5 Ways to Prepare for Summer Heat (and Air Conditioning Bills)

by Thursday Bram · 10 comments

Summer time means warm weather. For many of us, it also means big air conditioning bills as we try to stay cool. Taking some easy actions to prepare can help keep those bills to a manageable level and possibly stay cool in the process.

  1. Open all your windows and doors. You can keep your air conditioning needs to just the hottest days if you can open up your house and get a good cross breeze going. But that requires being able to actually open those windows — that they haven’t been painted over or anything like that. You may need to fix things so that you can easily open windows and doors. I’m actually installing screen doors on my house this spring, just so that I can leave the doors open. It’s an easy project as far as home repair goes, although, if you’re as short as I am, you will need a ladder. By preference, it may also be good to have screens on your windows and doors so that you can leave them standing open and not worry about what will come wandering in.
  2. Create a list of cool places to go. Whether they’re stylish or not, in most towns there are places that constantly run their air conditioning, so why not head there and turn yours off? There are also plenty of ways to cool down if you’re willing to head outside. Make a list ahead of time of places you can go: swimming pools, libraries, malls and so on. It’s generally worth making a note of hours and cost so you can see at a glance what your options are at any time of the day. Growing up, I spent entire days exploring the back stacks of my local library because it was not only cool, but I could go in at any time of the day and stay until quite late in the evening.
  3. Consider some old-fashioned approaches to staying cool. Air conditioning is a very recent invention in the grand scheme of things — homes only first started getting air conditioners in the late Twenties, and even then, they weren’t all that common. When she was young, my grandmother relied on drinking as much iced tea as humanely possible, along with a few cold rags and plenty of trips to the local swimming pool. Such options are certainly still on the table and you might even consider talking to your own relatives about what they used to do.
  4. Set air conditioner rules ahead of time. If you aren’t the only one with access to the thermostat, you can wind up engaging in an epic battle of wills if you don’t agree on how cool your house needs to be ahead of time. If your air conditioner allows for it, setting up controls that turn the system on and off automatically at certain temperatures can help you make sure that you aren’t cooling your home when you don’t need to but that you also won’t get too hot.
  5. Make sure your air conditioner is running as efficiently as possible. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of related details you should consider. Giving your air conditioner unit a once-over and cleaning any filters is just the start. Just as you should locate and seal cracks to keep your heating bill down, you should make sure that none of that delicious cool air is escaping your home. Especially if you use a window unit, make sure that everything is set up properly and sealed in place. If you need to, call in an HVAC specialist who can give your system a look — many companies offer a special in the spring to make sure that you’re ready for summer without paying a fortune. I have a home warranty in place from when I bought my house that provides the service free of charge.

Keeping your air conditioning off all summer is rarely an option, especially if you have pets or family members who aren’t as hardy as you are. But you can limit your air conditioning, make it more efficient and seek out alternatives. At the very least, you can bring your energy bills for the summer down a bit.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Banjo Steve says:

    While it takes long-term planning and patience, we planted several fast-growing shade trees in strategic areas several years ago. Though still “young”, they are providing our house (and deck) with some cooling and welcome shade at the critical times of the day.

  • Meredith says:

    I live in Texas too. I refuse to live anywhere (especially sleep) that doesn’t have a ceiling fan. It makes such a difference to have constant air blowing on your face. When it’s extra hot, basically all summer, I point a floor fan directly to my face. If it’s just unbearable, go to sleep with wet hair.

    Meredith @ Deals.com

  • Angie says:

    I agree with Justin, and I live in east-central Indiana. Keep your windows, blinds and drapes closed in the hottest of summer. Keeping the sun and hot air out is the best way to keep the house cool. Fans are definitely helpful, too.

    Oh, and I have central air, but I try to not rely too heavily on it. It’s amazing that one can get used to slightly warmer (and cooler in winter) temps and be comfortable. I actually find it extremely uncomfortable in public places in the summer when they crank up the a/c.

  • retirebyforty says:

    Our strategy is to open up the place at night to let the cool air in and close it up in the morning. This works most of the summer for us because our climate is temperate. I’ll need to check out the evaporative cooler Adam mentioned above.

  • Amy Saves says:

    I don’t have AC and it gets hot in my house. 2 words. Frozen towels. Soak some washcloths in cold water, then stick them in the freezer till frozen. Take them out and put them on your neck or head. So refreshing.

  • Megan says:

    The summer after I graduated from college, the town I lived in had record highs in both temperature and humidity (yuck). I lived in a 3rd floor, walk-up, converted-attic apartment which had no A/C. It got a decent cross-breeze when we could open all the windows, but there were still some days when it was unbearable.

    I would often follow the advice in #2: find someplace cool to hang out. During the days, if I wasn’t working, I would often go to the college library because it was blissfully cool, but in the summer they had shorter hours. So, on the hottest nights of the summer, my friends and I would get together at a local pub. It was great for cooling off, socializing, and they would often have drink specials so it didn’t end up costing us that much. It beat the pants off my apartments, that’s for sure.

  • Adam says:

    We installed an evaporative cooler on our home. Not only does it work great and save A LOT of money, but we no longer have to use the overly expensive air conditioner. When I examined the design closely I was amazed at the simplicity. It’s contains a basic water pump, which circulates the flow through straw matts to cool the incoming air, and a big squirrel cage fan. An added benefit is that I can easily replace a component, if it breaks. The users manual said that they function most efficiently in hot. dry climates.

  • Justin says:

    If you live in a hot state, like I do in Texas, and keeping the windows and doors isn’t an option as the summer drags on and you get into several days of 100+ degree heat, go the opposite direction and make sure you have good drapes blocking the window to aid insulation when heat is coming through the window.

    Also, two words in energy efficiency: storm windows 🙂

    • Kasey says:

      Definitely a good point Justin.

      I live in the usually cold state of Wisconsin. But during the summer it can get pretty sticky. The second half of the day the sun just beats down on my house and turns it into an oven. I’d guess that closing the blinds and drapes probably makes at least a 5 degree difference.

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