Money saving tips during the long hot summer

It’s hot outside. Like, really, really hot outside. I know it gets hot every summer, but every time the heat comes around it seems like we’re always surprised at how hot it gets. The other surprise comes when we get our utility bills during these hot periods.

There are a number of things you can do to keep the bills down without getting too hot. In my experience, there is some trade-off between comfort and higher energy use during 100° plus temperatures. However, if you follow these tips, you should be able to save some money and make it through the remaining dog days of summer.

Common Sense Tips:
I call these common sense tips because we’ve all heard them before but for some people, they are so hard to follow.

Be smart about your summer utility bills!
Be smart about your summer utility bills!
  1. Turn off the lights when you don’t need them or leave the room.
    I’m sure you heard your parents yelling at you when you were a kid about this. I know I did. Back then the lights were different and used a lot more energy than most current light bulbs. Even though newer bulbs are more efficient it’s still a good practice to conserve the energy as much as possible and this is an easy way to start.I’ll also add that in my experience, unless you’re reading or doing something technical, you don’t need all that light AND a darker room feels cooler. Maybe it’s just me, but for some reason it does make me more comfortable to turn off the lights when it’s hot outside.

    Close that refrigerator door!
    Close that refrigerator door!
  2. Close that refrigerator door!
    I know we’ve all been in the mood for something and not be able to find it in the refrigerator, but standing there with the door open is a huge waste of energy. Modern refrigerators are much more energy efficient but that’s still no excuse to keep that door closed as much as possible.
  3. Close the outside door!
    Whether it’s your front door, back door, garage door, etc, keep them closed as much as possible. In my house, the door that constantly gets left open is the door from the kitchen into the garage. I know it’s not as bad as a door going outside, but the garage isn’t cooled so leaving this door open is also an energy waste. Our washing machine and dryer are out there so tend to go out there a lot and it keeps getting left open.
  4. Turn off that water!
    Train yourself and your family not to waste water. Don’t leave the water running when it’s not needed. The easiest way to conserve water is to turn it off while you’re brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers and only running your dishwasher when it’s full. Another trick I recently learned was to keep a large plastic pitcher next to your bathtub. If you’re like me and like the water to heat up before you get into the shower, use the pitcher to collect the cool water until you’re ready to shower. Then you can use this water in the kitchen or to water potted plants.

OK, that pretty much sums up the common sense tips. Hopefully you already practice these tips year-round.

Intermediate Utility Saving Tips:
These are tips that aren’t as common and usually aren’t the ones your parents yelled at you about when you were a kid. These are also tips that you can implement without spending money on upgrades.

  1. Change your A/C air filters
    Keeping your filters fresh and clean helps the air coming out of the A/C flow easier.
  2. Close your windows.
    Keep your windows closed and block any drafts of warm air coming in.
  3. Close your window blinds or curtains.
    Closing your blinds and curtains, especially if they receive direct sun, will add an extra layer to block radiant heat from coming into your house through your windows during the hottest part of the day.
  4. Use fans.
    Use fans to help circulate air in the room. However, keep in mind that fans don’t help actually cool the air so turn off the fan when you leave the room.
  5. Adjust your thermostat settings.
    There is no need to keep you house chilly in the middle of summer. Keep the temperature set as warm as you can tolerate and wear loose summer clothes. If you’re keeping your house so cool that you can’t comfortable wear shorts, t-shirt and sandals, then you’re keeping your house too cool and wasting energy.
  6. Check your water heater settings.
    You might be able to lower the heating temperature to squeeze out a little more energy saving.
  7. Fire up the grill.
    You might not think about it but using your oven and stove produces heat that will make it hotter in your house. Use these appliances sparingly during the hot times of the day. I recommend using your outdoor grill or microwave as much as possible to keep your house cooler.

Advanced Utility Saving Tips:
These are tips that can go a long way to help you save in your utility bills. However, they might take a little investment of time or money to implement.

  1. Use a programmable A/C thermostat.
    We’ve had a programmable thermostat since we moved into our house in 2000. A few years ago we switched from a basic programmable one to a “learning” thermostat from Nest. There are a number of different options on the market and even more are available now than when we installed ours. These thermostats are great because they help you keep comfortable while giving you hints on saving energy. Some of the savings come from not cooling your house when it’s not needed. Ours learned our schedule so it doesn’t keep the house as cool when no one is home, but it knows when we’re returning so it can start cooling the house before we get home.Another cool feature is that many utility companies will give you a rebate or discount to purchase these thermostats. We have Austin Energy and they gave us a rebate for our Nest. There was one catch, we had to sign up for their “Energy Rush Hour” program. This program allows them to override our setting to reduce our energy use during peak times. They have a limit so it only happens a few times over the hottest part of the summer. I will say that we eventually withdrew from the program because it was making our house too hot. We leave our thermostat around 82° F during the afternoon and their program would raise it to 85° F or 86° F. When this happened, we actually had candles melt and it took too long to cool it back down after the rush hour. If you keep your house cooler, like the mid to upper 70° F settings, then this program would be great for you.You can check with both your utility department and the manufacturer of the smart thermostat to find out if you qualify for any rebates and what strings might be attached to the rebate.
  2. Put motion sensors on light switches where appropriate.
    Years ago we put motion sensors on the light switches for our bathrooms. If you think about it, these are the lights that are most frequently left on and forgotten about. Now the light comes on when you go in and goes off by itself once you leave the room. Just make sure to think about if it is appropriate for your room. We tried this in our master bathroom but the light went out while you took a shower because it couldn’t detect motion while you’re in the shower. So, we had to take this one down but it does work really well in the half-bath downstairs and in the “toilet room” that is off to the side of our master bathroom.
  3. Water your lawn following your utility company’s or city’s guidelines.
    We live in Austin and we are constantly in a semi-state of water rationing. Regardless of the time of year, they keep restrictions on when you can water but in the heat of summer our restrictions get stricter than other times of the year. We’re assigned a day of the week we can water and a specific time frame when we can water on that day. If you water outside of these restrictions they can fine you. You’ll want to check with your local utility or city for information on any restrictions in your area. Even if you’re not on technical restrictions, your utility or city might have recommendations that are appropriate for your area to keep your water consumption as low a possible.
  4. Shade the west side of your house.
    The west side of your house will face the sun in the hottest part of the day so any additional shade you can create will help it feel cooler. When we moved into our house, we planted (OK, the builder planted) a cedar elm tree in our back yard, which is the west side of our house. It was a tiny little tree and I hung Christmas lights on it and could reach the top of the tree without needing a ladder. Today, 18 years later, the tree is taller than our 2 story house and provides shade to almost our entire backyard and the house. It’s actually grown so large (and our backyard is so small) that we’re running out of places where we can grow our favorite plants. We can definitely tell that our living room and kitchen don’t get as hot now that the tree is shading that side of the house. This isn’t a quick fix, but over time it will be very appreciated if you strategically plant a tree on the west side of your house.
  5. Use water and electricity wisely.
    I don’t know if this is common everywhere, but here in Austin they charge more for using water and electricity during peak time periods. Therefore, it’s cheaper if we wash clothes and run the dishwasher at night or early in the morning. Not only that, these appliances create heat, so running them at cooler parts of the day won’t heat your house as much.

All of these tips can help you reduce your energy and water usage, which will help you keep your utility bills lower during this hot time period. However, there are a lot more things you can do but not as easily, quickly, or cheaply. Some super tips require planning and a lot more money.

Super Tips

  1. Replace old appliances with energy saving new appliances.
  2. Replace older toilets and faucets to use less water.
  3. Install energy efficient light bulbs.
  4. Repair any water leaks.

Your local city or utility company probably has resources to help you pay your bills if you’re struggling with the amount due. I also bet they have online resources and recommendations to help you use less water and electricity. If not, you can take a look at the ones here at Austin Energy.

Some of the super tips above might also allow you to qualify for tax credits or additional credits from your utility company. It never hurts to check out their website to see what incentives they are offering.

Hopefully adopting all or even just some of these tips can help you keep your utility bill under control and your wallet doesn’t get as hot as the outside temperature.