now is now. And we also move too quickly and have too much to do. Decades ago, people did not move as fast, have to get as much done, or even go as far as the average person does today. So please let’s stop talking about how it was in the old days. Every person I know who lived like that in the past lives for the A/C being on.

  51. I’ve been reading The Simple Dollar for a few months now and love it. I am a frugal junkie and love to find new ways to cut back and save money, but air conditioning is not one of those ways! I suppose you’d think I am wasting money horribly. I live in MA and use our central air most of the summer. I have a real problem with humidity and feel ill when its humid, which to me is most of the summer. I’d be better of living in Alaska. When we put in a new heating system, my husband, who would be just as happy with no a/c, put in central air for me. It was costly, $11,000. However, I am so very comfortable and happy all summer. This is one of those areas where I splurge and compensate by being frugal in other areas. I throw open the windows and turn off the a/c on those few beautiful, balmy days. I do turn the a/c off when I leave the house, as it is quick to cool off when I turn it back on. We have a small one story house. You might think somebody who “blows” so much money on a/c might not be thrifty, but I go to several grocery stores to save money, use coupons wisely, make all our lunches every day, never buy movies or books but use the library, get free passes from the library, shop at thrift stores and yard sales, do mystery shopping for all of our free hotel stays and free dining out times, etc. The a/c is an area where I just can’t, or won’t, cut back. Good for all of you who do, though. Just thought I’d give another perspective.

  52. To me, nothing beats ice cold A/C. I would sacrifice a good percentage of anything for just some great a/c.

  53. I live in Massachusetts without A/C. We open the windows and have ceiling fans in each room (which we only turn on if we are in that room). We have a handful of days where the temp in the house gets above 85, but for the most part the house stays between 70 and 80. It’s fine. If we stay out of the A/C, the hot days don’t feel bad – it’s when we have been in a cool office all day that a normal summer day feels hot. Another tip to living without A/C – take a cold shower before bed. It cools you down and you stay cool for a long time. Eat cold meals – we eat a lot of salads, cold sesame noodles, etc. Grill outside instead of heating up the house. We also have cats and they don’t seem bothered by 85 degrees in the house – if they get hot, they go to the basement where it is much cooler. Closing the shades during the day makes a big difference too.

  54. As I age I find that I can’t tolerate the heat (or cold) as well as I did when I was younger. I am actually seriously thinking about whole house air conditioning, I live in Cleveland OH where we only have summer for about 2 weeks (lol) but it is miserable in August at night. Plus I can not stress enough the power of insulation for both the winter and summer. Yes, it is expensive if you buy enough for the whole house at one time but it is doable, 1 roll a month at approx 20 bucks where I shop.

  55. Today in Central Florida
    Temperature on my screened room at 5:00pm: 103 degrees with 81% humidity and zero wind. It usually does not cool down much at night in the summer.
    I usually try to do the opposite and turn the air up during the day, especially when I am outside working or in the pool. I don’t mind sweating some during the day. Then turn it down at night when it doesn’t run as much (only 85-90 degrees outside. This makes sleeping much more comfortable. We made it until May 28th this year before we turned the air conditioner on. It was 94 in the house when I threw in the towel and turned on the AC.

  56. I have to admit, at first I was reading this article thinking, “Huh? Turn up the thermostat? What good would that do? Our heat is off.”

    Then it dawned on me. You’re probably writing this from a part of the country where it’s considered normal to have central air conditioning.

    In the Northeast, it has only become normal to build houses with central AC very recently (and even then, it’s a luxury and added expense that many people forego.) Due to the prohibitive cost of retro-fitting an existing house with air ducting, most people in New England use window AC units in the bedrooms for the few nights it’s necessary. Most nights, open windows and a fan are plenty.

    When I was growing up (in the ’80s and ’90s), we had no AC at all; only rich kids’ parents used air conditioners. Here is how we kept the house cool: When we woke up, we closed up the house. We shut all curtains, shades, and blinds. At dusk, we reopened everything, including windows. On really hot nights, we used bedside table fans.

    For about two weeks every year it was sweaty and unbearable, but for the remainder of the summer, this worked perfectly well. (Not really having a choice in the matter probably helped a bit, too.)

    I remember that walking into our attic in the summer was like entering a sauna, multiplied by two. It’s amazing how well insulation can work; that attic heat never transferred into the living quarters.

    In my current home, I just put up full-length door blinds to cover up my east-facing sliding glass door. It has made an amazing difference on the amount of heat we take on during the morning hours. As other posters have stated, this is one suggestion that definitely works.

  57. To paraphrase a joke I heard about divorce, there’s a reason air conditioning is expensive – because it’s worth it! I lived in the South and the Southwest my entire life and I cannot imagine what life was like before AC. Power outages are sheer hell. I lived in an African country for several months and I had to heavily medicate myself in order to sleep. I was constantly sick and suffered from depression because I was so uncomfortable and sleep deprived.

  58. I live in Las Vegas, and used to keep the temp in my condo at 76 all year round. After I moved into a second floor condo, I thought it was going to be even hotter, so I brought it down to 74…until I got the bill for $120 for the month!

    I called my elecric company and asked them their advice, and they told me to keep it at 78 and when I’m not home to turn it up to 85 (because if you turn it off, the power surge when turning it back on is pretty high). Well, I actually now keep it at 80 now, and am completely fine! I can’t wait to see my electric bill this month…and will try harder to remember to turn my air to 85 when I leave the house!

  59. We live in Phoenix and have taken a few steps to make our energy bills manageable.

    First, we opted for a billing service that allows us to be billed the same amount every month, so our energy bill is about $130 every month. In the winter, we build up a credit, since our bills are nowhere close to $130, in the summer, we run a deficit, and in the fall, we close the gap. Besides making budgeting much easier, we’re both teachers, and it didn’t make sense to us for our highest bills to come in the months when we’re not paid.

    Next, we replaced our two south-facing windows with high-quality windows and frames. Not a cheap endeavor, but it has made that room very significantly cooler. We also just put up blinds (instead of the thin curtains that were up), which has also made a big difference.

    We have an evaporative cooler (which someone mentioned earlier in the comments) that we are able to use from whenever it decides to get hot out (some time between March and May, depending on the year) and when it gets either humid (relatively) or super-hot. Coming from the northeast, the concept of making the house humid in order to cool it was foreign to me, but it works really well.

    We keep the thermostat at 81 or 82. Almost every room in the house has a ceiling fan, and we use them!

  60. I moved from California and never had a need for an AC.
    I now live in NY, and my winter/summer energy bills are a pain.
    Right now I rent an there is an attic which is not ventilated, as well as the windows are not fully able to close.
    Ofcourse the landlord speaks no englih, and his son says we have to ventaliate the windows ourselves.
    Also there is no programmable thermostat so in the winter it’s extremly hot when you turn the heat on. Hence a big gas bill.
    Summer we have a portable AC and a window unit in the kids room. So during the day we move the portable AC from our room to the living room during the summer months.
    Saves us from buying an extra AC.
    At night we move the AC back in our room (yes it has wheels)
    and we put an air mattress for our kids to sleep.
    So only one AC is on at night to save some $.
    This portable AC is also a heat, so I can’t wait to see how much we save in the winter.

    At night when it’s extremely

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