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Cool off your electricity spending this summer

As warmer temperatures set in, all the summer’s sweet sounds and pleasantries are already interrupted by the hum of a thousand air conditioning units. Damn it!

I’ve yet to switch my unit on, but since having my little one, I must admit, I haven’t been paying as much attention to our electricity use and am noticing my bills quickly creeping up. A study by the Canadian Electricity Association of 11 major Canadian cities found the average 2010 residential electricity bill was $72.04 a month.

When it was just my wife and I, we were okay with just eating in candlelight and keeping the windows open for most of the summer. Yes, it was a little uncomfortable at times, but we did it, well, because electricity doesn’t excite us all that much. I’d rather use that money and spend it elsewhere. Wouldn’t you? Is being an extra couple of degrees or two more comfortable, really going to make a world of difference in my life? Probably not. Although I’ve learned with a small child in the house, MY level of comfort matters a lot less.

But I’m back to practicing some tried-and-true ways to lower my costs.

10 tips to reduce your cooling costs this summer

So here’s a list of a few (more affordable and family-friendly) ways, that we and yes, even you can do, to save on your electricity bill this summer:

  1. Raise the temperature. Even a little can make a lot of difference. Your air conditioning unit is your #1 summer energy bill buster – and yes, I did say bill. So go on and turn up the temperature, a degree at a time, or until you reach your highest comfortable setting. Each degree the thermostat is set above 22°C (72°F) can effectively lower your total electricity usage by one to three percent.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat and set a schedule. If your electricity company uses time-of-use billing, you’ll want to make sure you’re taking full advantage of the low-peak times and not overusing your AC at peak times. Set a schedule, so you don’t have to think about it. And for those days that you’re not home or you know you’ll be out for a long while, turn it off or adjust your temperature so your AC isn’t consuming much energy while you’re away. Although there seems to be a debate on this, I’ve found that switching your AC on and off actually saves you a lot more than keeping your house at a constant fixed temperature.
  3. Replace your lights. Lighting accounts for 20% of the electric bill in the average U.S. home. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) use a lot less electricity and last longer than your average incandescent. LED bulbs use even less energy, although the high costs, really negate a lot of the savings. Just remember to turn them off, when you’re not using them.
  4. Become of a fan of fans. Portable room fans do a great job of keeping you cool, so your AC doesn’t have to work as hard. If you have ceilings fans, take full advantage of those as well. According to the Ontario Energy Board, if you’re running them at the same time as your AC, you can easily afford to raise the temperature by a couple of degrees, reducing your energy usage by at least 10%. Just make sure your fan is blowing in the right direction (down).
  5. Run your major appliances during off-peak hours (stoves, dishwashers, washers and dryers) and only on full loads. During the summer months, try hanging out your clothes to dry (if allowed in your neighbourhood)– no fancy clothesline needed, just some string and some clothespins. Also, remember to turn off your smaller electronics like your TV or computer when not using them.
  6. Wash in cold water. This applies to both your dishes and your clothes. Detergents nowadays have become so good there’s no need to waste hot water. And an added bonus – washing in cold water also helps to prevent your clothes from shrinking and colours from fading.
  7. Take your showers and your kid’s baths in off-peak hours. It’s probably no surprise that showers use a lot less water than baths, but they also use a lot less electricity. Yes, even gas water heaters use electricity. Cut down your costs further by taking shorter/cooler showers.
  8. Open the windows when the sun goes down, close the curtains when the sun comes up. Our house faces the west, so the backyard is on fire in the morning. We close the curtains to keep the heat out and get all the light we need from the other sides of the house. At night, along with some fans, we open some windows to let the cool air in and help to cool the house naturally.
  9. Cook outside. Fire up that BBQ! You know what they say “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Summer is a perfect time to grill outdoors.

  10. Do what any child would do. Run through the sprinkler or cool off in the kiddie pool.

Every little bit makes a difference

When we first bought our house, instead of having fluctuating bills month-to-month, I decided to go on a fixed billing plan, so that it was easier to budget. They set a rate, based on the electricity usage of the previous homeowners. By the end of the year, we were mailed over an $800 cheque from our utility company, because they were way off on estimating OUR energy usage. The next year my fixed billing plan was adjusted to half the cost. Conserving is not only good for your wallet, but it’s also a great way to help the environment. Although it does seem like every time we’re encouraged to conserve energy or water, and overall consumption goes down, utility companies are quick to jack the rates back up. But that doesn’t mean we should throw all conservation efforts out the window. In fact, as utility rates continue to rise, it’s probably more important than ever.

In the end, the biggest energy savings to be had, have really not that much to do with outdated equipment and technology, the Low-E coatings on your windows or how many SEER your AC unit has. It’s more about changing our habits.

How are you changing yours?

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