Lower Your Utility Costs as the Heat Rises

Sunny skies and longer days mean that summer has finally arrived in beautiful Portland! As summer temperatures go up, so do your utility bills. Here are five ways to beat the heat, create an energy-efficient home, and keep some extra cash in your wallet by saving on summer utilities.

Change Your Air Conditioning Habits

You can almost feel the dollars blowing away when you turn on the air conditioner for the first time in the summer. Making your indoors more comfortable doesn’t have to break your budget. Some simple routines will keep you cool and help you save on your electric bill.

Buy a Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats use Wi-Fi, so they’re programmable from your smart phone or other device. Being able to adjust your thermostat from just about anywhere is a game-changer. You can get a $50 rebate from the Energy Trust of Oregon when you install one that qualifies for the program. Make sure that you also meet all of the program’s requirements.

The Ecobee3 starts at $185 and even connects with Alexa, an electronic, voice-activated personal assistant that connects to Bluetooth devices. That means you can change the temperature of your thermostat just by asking Alexa. How convenient is that?

Turn Up the Temperature

Changing the thermostat from 70 to 75 degrees will keep you comfortable and keep your budget in check. Raising the temperature just five degrees will save you about $13 monthly.

Why cool an empty house? A smart idea from PGE is to turn up your thermostat 10 degrees when you leave home. If you really want to save some energy and money, turn it completely off if you’re going to be gone longer than a few hours. If you have a smart thermostat, you can turn your AC back on from your phone about an hour before you head back and walk into a nice, cool home!

Change the Filter Regularly

No matter how clean your home is, dirt is going to build up in your AC unit. The more dirt, the harder the unit has to work. That means it will run longer, use more energy, and cost more money. Filters are simple and inexpensive to replace. Change your filter every three months to keep your AC running smoothly.

Maintain Your Unit

If you take care of your air conditioning unit, it will take care of you. Hiring an HVAC technician to inspect and service your central AC unit at the beginning of each summer is a smart idea to keep your unit running smoothly. If you neglect your AC unit, its efficiency will continue to go down, and you’ll need to replace it a lot sooner than if you had maintained it. A well-maintained unit will run more smoothly, use less energy, and save you money.

Let Your Windows Help

Your windows can be a big help in keeping your home cool. On the other hand, inefficient windows will turn your living space into a toasty greenhouse.

Close the Blinds and Curtains

Take advantage of the beautiful, natural summer light when you are using a room, but when you leave, be sure to close the blinds and curtains to keep that space cool. Roman shades and indoor blinds are good options for heat blockers. Medium colored drapes with white backing are perfect for reflecting heat off the house blinds are also a good option because they’ll stop the heat before it actually gets to your windows.

Let the Fresh Air In

Nothing is better than fresh morning air. Open up your windows while the temperature is cool. A ceiling or window fan will help circulate the air and make your home feel fresh.  Window fans use a fraction of the energy that window AC units use. Less energy use means a lower electric bill. Just make sure to close up when the temperature gets to about 75 degrees to keep the cool air in until you can open the windows again in the evening.

Is it Time for New Windows?

It’s probably time to think about replacing your windows if they are damaged, retain moisture, or are drafty. Replacing your windows will give you better curb appeal, increase your home’s value, and add overall energy savings. Installing new windows is definitely a large investment, but they’ll eventually pay for themselves.

The Energy Trust of Oregon has a cash incentive program when you install new, energy-efficient windows using a qualified contractor. Rebates range from $1.74 to $4.00 a square foot, depending on the U-value of the windows you install.

The U-value is a rating for how efficient the window is, or how fast heat gets through your window and inside the house. The lower the U-value, the slower heat transfers through the window. Windows with a lower U-value are more energy-efficient and will save you more money long-term. If you’re eligible for a rebate from the Energy Trust, don’t forget to check out all of the details of the program. You’ll need to keep your receipt, proof of your window’s U-value, and your paid invoice. You’ll get a check in the mail in six to eight weeks

Your new windows will pay for themselves more quickly if your home is heated mainly by oil, propane, kerosene, butane, or wood. You can apply for cash payment from the Oregon Department of Energy’s State Home Oil Weatherization (SHOW) program. If you qualify, you can get up to a $500 payment after installing your energy-efficient windows.

Keep the Heat Out and the Cool In

Weatherization is key to making your home comfortable and energy-efficient. Even if you are working hard to keep your home cool with energy saving efforts, you may be fighting a losing battle if your home is letting all of the cold air out and heat in. With a few fixes, you can weatherize your home and save big on utilities.

Seal Air Leaks

Air leaks can happen anywhere there is an opening to the outer walls of your home– windows, doors, vents, and attic spaces. These openings let dust, pollution, and heat in! They also let cold air out. You can easily seal many of these leaks on your own. For some quick, easy fixes, use caulking around windows and cracks and replace your door sweep. This DIY guide can help you thoroughly seal your entire home. If that seems a little daunting, you can always hire a contractor to do the job for you.

Add More Insulation

Not only does insulation keep your home comfortable in the summer and the winter, but it also blocks out noises and lowers your utility costs. The Energy Trust of Oregon also offers cash incentives for self-installed insulation or professionally installed insulation.  Again, be sure to read all of the details about the incentives and follow all of the steps to get your rebate. With rebates from $0.25 per square foot to $0.50 per square foot, it’s worth looking into.

Appliances

We depend on appliances every day to keep our food fresh, wash our dishes, do the laundry, and more. This uses a lot of energy!  If your appliances are 15 to 20 years old, they might be working harder than they should be.

Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Appliances

Your older appliances may still be in good working order, and you may still like their style. But even if your 90’s refrigerator is going strong, it’s probably costing you a lot more each month than it should. Replacing an old appliance with a new, energy-efficient appliance could save you up to $100 per year. Manufacturers are required to meet energy-saving specifications when making new appliances. Check out Energy Star’s calculator to see how much you’ll actually be saving by getting rid of your old appliances. Energy Star is an EPA program that helps consumers identify energy-saving appliances, lightbulbs, homes and more.

Energy Trust has rebates for front-loading washers. Many retailers also offer other rebates available when you buy Energy Star appliances. Combine rebates, as well as long-term savings on your utility bill, and replacing your old appliances is a long-term investment worth looking into!

Cook Outdoors

When our Portland sun finally shines, who wants to be indoors over a hot stove? Most newer ovens are energy efficient, but they still put out a lot of heat. That heat counteracts all the other efforts you’re putting into saving on utilities. The heat will stay in the house if you’ve weatherized your home, and your AC unit will kick on and work harder because of the hotter temperatures. The combined energy use from your oven and extra cooling makes grilling outdoors a less expensive option. On sunny days, opt for the outdoors and get grilling!

Go Solar

Choosing solar energy will help you save on summer utilities in a way that will benefit both you and the environment. For everything you need to know about solar, check out this article I wrote about getting solar energy in Oregon.

I hope this article helped you find new ways to save on utilities this summer, including taking advantage of the Energy Trust of Oregon’s incentives. Implementing one or all of these improvements is sure to help keep money in your wallet to spend on things other than utility bills—like summer vacations!