If your home is like mine then the hottest months of the summer are often accompanied with the highest electric bills of the year due to our air conditioner running almost all the time just to keep the house at a bearable level of comfort. Air conditioners are great, but no matter whether you have a bunch of window AC units or a new energy-efficient central air conditioner unit, they still take a lot of electricity to run. If you want to lower your electric bills but still keep your house cool with your air conditioner then you’re going to have to give your AC a little hand in the cooling process.
Here are some relatively quick and affordable home improvement ideas that can serve as DIY home cooling projects that can reduce your electric bill and help your air conditioner work a little less.
The concept of keeping your home cool without cranking your air conditioner is known as “passive cooling” and it’s what most people have done to keep cool throughout history. Air conditioning is a relatively modern invention, but that doesn’t mean that our ancestors just sat around in their homes sweating throughout the summer months. Today these passive cooling methods are being revived and re-invented as ways to keep homes cool and help reduce energy costs by helping air conditioning units run more efficiently and with less effort.
Passive Cooling Methods
Install Ceiling Fans: You can’t argue with the cooling results of a ceiling fan when weather gets warm. These days ceiling fans are available in hundreds of different styles and shapes and they’ve become quite affordable in recent years. Installation is fairly easy, though you may need an electrician to install the fan properly if you don’t already have an outlet and brace in the ceiling of your room. I live in New Jersey where everything is expensive and most electricians in our area only charge about $75 to install a ceiling fan. Even if you have ceiling fans installed now be sure to make sure your ceiling fans are blowing in the right direction to keep your room cool!
Average cost: $200 – $250 per fan (includes installation)
Use Light-Blocking Shades or Curtains on Windows and Doors: Sunlight pouring in through your windows can warm your home like an oven, especially in the long sunny days of summer. You’ll be amazed at how much cooler your home can be with the strategic placement of a few light-blocking shades over your sunniest windows. I have a large sliding glass door that faces south east. I recently put up some light blocking curtains and was amazed at the difference. I recently tested this with a little electronic thermometer I had sitting around. At 8am my dining room was almost 79 degrees in the sun. I put up the light blocking curtains and within 15 minutes my thermometer was reading 74 degrees. If I had waited longer I probably would have had a higher range difference. This is one of those simple home improvements that can immediately make your house cooler.
The important thing to remember is use specially designed “blackout” or “light blocking” shades or curtains. If you can hold your window covering up to the sunny sky and see ANY light coming through, then it isn’t a true light-blocking covering. Most light-blocking curtains actually have a thick liner, sometimes plastic and sometimes made out of cloth. And if you’re worried about how they will look you’ll be happy to know there are a number of decorative blackout curtains and room darkening window dressings now available online. Close them during the sunniest part of the day and your home will stay much cooler.
Average cost: $50 – $75 for a glass door, less for windows
Install Window Awnings: Though they may not be as fashionable as they once were due to the increase prevalence of air conditioning, window awnings were once one of the easiest ways to block out sunlight and keep homes cool during the summer months. Most window awning cover about half of the window, allowing plenty of fresh air to flow through open screens while covering enough glass to block the sun throughout the day even as it’s just rising or setting. When the summer months are behind you most window awnings can be uninstalled or folded up so that the warming light from the winter sun can help reduce your heating bills as well.
Average cost: $150 – $250 per window, though quality awnings can last 10 years or more
Maintain Your Air Conditioner: Whether you have one central AC unit or several small window AC units, it’s important to maintain their peak efficiency and effectiveness by cleaning air filters, inspecting them for damage and even making sure they are properly charged with coolant. A dirty air filter can block air from being blown by your air conditioner. If your air filter is really dirty it could actually cause your AC blower to overheat or cause your air conditioner evaporator coils to freeze over. Both problems can damage an air conditioner and be costly to fix. You’ll want to check your air filter once and month and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for ways of cleaning or replacing the filter on a regular schedule. A central AC unit should probably be inspected and given the once over on an annual basis by a professional and single air conditioner units should be checked out each time they are installed or turned on for the first time in a season. Between inspections there are a number of things you can do to keep your central air conditioner working.
Average cost: $30 for central AC filter, $100 for a central AC inspection
Seal and Insulate: Small leaks can sink ships and can heat up a house. A big way to keep your home cooler is to make sure you’re not losing any cool air from your air conditioner where you shouldn’t be. No matter what kind of air conditioner you have you can inspect all your windows and doors and make sure you don’t have any drafts or gaps where cool air is seeping out. If you have window units you may want to make sure they are held tightly and have no gap around their mounting hardware. If you have a central AC unit then you’ll want to inspect as much of the metal ductwork as you can, using foil tape to seal up any pin holes or gap that may have formed over time that let out precious cool air. Sealing ductwork is one of those home improvements than just about anyone can do. You may also want to close the air duct registers and doors in rooms you don’t use so that your air conditioner doesn’t have to try to cool those rooms too.
Average cost: $20 for a roll of foil tape
Raise the Thermostat: This is an obvious one, but a lot of people forget that you don’t have to make the inside of your home the equivalent of a frozen tundra to be comfortable during the summer months. Try setting your thermostat for 78 and seeing how you like it. Still uncomfortable? Move done one degree and wait 30 minutes while doing something in your home. Keep doing that until you find a spot you can live with. The difference of just a few degrees can make a big difference in your electric bill.
Average cost: $0 other than some time
Install an Electronic Thermostat: There’s no point in keeping your home perfectly cool and comfortable when you’re not home. Replace that old dial thermostat with a programmable electronic thermostat and set “cool” and “warmer” times for your home. You can get an amazing variety of programmable electronic thermostat online now. I allow my home to get about seven degrees warmer on most weekdays when I’m at work and I’ve programmed it to get a little cooler right before I walk in the door at 6pm each night. Most of these are actually pretty easy to install if you can put a few screws in the wall and handle attaching some wires to screw posts. If you’re unsure you’re better off calling your local heating and cooling company to have them install it for you.
Average cost: $40 – 70 (not including installation fee)
Plant A Tree: Okay, unless you plant a thirty foot shade tree in your lawn this may not help right away, but there are a number of shade trees that do grow very fast (even 6 – 8 feet per year!) and could be providing your home shade within a year or two. Trees block a lot of that sunlight that beats down on your home all day long. If you’re walking in the hot sun and you want to cool down you go and sit in the shade, right? You can use the same principal for cooling your home: shade is cooler than sun.
Average cost: $10 – $50 (and a few years)
Alone each of these DIY Home cooling ideas will help cool your home by a little bit here and there. By combining some of these relatively cheap and easy home improvements you can really reduce the amount of work your home air conditioner has to perform and in turn save a fair bit of money on your electric bill this summer!