Summer is coming! (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s time to get ready for winter) For many of us, summer is when power bills go through the roof.
I know – that’s not what you want to hear, but you know that it’s true. Would you like to find out some ways to keep cool without the power bill rising faster than the heat outside?
Of course you do!
You do not need to go off-grid in order to lower your electricity use. Here are 36 tips for lowering your electricity use this summer.
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Don’t use an air conditioner. Electric floor and ceiling fans use half the energy.
Fans do not cool the room, though – they blow away the layer of hot air around your body. Therefore, when you leave the room, turn off the fan. If you leave a fan on when it is not actually moving the hot air away from a person, you are simply wasting electricity.
Make sure your ceiling fan is blowing down, not up. If it’s blowing up, then the warm air from the ceiling is being pushed back down, and that’s not good. When the fan is at full speed, stand directly under it – you should feel a solid wind.
If you must use an air conditioner, especially for those with health conditions, increasing the temperature by 2C (for example, from 26C to 28C) will reduce your energy consumption by about 10%. 10% is a lot.
Plant summer greenery like Morning Glory flowers outside of your house’s windows. These create a natural shade and keep the heat from entering, while evaporation from water inside the plants and their soil will also cool your walls.
Even potted plants and gardens, if close to the house, will prevent excessive temperature increases.
Trees are even better. But if you’re planting trees near your house, pay close attention to the mature root size and shape, choosing ones that go straight down. Sprawling roots can destroy your foundation, paths and driveway.
Use blinds inside your windows to block sunlight and heat. Better yet, install functional outdoor shutters outdoors to prevent the heat from reaching the windows. It’s an old idea that deserves a revisit.
In the morning and early evening, sprinkle water on gardens, balconies, concrete and asphalt. As the day warms, the water will evaporate and have a cooling effect.
Straw or rattan mats are cooler than carpets or wooden floors.
Solar control films are available to apply to windows. Just like the insulating film many people use in the winter, these insulate the window glass directly, reflecting away 78% of the sun’s heat and blocking up to 98% of UV rays.
Wear a hat. Your mom was right.
Bring back parasols. It has happened in Japan, so why not bring them back to North America?
Linen bedding, although definitely much more expensive, is the most comfortable, quick-drying and sweat-absorbent. An added benefit is that linen lasts a lifetime and “old linen” becomes increasingly soft and comfortable. If linen bedding is out of the price range, lightweight cotton is the next best option, allowing you to sleep more comfortably in the heat.
Sleep with ice packs under your pillow.
Turn down the coolness in your refrigerator. Put it at a medium setting. Second to air conditioners, refrigerators are the single biggest use of energy in the home.
Do not overload the refrigerator as that prevents food from cooling properly. They work best if air can circulate freely, so toss out those long-forgotten leftovers.
Organize your food so that the refrigerator is opened as infrequently as possible. I know, I’m starting to sound like your mom, aren’t I? Keep the refrigerator door closed!
Is it too obvious to point out that we should be turning off lights whenever possible? Unless you live in a dark basement apartment, there is little need for artificial lights in the daytime, and we generally manage quite well without them. Turning off lights unless absolutely needed will save about 5% of your energy consumption.
Turn off anything that isn’t being used and be aware of phantom loads. If you use a microwave or television, make sure it is properly turned off.
If you replace incandescent lights (are you still using those?) with fluorescent bulbs, maintaining the same luminance, you decrease consumption to about 1/5th of what you were using. LED lights will reduce consumption to about 1/7th of the original usage! We use only LED lights in our off-grid cabin and the energy use is minimal.
Use kitchen and bathroom fans with caution as they vent to the outdoors and may be drawing welcome cool air outside.
Crockpots, electric skillets, roaster ovens, toaster ovens, grills, griddles, outdoor barbecues and sandwich makers – there are many ways to cook without heating up the kitchen. Quick cooking methods like stir frying and boiling are also ideal – leave the simmered dishes for cooler months.
Cook in the morning or late in the evening whenever possible.
Eat cool food. Salads, fresh vegetables and dip, cold cuts and bread are all delicious ways to eat while beating the heat, as are cold noodles like soba. Cook them in the morning, rinse well in several changes of cold water, drain well and cover, then store in the refrigerator. Serve with a delicious dipping sauce and chopped additions like cold meat and cheese.
Don’t forget seasonal favourites that have always been considered cooling – cucumber, tomato, watermelon, potato salad. Prepare the potatoes when the temperature is lower, or use canned potatoes.
When you do use the oven, don’t pre-heat unless you’re baking. In addition, cook multiple things at a time and check on your food by looking through the window.
Drink plenty of cool beverages. Try using that sun’s heat to brew up a batch of sun tea in your window. Or make barley tea by roasting whole barley in the oven and then boil it in water for a few minutes. Sweeten, cool and enjoy. Want more options than that? My friend Carissa has written a fabulous little book called Infused that contains 120 infused water recipes. (Yes, I have a copy!)
Hang dry your clothes. Even if you don’t have a backyard clothesline, a temporary rack in the bathroom or living room means no dryer heat.
The water heater is close to the air conditioner in energy consumption. Turn the heat down on it, and consider turning it off during hours when hot water on demand is not required.
Take quick showers instead of baths and consider lowering the temperature of your showers. If your home is warm, a cool shower can be very refreshing.
Even better – install low-flow shower heads for those short, cooler showers.
Clean around the home with cold water instead of hot wherever possible.
The Japanese believe that creating a soothing, relaxing environment helps you feel cooler. Install Japanese wind chimes or set up a small fish tank in your home.
A tenugui, originally simply a facecloth used by 18th century actors, is a thin linen or cotton hand towel which is used as a headband, to wipe away sweat, or as a sunshade. Carrying a thin towel or handkerchief is a practical tradition for dealing with heat, as are small hand fans.
And, finally, the easiest, healthiest and all around best way to save energy with your television is to unplug it and all of its accessories and remove them from your home.