Summer air conditioning bills are often higher than winter heating bills (you can see the huge difference between my summer and winter bills here). Cranking up the air conditioner doesn’t just take its toll on your pocketbook, though. If a coal-fired plant is generating electricity to power your AC, it will be doing double duty on hot summer days, which means the air you breathe may be more polluted than usual.
Last summer, I offered six ways to use less air conditioning and keep cool here. I’d like to offer these additional suggestions:
Take cool or cold showers instead of hot showers and baths. According to the nest, if a single Washington D.C. resident with an electric water heater took a 65-degree shower once a day, her showers would cost about $50 per year, rather than $200 per year for a daily hot shower. You probably don’t want to do this in the dead of winter. But in the summer…when temperatures outside are blazing? Brrrr could feel really great. Got kids? Have them pretend they’re penguins and their shower is a waterfall in Antarctica. Another benefit: You’ll definitely take a shorter shower if the water is cool or cold, which will help reduce your water bill.
While you’re at it, turn down the temperature on your water heater. Most water heaters are set to 140 degrees. But if you’re taking shorter, colder showers, and washing clothes in cold water (see below) there’s no need to keep the heater set that high. “Turning down the temperature 10 degrees Fahrenheit on your hot water heater saves 3 to 5 percent on energy costs,” reports The Simple Dollar, “so a drop from 140F to 120F saves you 6 to 10 percent on your overall water heating bill.”
Wash clothes in cold water. If you’re still using hot water to do your laundry, you’re wasting energy and money. Most laundry detergents are now formulated to work as well in cold water as hot, and that goes for towels and underwear as well as t-shirts and shorts.
Clean your AC filter monthly. A dirty filter slows down air flow and makes your system use more energy to keep you cool. A clean filter also prevents dust and dirt from building up in the system, which could lead to expensive repairs or even system failure. Some filters can easily be pulled out and replaced. Others can simply be hosed off and re-used. Know where your filter is and how to keep it clean to maintain optimal AC performance.
Use a solar cooker, crock pot, or propane outdoor grill. Cooking and baking can really heat up a house. It’s great in the winter, when the heat radiated from a stove or oven add welcome coziness to a kitchen. But in the summer? Not so much! Fortunately, an ever increasing array of solar energy-powered cookers and ovens now make cooking with the sun more accessible for cooks at any level. Alternatively, use a propane-powered outdoor grill (rather than a polluting charcoal- fueled one) with a burner designed to accommodate pots and pans. An electric crock pot is a cooler option than a stove top, too, since the pot doesn’t use much power or generate very much heat. If you must bake, do so early in the morning before the day heats up.
Have fun! Try a new energy-saving gizmo – This Climactic Table is part of a line of “Zero Energy Furniture.” On top, it looks like a regular table, but underneath, folds of anodized aluminum foster thermal exchanges between the room and something called “phase-change materials” or PCMs. Its designers claim that the table can result in energy savings of up to 60 percent of heating and 30 percent of cooling demand. Don’t want anything quite so high-tech? How about a Cold Pot made from clay? The pot absorbs water from the inside, and sends it to its outer surface, where it evaporates. The change from a liquid to a gaseous state, reports Treehugger, results in the cooling of an inner aluminum pipe, where air circulates. This device won’t cool large spaces, but it might work in a single smaller room. Want something even simpler? I used to send my kids to camp with a small fan they could easily prop up next to their beds or on their worktables, and a water-bottle mister. The downside is that the little fan requires batteries (though they can be recharged) and the mister is plastic. The upside is that the fan cooled their immediate space, and occasionally misting their skin kept them cool.
What other ideas do you have for keeping you and your family cool? Please share!