How to Save on Energy Costs This Summer (and future Summers :-) )

With summer approaching, we’re all daydreaming about vacations and weekends spent poolside. Amid all the fun, though, lurks the summer surcharge – higher electricity bills to keep you cool in the blazing heat. This is especially true in my neck of the woods of Austin, Texas. When triple-digit temperatures are a fact of life for several months, just staying comfortable at home causes my electricity bill to skyrocket.

There are all kinds of small and obvious things you can do to combat the higher prices – turn off the lights when you leave a room, unplug your phone charger when you’re finished using it, etc. – but those only nibble at the edges of your bill.

To save more on electricity in the long run, invest some cash in a few choice preventive measures. And don’t forget, some of the upgrades and improvements might qualify you for federal tax credits to help offset the cost.

1. Service your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system twice a year.

You should treat your home’s HVAC system just like a car – routine maintenance will keep it in tip top shape and reduce the risk of a calamitous breakdown. Find a local HVAC service company you trust, and sign up for standing service calls twice a year – once in late spring right before the mercury climbs and again in late fall just before winter. Since a lot of houses use electricity to cool down and gas units for heat, your HVAC system will require slightly different work depending on the season.

If you prepay for the semiannual service, the HVAC company will send you automatic reminders, and you won’t have to worry about remembering to set up the appointment. You’re also more likely to receive a discount by signing a long-term service agreement.

2. Install a programmable thermostat.

Installing a programmable thermostat can save the average homeowner as much as $180 a year if used correctly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Digital thermostats are relatively cheap and easy to install, and you’d be amazed by the difference they can make. Instead of leaving your air conditioning running at the same temperature all day long while you’re at work (or turned off altogether, so you come home to an oven), you can program it to automatically kick into a higher setting after you leave for the day and then lower again before you get home. They’re also handy for controlling the temperature while you sleep when the temperature fluctuates drastically between the night and morning. If you need some help, here is Programmable Thermostat Purchasing Guidebook.

3. Properly seal windows, doors and cracks.

It’s inevitable that the seals around your home’s windows and doors will break down, which allows for slow leaks that, while not significant in and of themselves, add up over time. When combined with the cracks in your brick mortar or siding, enough air might be escaping your home to add up to the equivalent of always leaving a window wide open. You can find cheap weather stripping, caulk and other sealants at your local hardware store. Then spend a Saturday afternoon tightening up those pesky leaks. For repairs to mortar or siding, you’ll likely need to hire a contractor if you’re not that handy.

4. Don’t assume your utility bill is correct.

We all make mistakes at work, and utility workers are no different. Your electric bill is based on a human swinging by your house every month to read your meter, so human error can be a factor in an unusually high utility bill. Whenever you receive your monthly statement, go outside and check to make sure the bill and meter match. The rates you are charged for electricity will be included in your bill, so just do the math for a quick double check. Don’t just assume you must have cranked up the air conditioning too much during a particular month if it seems out of the ordinary. Just like anything else, you wouldn’t pay for services you never received, and utilities shouldn’t be any different.

With each summer seemingly hotter than the last, you don’t have to settle for an ever increasing electric bill. If you properly take charge of your home’s energy efficiency, your wallet will thank you. [from]