By Stacy Kess
It’s hot outside, but it’s no sweat with the air conditioner and fans running inside — until the electric bill arrives.
“It is reasonable to expect that as the temperature increases that customers will increase their use of electricity, typically for air conditioning,” said AEP Ohio spokesperson Jeff Rennie. “Customer bills are based on usage, so the more they use, the more their bills will increase.”
The U.S. Department of Energy used 2009 energy cost statistics to compare usage costs around the nation. That year, Ohioans spent an average of $3,546 on energy per person. That placed it 29th in the nation for energy expenditures per capita, spending just a bit less than Maryland that same year.
According to the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel, Americans spend more than 75 percent of the money paid for utilities on heating, cooling, lighting, cooking and running other appliances in their homes, and Ohioans spend an average $2,200 of their yearly budgets on electricity and natural gas costs.
The Consumer’s Counsel said a programmable thermostat can save consumers more than $100 a year. The relatively small investment — as little as $20 for a basic programmable unit to a couple of hundred dollars for one that can communicate with a smart phone and other technology — saves money by allowing consumers to program a steady temperature. If the thermostat allows multiple temperatures to be programmed, setting a higher temperature (around 78 degrees) when no one is home and a lower temperature to keep a cool house when you return, it can reduce usage by using a pre-set schedule.
The DOE estimates a 10-percent savings on electric bills when the thermostat is set 10 to 15 degrees higher for eight hours a day, such as during the work day.
The DOE also recommends purchasing Energy Star rated air conditioners, along with other appliances, when replacing old units or adding a new unit. A central air cooling system that is Energy Star certified can cut cooling costs by as much as 30 percent and an Energy Star room air conditioning unit uses about 15 percent less energy. Even without an Energy Star or high-efficiency air conditioner, the DOE said keeping a clean filter on air conditioners can still reduce costs.
Beyond the air conditioner, a few other home improvements can add up to savings. The Consumers’ Counsel reports an average savings of $17 a year when windows and doors are insulated properly; poorly insulated windows waste 25 to 40 percent of the home’s energy. Likewise, a properly insulated attic can save by sealing cool air in and keeping hot air out.
Keeping windows shaded by light colored blinds or drapes to reflect sunlight and planting shade trees around a property can also cut cooling costs, energy experts report.
Other appliances can play into those high bills too, according to AEP.
DOE and Consumers’ Counsel recommend avoiding using the oven or dryer, both which produce heat inside, during the hot summer days. AEP suggests using a microwave rather than a traditional oven and drying clothing on a line outside rather than in the dryer.
The DOE and Consumers’ Counsel offer more tips at their Web sites, www.energy.gov and http://www.occ.ohio.gov/smartenergy/energyefficiency.shtml.
Reporter Stacy Kess can be found on Twitter @StacyMKess.