Beat the Heat and Keep the Paycheck


It seems that every week we hear of another record breaking high temperature. Beating the heat over the summer while keeping a lid on the air conditioning bill can be a challenge. We researched ways to stay cool without the aid of AC and then reached out to Suzanne Jones, vice president of the Association of Energy Service Professionals for further tips.

Draw the shades… when the sun is shining into the house. Investing in dark curtains may be worthwhile, especially if your windows are now bare. Jones also suggests solar screens, which can be installed and removed easily and have a variety of ratings for how much light and heat they let through. The upfront cost may be outweighed by savings on energy bills.

Close windows… except at night. Opening windows at night lets cool air in while closing them in the morning (before the sun comes up, if possible) can help beat the heat during the day.

Create your own cool breeze… if the heat is suffocating. Apartment Therapy offers a novel idea, even for the nighttime hours: Hang wet sheets in front of open windows. The slightest breeze will create a nice cooling effect.

Keep the air flowing… by running several fans on low to create a cross breeze. Place fans near windows on opposite sides of the room for maximum ventilation. Lifehacker also suggests putting a bowl filled with ice in front of the fan as a cheap way to beat the heat. If your fan has a filter, check it at least once a month for maximum efficiency. Window fans are available at many stores and Cheapism has a buying guide to cheap fans.

Don't waste power. Large electronics and appliances draw power and throw off heat even when they're turned off. Unplug them when not in use. Alternatively, Jones recommends buying a Smart Power strip that automatically detects when a device is off and reduces the power outlay to a trickle. Meanwhile, take advantage of the heat and hang clothes to dry outside instead of running the dryer. Cooking meals and eating outdoor also helps families stay clear of the heat from the oven and stove.

Find the cool spot. If you want to beat the heat in the early morning, situate yourself in the west side of the house, then move to the east later in the day when the sun sets.

Foliage shade. Plants inside and out have a chilling effect. Grapevines, sunflowers, trees, and large shrubs near windows will block sunlight from beating in through windows.

Offset utility costs. If the AC is constantly running the energy bill at the end of the month may floor you. Jones offers several more tips that can cut the cost of utilities: Use large appliances, such as the washing machine, during off-peak hours because utility companies often charge less for electricity at those times. Buy a hot water gauge strip to test the hot water heater; if the temperature is set too high, lowering it by 10 degrees can save you $10 a month without a noticeable difference in service. Leave the air conditioning off when you're out by adjusting the settings on the unit or thermostat; Jones says that following the manufacturer's suggestions for settings can lower energy costs by as much as 30 percent.

If you must turn on the AC, check out these cheap air conditioners. They all come with 24-hour timers and exceed the government's standards for energy efficiency by at least 10 percent:

  • If you need to cool a small room of 150 square feet or so, the Kenmore 70051 (starting at $170) is a good choice. It's easy to install and use and many reviews note that in spite of its size and cost, it actually does a better job cooling than some larger units.
  • The Frigidaire LRA074AT7 (starting at $170) is better suited for medium-sized rooms. The 6,000 BTU AC is rated for cooling up to 250 square feet. Consumers and experts agree it's effective and quiet.
  • The larger 8,000 BTU LG LW8012ER (starting at $219) cools up to 350 square feet. Comments posted on consumer review sites assert it's a bit noisy (a common complaint for ACs of this size) but effective.