3 simple steps to having a frugally cool summer
By Gary Foreman
The New Frugal You
Dear New Frugal You,
wife and I own a home built in the 1960s. It gets a lot of direct sunlight and
very little shade. Last summer our electric bills were painful! Besides
stuffing the attic full of insulation, what can I do? -- Josh
You've got the right idea.
Cooling your home in the summer can be very unfrugal, especially if your home
wasn't built in the past 20 years. So let's put together a plan to help reduce
your electric bills this summer.
There are three primary ways to
reduce the cost of cooling:
- Reduce the amount of heat that enters your house
- Cut the amount of heat generated inside your
- Improve the efficiency of your air conditioning
Let's begin with reducing the
outside heat entering your home. As you say, your home gets lot of sunlight and
has very little shade. That's a problem. Experts say that the main source of
heat buildup is sunlight being absorbed through the roof and walls of your
If you don't have shade trees,
you can't grow them overnight. But if you plan on remaining in the house for a
while consider planting some trees on the sunny side of your home. Ask for help
in selecting the trees that will grow fastest and provide the most shade,
without being water-hogs.
The next best thing to a big
shade tree is to provide good insulation and patch spots where outside air can
invade your living space. Begin by making sure you have sufficient insulation
in all the outside walls and in your attic. A local home center can tell you
what R value you need based on where you live.
Adding insulation is often a
good do-it-yourself job, especially in areas where there's no trouble accessing
the area to be insulated. Both the tools and the work are fairly simple.
Even with proper insulation
your attic will still get hot. You want to prevent that heat from entering the
living space below. One way to do that is to make sure you have enough
insulation between the attic floor and rooms below.
Another way is to keep the
attic itself cooler is with an attic fan. The fan pulls hot air out and replaces
it with cooler outside air. The result can be a dramatic drop in temperature
inside the attic and cooler air in the living space below.
Next, search your living areas
for places where outside air has access through walls, doors and windows. Older
homes are particularly vulnerable. It's not uncommon when all the little cracks
are added up for it to be the same as having a window wide open all
How can you find all those
cracks? Slowly walk around the outside walls of your home with a lit candle.
The flame and smoke will alert you to any drafts. Fix them with one of the many
weather-stripping and caulking products available.
Another thing to consider is
the sunlight streaming through windows, especially southern and western
windows. Stand near the window on a sunny day and you'll feel the heat. Outside
awnings are ideal. But window tint, inside drapes or sunshades can work well,
too. Plus, they won't cost much money.
You may be tempted to buy newer
more energy efficient windows. That may be a good choice, but be sure to work
through the financing before you make a decision. The payback period depends on
many factors that are unique to each home.
Josh, once you've kept heat
outside, it's time to look at heat sources inside your home. The biggest causes
are cooking and drying clothes. Try to move some of your cooking outdoors. It's
a great time to use your grill. Minimize oven use. Instead, use your microwave
and slow cooker -- anything to keep heat out of your kitchen.
Summer is also a
great time to line dry clothes. It's healthier for both you and your clothing
to spend some time outdoors. And it's frugal, too. You'll save the cost of
running your dryer plus the extra AC needed to remove the heat it generates.
The final step is to make sure
that your AC system is working as efficiently as possible. Begin by looking at
the outside portion of the system. Part of its job is to distribute the hot air
it removed from your house.
Ideally, the system will be in
shade and have adequate airflow to dissipate the heat. Are there bushes, fences
or anything else that prevents airflow? Cut them back to five feet or so away
from the compressor. Add shrubbery or fences to provide shade.
Have your system checked by a
professional, not only to see that the compressor is running well, but that the
ductwork and inside fan are working efficiently. Clean or replace dirty air conditioner
You'll want to use fans and set
your thermostat in the upper 70s. Air that's moving feels 2 degrees colder.
And, adjusting your thermostat from 72 to 78 will reduce your bill by 20
Finally, a little cool
psychology. Our minds relate blues and greens to things that are cold. So it
might be time to bring out those cool-color throw pillows and slip covers. There's
nothing wrong with tricking yourself into being comfortable.
Now is a great time to get
started. You have a month or so to get the work accomplished and you'll enjoy
the benefits all summer long.
I hope that you have a frugally cool summer!
See related: Shopping for and saving on window tinting film, Tips for teachers with children facing a no-income summer
For more than 35 years, Gary Foreman has worked to help people get the most for their money. Prior to founding The Dollar Stretcher.com, he was a financial planner and purchasing manager. Gary began The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters in April 1996. Today the website features more than 6,000 articles on different ways to live better for less. Gary has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The Nightly Business Report, USA Today, Reader's Digest and other newspapers and magazines. Gary answers a question about a budgeting or saving issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week.
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Updated: June 21, 2012