THE DEN — These are the Dog Days of Summer. The season begins about July 3 and ends on Aug. 11. They were so named by ancient Egyptian and Greek TV weathermen to cover the 20 days before, to 20 days after, the conjunction of Sirius, the dog star, and the sun. But you knew that, and you know we are still broiling.
Maybe global warming is to blame, or perhaps because it’s summer in Texas, but no matter who let the dogs out, if you have looked at your electric bill lately you may want to lower it. Then again, you may have just won the Texas Lotto, sold your hedge fund and/or drilled in West Texas for oil and hit water. So you really don’t care about money. But for the rest of us, we need tips on how to lower our monthly electric bill to something this side of the Rick Perry’s traveling security costs.
First, let’s debunk the myth that we should leave the air conditioner (hereafter known as the a/c) at the same temperature when we leave the house or apartment or cellblock in the morning because, the theory goes, it takes more energy (electricity) to chill down the place when we return in the afternoon. Wrong. Cut back the a/c on that empty house and save big bux. This is assuming that you have somewhere else to go during the day, like school, a job or simply casing other people’s houses. Hint: If a house has the a/c going during the day, the owner is either at home holding a shotgun waiting for burglars or he struck water outside of Pecos.
Most of us like our bedrooms to be cooler when we sleep, so we turn down the temp at night. But remember, because half or more of your summer electric bill is the cost of running your a/c, each degree below 78 will increase your energy use by 3 to 6 percent. Recommendations: never sleep, or sleep on a bed of ice, turn your temperature up and turn your calendar to January. Works for me. This raises a question: which do you say? “It’s hot in here. Turn the a/c up.” Or: “It’s hot in here. Turn the a/c down.”
Ceiling fans (those are people who cheer for ceilings) can make you think the room is cooler. All they really do is churn up the hot air, but your skin doesn’t know that. Incidentally, here’s a tip I got from the Florida Power & Lighting Co. (my extensive research staff knows no boundaries). In the winter turn your ceiling fan on slow-reverse. It blows the hot air, which has risen to your ceiling, downward to warm you. The air from the floor then will be drawn back to the fan in the center of the room again and so on. How do you reverse a fan? All fans manufactured in the U.S. after 2007 have a switch to make the fan turn in the opposite direction. Do NOT flip the switch while the fan is on. Get somebody else to do it.
How old is your a/c? Newer models are far more efficient than those made before, say, 1920. Actually, you can save up to $100 a year on your electric bills if you buy a new a/c. They run about $7,000 to $12,000, depending on the size of the concrete pad it sits on. You can save what you spent and come out ahead by 2054. Is your home well insulated? This is especially important for your ceilings. Go take a look in your attic to see what kind of insulation you have, if any. There are three kinds: One is paper-backed blankets of fiberglass insulation. Then there is blown-in insulation which should be 3 to 5 inches thick, and there is insulating foam, which is also blown in. My own attic is insulated by my high school letter jacket, unread magazines, furniture that not even the Salvation Army will take, and dust 3 to 5 inches thick.
Are your interior walls insulated? Why? Who needs interior walls packed with fiberglass? As for your exterior walls, the best way to determine if that cookie-cutter home builder cut another corner by not insulating your outside walls, is to drill a small hole in all your exterior walls. Try not to hit any wires or pipes. Or you can avoid all those ugly looking holes you made in your rooms by drilling from the outside. Fill the holes with wine corks; that will impress the neighbors unless you drink wine in a box.
Here are a few more money-saving suggestions: When you leave a room, turn off the light. (This is like the suggestion to turn down the a/c while you’re away.) It only takes a tiny bit more electricity to fire up the light again. So unless you plan on returning to that room within 3 seconds, turn off the light. Ah, but what kind of light? Our old incandescent light bulbs, which Thomas Edison was so proud of because he made a squillian dollars selling them, are so 1880s. Ninety percent of the energy they use is given off as heat, and only about 10 percent results in light. Today the rage is compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, which are white and squiggly and look like something you’d buy at a Dairy Queen. They cost more but last longer and use less electricity. I bought one for $14 and it lasted four months. An average CFL bulb should save you enough money in 38 years to break even.
We discussed the tankless water heaters recently. They also save you enough money over 38 years to break even. (A reader pointed out that I kept calling them “hot water heaters” when actually they don’t heat hot water, they are “water heaters.” Anyway, now you know how to save money on your electric bill. Sirius, the dog star, would be proud.
Ashby is insulated at firstname.lastname@example.org