Cooling Off

In the South, most of us get hit with our biggest utility bills in summer. To help keep your air conditioner from working overtime until the end of September, take a little time now to make your home more energy efficient. If you did not have your air conditioner professionally checked in early spring, get it done now. At a minimum, the service should include checking the refrigerant level, lubrication of motors, tightening the belts, and changing the filter. You may need to have the coils cleaned. To help your unit work better on hot days, make sure that shrubbery doesn’t block airflow to the outside compressor and coils. Check for adequate attic ventilation. Because heat rises, your attic is the hottest place in the house. Temperatures inside can reach upwards of 150 degrees. Proper ventilation helps reduce attic temperatures, making the rest of your home cooler and helping your roof last longer. For maximum airflow, your attic should have both soffit vents at the eaves and ridge vents along the top of the roof. Gable vents or roof- mounted, wind-driven turbines can substitute for ridge vents. Thermostatically controlled electric vent fans also help. With any type of venting, be sure the openings are not blocked by insulation or by anything that’s stored in the attic.

Attic insulation keeps the heat in the attic and out of the rest of the house. A crude test for adequacy is to feel the ceiling on a hot afternoon. If it’s warm to the touch, you may need to install more insulation. An even better check is to measure the actual depth of blown-in insulation in your attic. Batts insulation is usually marked with the R-value on the paper backing. (R-value is the standard rating for insulation; the higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation at slowing heat transfer.) For much of the South, you should have an attic R-value of at least 30. Wall insulation is also important, but it is usually much more expensive to install than attic insulation. Tightening up your home will keep the cool air inside in summer and the cold air out in winter. Use caulk and weather stripping to reduce air infiltration. Storm windows and doors also help reduce leaks. Think it’s not worth the trouble? Would you like to save 10% on your utility bill? Get out the caulk. Seal cracks and gaps around anyplace where wires or pipes enter the house. Use weather stripping to ensure a good seal of windows and doors. (Hint: A lit incense stick or candle is a good way to spot air leaks. This works best on a windy day.)

No matter how energy efficient your cooling system or well insulated your home, the way you live has a big effect on your energy bills. Here are some low-cost (or no-cost) ways to save you money.
• Dress for the weather. Light weight, loose-fitting clothes will make you feel more comfortable.
• Keep the doors closed. Why condition the whole world?
• Keep the air moving. Ceiling fans keep us cool by speeding evaporation of perspiration from our skin. A fan makes a 78-degree room feel 6 degrees cooler. Remember that fans work only on people and pets, so turn the fan off when you leave the room.
• Turn up the thermostat. Raising your thermostat setting from 72 degrees to 78 degrees can reduce your cooling costs by as much as one-fourth. If your house is normally empty during the day, consider installing a setback thermostat that automatically raises its setting when no one is home. 
• Change the filter. A dirty filter makes your air conditioner work harder to force air through the trapped dirt and dust. A new filter saves energy and provides cleaner air.
• Close the blinds. Reduce solar heat gain by keeping window treatments shut. It is especially important to block the hot afternoon sun blasting in through the west windows of your house.
• Reduce humidity. The old saying “It’s not the heat, it’S the humidity’, is true. Use bathroom and kitchen vents to take excess moisture out of the house. Finally, make sure your clothes dryer vents to the outside.