Keep summer energy bills from sizzling

You’ve probably heard the weather reports: experts say to expect a long, hot summer with above average temperatures and below average rainfall across most of Canada. For many of us, that will mean cranking up the AC.

Unfortunately, keeping your cool during the summer heat can be expensive. While air conditioners put the greatest stress on the household energy bill, more households are increasingly “plugged in” to computers, big screen TVs, entertainment systems and other appliances. By 2015, it is expected that consumer electronics and small appliances will account for nearly 30 per cent of all household energy use. With rising energy costs, all that power is zapping the budget.

Our households won’t be the only ones feeling the pinch. When the temps go up, so too does the demand for energy — which puts a strain on our power plants and infrastructure.

Thankfully, there are simple steps we can take to reduce our summer cooling costs — and conserve energy at the same time:

* Install ceiling fans. Ceiling fans provide additional cooling and air circulation, enabling you to raise the thermostat and reduce cooling costs. On hotter days, turning up the thermostat by 2 degrees Fahrenheit and using your ceiling fan can lower air conditioning costs by up to 14 per cent over the course of the cooling season, according to experts. In the summer, run the blades counter-clockwise (downward) to cool more efficiently.

* Keep your AC equipment in good shape. Maintain your air conditioner with a professional “tune-up” at the start of the season to save on the cost and inconvenience of a breakdown during the hottest days.

Experts also say we should clean or replace AC on a monthly basis. Dust and debris build up hampers air flow, but keeping things clean can cut your AC energy use by 5 to 15 per cent.

* Buy smart. If you’re purchasing a new air conditioner — especially for a window — remember that bigger is not always better. Inappropriately sized air conditioning units can inflate energy costs and contribute to poor indoor air quality, which can have adverse reactions for people with allergies. Consult with your contractor or local air conditioning system retailer to properly size your unit.

* Install a programmable thermostat. This handy device allows you to automatically coordinate indoor climates with your daily and weekend patterns, reducing bills by up to 10 per cent. For instance, you can turn down the AC while you’re at work or away for the weekend. Contrary to popular belief, keeping your house cool all the time does not save energy.

If you’re on a smart meter, experts say to avoid or minimize AC use between the 11:00 am to 5:00 pm peak period if possible.

* Seal air leaks. Appropriate insulation not only makes your home quieter and cleaner, it can reduce cooling costs up to 20 per cent. Pay attention to drafty windows, around air vents and places where utilities come into your home.

Lucky enough to have central air? Experts also say to make sure your air ducts are properly insulated — especially the parts that run through parts of your home that aren’t air conditioned (like your attic).

* Go green. Let nature offer some cooling shade! Planting leafy trees outside your home can reduce your air conditioning load by up to 30 per cent.

One word of caution: experts warn to keep shrubs and plants clear of your air conditioner condenser so it has plenty of room to disperse heat.

* Close the blinds or shades for south and west facing windows. Another alternative is to install shading devices such as trellises or awnings. The sun that warms our homes in the winter doesn’t do us any favours in the summer months.

Other ways to decrease fuel consumption this summer:

* Turn off anything you aren’t using, including lights, TVs, and computers. All of these items generate heat.

* Use energy-saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes washers and dryers. When possible, using these appliances during off-peak hours.

* Use cold water rather than hot to wash clothes.

* Substitute compact fluorescent bulbs for incandescent bulbs.

While we love summer’s sunny weather and warm temps, we shouldn’t have to worry about our budgets overheating. These steps can help you feel more comfortable around your home — and with your bills.

Source:, Ontario Ministry of Energy