Written by Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar is a popular personal finance blog that chronicles one man's road back from overwhelming debt to financial security. Hamm declared the contents of the blog to be in the Public Domain in 2008 and available for sharing when attributed properly. We will share a couple of posts a week.
During the winter, we use a number of tactics for maximizing the effectiveness of our energy use. In Iowa, winters can get quite cold – we reached -20 F at our home several times this winter – and knowing how to maximize the energy that your furnace uses can make a huge difference when the energy bill comes.
Now that we’re heading toward summer, the goal is a little different. We want to avoid running the air conditioning and, if we can, find other ways to cut down on our energy spending by taking advantage of summer.
Here are seven things we do to keep our energy bills in check during the warmer months of the year.
We use ambient light. As often as possible, we use indirect light to brighten a room. If the sun isn’t directly shining on a window, we’ll open the curtains and allow that light to flow in. This enables us to avoid having to turn on lights during the day in most of the rooms in our home – and with long summer days, that can certainly help our energy bill.
If opening and closing curtains to maximize indirect light allows us to leave ten light bulbs off for twelve hours – and each light bulb gobbles an average of 30 watts – then we’re saving $15 a month in energy. It takes just a few seconds to open or close a curtain, so it’s well worth it.
Similarly, we block direct light. At the same time, when sunlight is directly shining into a room on a warm or hot day, we close the curtains and block that light.
Direct sunlight heats up a room surprisingly quickly, so we try to keep it out of sight if at all possible. We keep curtains closed on the east side of the house in the morning and on the west side in the evening and usually switch them at mid-day so that we can take advantage of ambient light while blocking direct light.
We use ceiling fans and small directed fans. I’ve mentioned having your ceiling fan in the right direction – counter-clockwise in the summer, but that’s just the start. Small directed fans are far more efficient for keeping cool than running the air, so on warmer days where it’s getting a bit uncomfortable but it’s not scorching, we use fans for cooling.
Box fans are effective for keeping air moving around in a room, but I actually really like small directional fans that just move air near me. They use very little energy and can easily be moved or flipped off at your convenience.
We cook outside as much as possible. Meal preparation heats up your house. When the oven runs, your home gets warmer, forcing your air conditioner to run more (or making it even less comfortable).
The solution is easy: cook outside or eat meals that don’t require cooking. We use our grill as often as possible, even for things that you wouldn’t usually consider grilling (like mini-pizzas). The more that we grill, the less that we’re using the oven inside the house which will heat things up and force our air conditioner to run even more.
We have also cooked meals over small wood fires in our fire pit, using wood that we’ve collected (and leftover boards from our children’s martial arts practices).
We stay outside as much as possible. If you plan a day trip to a park, there’s no need to leave the air on all day. If you spend all day outside on a bike ride, you don’t need AC. We usually turn it off in the evenings anyway, so if we leave for the day, we simply don’t turn it on that morning.
Sure, the house is often warm when we get home, but if we’ve spent the day doing outdoor activities, it’s not nearly as noticeable and a fan and a cool shower feel great.
On warm-but-not-hot days, we open up windows, particularly on upper floors. In our house, the upper floor is the hottest part of the house and the basement is the coolest part. Thus, we often spend time in the basement when we’re at home.
We carry that logic further by opening up windows when the temperature is cooler outside, particularly on the upper floor. The temperature upstairs is often five to ten degrees warmer than that in the basement, so there are times where it makes sense to open the upstairs windows while keeping the main floor windows closed.
Any time the outdoor temperature is less than your “maximum” desired temperature inside, the windows should be open and the AC should be off. This includes the nighttime hours.
We let cold water cool us. Water comes into our house at a pretty cool temperature, even on a hot day. That’s because it comes in from deep in the ground where the earth naturally keeps it cool.
When we use cold water, we’re not paying to heat it. When we use it to clean ourselves, it cools us off, making it easier to tolerate higher temperatures, so we try to take cooler showers in the summer. Not only that, cool water has a cooling effect on the nearby environment, which is why cold drinks feel so nice on a hot day.
We use cold water for everything we can during the summer. I wash clothes with cold water. I make beverages with cold water. It keeps us from using the water heater and has a natural cooling effect, too, so it’s just great in the summer!
All of these tactics combine to keep our air conditioning off as much as possible which keeps cash in our pockets without reducing our quality of life. If we find that we’re really uncomfortable at home, we flip on the air conditioning, but these tactics keep that option at bay.