As parts of the country bake at triple-digit temperatures, Americans turn on their air conditioners — and raise their electric bills.
The bills that normally go up at this time of year are rising because the cost of producing electricity is rising rapidly. Nearly 90 percent of homes in the United States use some form of air conditioning for cooling, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The administration’s latest projections show average residential electricity prices rose 4.7 percent this summer compared to last summer.
Here are some tips for managing your refrigeration bill.
Seasonal adjustments can help keep central air conditioning systems running smoothly. Technicians usually check refrigerant levels and clean refrigerant coils. “This makes the air conditioner work better, and keeps costs down,” said Adam Cooper, senior director of customer solutions at the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents investor-owned electric companies.
If you are late for maintenance, you may have to wait longer for service during the hotter months. But you can at least change the system’s air filters yourself, to keep cool air flowing and help the unit work efficiently.
Close the blinds during the day to block out the sun’s rays. You can also try plastic film that sticks to the windows to block the sun’s rays. You can get a professional to install it or buy do-it-yourself kits (about $10 per window). The Department of Energy’s Energy Saving website suggests that film is best for areas with long cooling seasons, because it also blocks the sun’s heat in winter.
Windows and doors that are too hot to make your home cool in the winter can make it even hotter in the summer, so seal them with weather removers, caulking, or foam spray.
Proper insulation is especially important for keeping your home cool and dry in hot climates, said Richard Trethewey, a heating and air conditioning contractor who appeared on the TV show This Old House. To make sure your home is energy efficient, consider doing an energy “audit” to identify areas that need more insulation. Such assessments usually cost a few hundred dollars, but some utilities cover the cost. To find a qualified contractor, search the website of the Building Performance Institute, which certifies and recommends technicians who perform the audit. work.
Low-flow showerheads can save electricity by heating less water, said Arah Shore, executive director of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, or NEEP, a nonprofit organization that promotes regional cooperation. She said “smart” power strips can turn off power to devices when they are not being used.
Ceiling fans can help you feel cooler and allow you to set the thermostat higher. Turn off the fan when you’re not home because “fans cool people, not rooms,” says the Department of Energy. The department suggests running clothes dryers and dishwashers during cold hours and avoiding using the oven on hot days.
Consider a programmable thermostat to help manage your cooling system, especially if you’re away from home during the day. You can set it to a higher temperature as you go and have it lower when you return. If you choose a “smart” version that is connected to the Internet, you can control it remotely from your mobile phone. Utilities may offer incentives or discounts to consumers who install thermostats.
Some utilities pay customers who register their smart thermostats and participate in energy-saving events during times of high demand. Arizona pays public services to customers, with credits on their bill, if they allow utilities to raise their smart thermostat by up to four degrees during “Cool Rewards” events during the summer. The program is limited to 20 events in the summer, each lasting three hours.
If your cooling system is aging, consider investing in a replacement because newer models are more efficient, said Mr. Trithewi. He said there are more options now, such as new heat pump systems that use “inverter” technology to cool your home in the summer (and heat it in the winter). “It’s like cruise control,” he said. Some states and utilities, including New York, offer financial incentives to install heat pumps.
New cooling systems can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the type of unit, home size, and other variables. Expect to pay $8,000 to $12,000, said Donald Brandt, an associate at ASHRAE, a group that specializes in heating, refrigeration and air conditioning.
Brandt said residential air conditioning units can last about 20 years, if properly maintained.
Live in an apartment? Look for a window conditioner that meets Federal Energy Star standards. Units are usually available for a few hundred dollars up to $1,000, depending on the size needed.
Here are some questions and answers about summer cooling bills:
How can I avoid huge spikes in my electricity bill in the summer?
Ask about “level” billing. To avoid shocking customers with volatile bills, utilities often agree to charge a fixed monthly rate, then settle any difference in payments due once a year. Usually, your account must be in good standing to qualify.
If you’re struggling to pay your bill, the federal government funds the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. To find out if you qualify, contact the appropriate agency in your state.
Can I really save money by pushing the thermostat higher in the summer?
Raising the thermostat by just one degree in the summer will cut your electric bill by 2 percent, according to the Edison Institute. The Department of Energy suggests setting the thermostat to the highest comfortable level when you’re at home — aim for 78 degrees — and several degrees higher when you’re away.