George Rollins recently contacted me about writing a post with tips on how to reduce your energy bill this summer. He is a home enthusiast at FurnaceCompare.com, a site that has extensive information on brands and models of furnaces, boilers, air conditioners, and heat pumps. Furnace Compare also publishes consumer reviews and tips on choosing HVAC contractors. George has a passion for educating consumers on home improvements, as he feels that the right information can help consumers choose more wisely. I'd love to hear what you think about his post!
Particularly in warm parts of the United States including Maryland, homeowners are starting to experience the annual ascent of their electric bills as outdoor temperatures begin to rise and air conditioners get cranked up.
With record high temperatures in summer months, air conditioning units may seem like a necessity. However, modern air conditioning systems didn't become a staple in American homes until midway through the last century. Before that, families had to get creative in their effort to stay cool during hot summer days. In fact, even the ancient Romans found natural ways to reduce temperatures within their homes.
To help combat raising energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint, many homeowners are using the traditional creative cooling methods along with some new ones. In their minds, air conditioners are just one component in their overall plan to achieve a comfortable temperature indoors.
Below are some easy, inexpensive methods to supplement the work of the air conditioner to cool your home.
Reflecting Heat Away
One very simple way to reflect heat away from your home is to paint the exterior a light color.
Light colors are more likely to reflect solar energy, while darker hues tend to absorb heat. That heat can then transfer into the home, thereby contributing to an increase in the interior temperature.
In addition, installation of a radiant barrier, a foil lining attached to the roof rafters, can help minimize heat intrusion into the house during Maryland’s sunny, humid August.
Homes that are constructed with good quality, carefully installed insulation are likely to endure the summer heat with less need for air conditioner overuse. In particular, insulation in the attic area is important to prevent heat that penetrates the roof from infiltrating a home's living space.
In addition, contractors should carefully caulk and weather-strip areas around doors and windows to ensure that hot air does not enter the home. Caulking and weather-stripping are also instrumental in ensuring that cool air does not escape from the house.
Shading the house from the sun's heat is another great way to give your air conditioner a break. Landscaping can be one of your best resources when trying to shade your home. Careful positioning of trees and shrubs can help block some of the sun's rays from the house. Oak and hickory are strong, sturdy trees that are native to the East Coast and make up 60% of Maryland’s forests.
Because large trees grow slowly, also consider installing a trellis or pergola at problem areas so that luscious vines, which generally grow quickly, can help with the shading. Vines that are native to Maryland include the Trumpet Vine, Virgins Bower, Trumpet Honeysuckle, and the Virginia Creeper.
In addition, functional exterior shutters and awnings can help shield the house from the sun.
Interestingly, certain interior design elements can also contribute to the temperature of the house. For example, installing drapes and curtains can help reduce the intrusion of heat into the house.
Removing Built-up Heat
During the coolest parts of the day, consider naturally ventilating your house by opening windows and doors to create a nice, pleasing breeze throughout the building.
Encouraging this outside air into the house helps force warmer air out; however, this won't work if the outside temperature is hot. Therefore, on particularly warm days, this strategy likely won't work.
But generally the summer evenings in Howard and Carroll Counties of Maryland are comfortable. Even if you can't utilize this method for extended periods of time any break you give your air conditioner potentially helps the environment and your checkbook.
Don't Forget about Fans
While fans may consume some energy, they use considerably less energy than air conditioners. Today, stores carry countless different models, so the sky is the limit in choosing the right fan for your home.
Reducing Heat Sources
Paying attention to the heat generating sources within your home may help you become more conscious of unnecessary uses, thereby reducing heat production.
For example, the energy generated from incandescent light bulbs generally produces much more heat than light, so minimizing the time lamps and other light sources are turned on is wise. Also, consider switching to energy efficient bulbs. (Note: We are currently in transition; incandescent bulbs are being fazed out.)
The kitchen contains many heat-producing culprits, so try to avoid prolonged use of the major offenders: the stove and oven. Don't forget about the microwave, which produces virtually no heat, and take advantage of the warm weather and cook on the outdoor grill.
Homeowners should also consider drying clothes naturally on a clothes line and air drying dishes. Both of these tactics will give some of your heavy duty appliances a well deserved rest and will avoid unnecessary heat production in the home.
How are you planning on staying cool and decreasing your energy bills this summer?
Here are some more tips from the Maryland Energy Administration.