This summer, home is where the heart is and where energy bills will be the greatest. With more time spent at home this summer amid the Covid-19 pandemic, staying comfortable and saving money are more important than ever.
A mild winter and projected mild summer meant U.S. sales of electricity to residential customers were expected to fall by 1.3% in 2020, according to US Energy Administration.
That expected dip may be undone for residential customers remaining at home. Instead of office buildings being big users of electricity this summer, homes will account for more energy consumption.
“As we head into the summer, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages 90% of the Texas grid, says record electricity use is expected,” says Jennifer Herber, spokesman for Austin Energy. “We have seen a 12 percent increase in average residential kWh per day per customer when compared to last year and a 15 percent decrease in average secondary commercial kWh per day per customer.”
For families at home, staying entertained and comfortable will be a priority, says energy consultant Roger Taylor, owner of Dwell Green of Dallas. “I suspect families will be staying home more. Parents won’t want their kids to go to the playground, and they can’t go to school,” says Taylor. “People who have a swimming pool will be using it every day and not just on the weekends. Parents will do anything they can to entertain the kids.”
Taylor rates homes for energy efficiency compliance in Texas, and says while most homes have similar inefficiency problems, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. “You have to view the house as a whole system,” Taylor says.
Still, there are some easy recommendations that homeowners can follow to prepare for the coming hot months at home and potentially lower the energy bill.
Don’t spend hot, sleepless nights waiting for the AC repairman to arrive. Give your air conditioner a maintenance check and have it serviced before it’s working overtime. The Department of Energy says replacing a dirty air filter can reduce your air conditioner’s energy consumption by up to 15 percent.
Herber recommends setting the thermostat to 78 degrees or higher and using fans to cool rooms.
Ceiling fans can keep air moving in the house, making you more comfortable. In summer months, ceiling fans should spin in a counterclockwise direction. According to EnergyStar.gov, the circulation of airflow can save up to $165 in energy costs over the life of the fan. If possible, use a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning to save on the energy bill. The cost of using an air conditioner averages 36 cents per hour of operation, while a ceiling fan costs about a penny per hour of use, according to Angie’s List.
According to Energy Star, if you raise your thermostat by only two degrees and use your ceiling fan, you can lower your air conditioning costs by up to 14 percent.
If you are reliant on the AC, be sure to move furniture away from air vents to allow for air flow. Likewise, close shades and curtains on windows hit by direct sunlight.
When the weather it hotter, your water heater can be cooler. Turning down the high setting on your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit will save money and extend the life of the heater. You will be reducing the amount of energy it takes to produce and maintain your hot water by not overheating it.
If you do go on vacation, turn off electric heaters and turn down gas heaters when you are away. The average household spends more than $250 per year on water heating, according to Energy Star, and it’s the second largest energy expenditure behind heating and cooling.
Turning down the temperature on the water heater will save money when washing clothes. To save even more, wash clothes in cold water. Water heating makes up about 90 percent of the energy it takes to operate a clothes washer. Specially formulated laundry detergents are available for cold water washing.
Once the laundry is clean, consider hanging a clothesline and drying laundry outside instead of using the dryer, for an estimated $60 in savings over the season. Clothes dryers account for approximately 80 percent of the energy used for household laundry, according to Energy Star. If your dryer has a sensor to shut off when clothes are dry, use it. If you use the dryer, you might wait until the evening to avoid generating extra heat in your home during the day.
To avoid wasting energy, always cover pots and pans to keep heat in when heating on the stove. Trapping the heat will increase temperatures in the pan and reduce cooking times. Covering your pot when cooking on an electric cooktop reduces your carbon footprint by about 85 lbs of carbon dioxide per year, according to Energy Star.
Keep burners clean on gas ranges to ensure maximum efficiency, and be sure to match your pot size to your burner size.
Avoid using the oven during the heat of the day, Herber says. Instead, opt for slow cookers, toaster ovens, microwaves or grills. Microwaves use up to 80 percent less energy, cook 75 percent faster and produce less heat than electric or gas ovens.
Your summertime vistas are more likely to be filled with views of your phone or iPad screen than a jaw-dropping panoramic of a favorite national park. To save energy, enable your computer and monitor to sleep while not in use.
According to Energy Star, there is no need to unplug phone chargers. Such phone chargers use smart technology that only charge as much as needed and do not draw energy when the phone is disconnected.
But other devices can make a difference in energy consumption. Herber says streaming video on a game console uses 15 times more energy than a digital media player. Streaming on a laptop uses four times more energy than streaming on a tablet.
If you can’t give up those devices, dimming the television or computer screen will reduce energy use.
Laura Williams-Tracy is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to American City Business Journals on a wide range of topics and covers business and finance issues for sectors of the commercial real estate industry.