Friday, August 6, 2010

Saving Some Green

As someone who works many hours in the forests of North Carolina, forests that have been at a humid 100+ degrees these past few weeks, I feel that I am more qualified than some to enjoy the cool wonderfulness that is air conditioning. Also, as someone who loves her job and as such is willing to accept the pay of a research technician, I feel that I am just as qualified as most to look for ways to reduce my electric bill (which has doubled with the mega-hotness) without sacrificing my comfortable coolness.

Taking that into mind, here is an article from The Daily Green called "13 Ways to Save Money on Air Conditioning." And ok, admittedly some of these are common sense, or should be, but it is always nice to be reminded. Also, many apply to you home-owners rather than us apartment-renters, but you'll get the idea.

Here's the countdown:

This applies to appliances like ovens and refrigerators, sure, but also consider an Energy Star central air conditioner. Did you know you could even qualify for a tax credit worth 30 % of the cost? That's up to $1,500! An Energy Star central air conditioner saves 86% energy and a room air conditioner 90% of the energy compared to a non-Energy Star product. Its nice to save some green in your wallet as well as on your planet.

Cooling one room requires less energy than cooling an entire house. So, if you have the option, pick a room or two to cool, ones you spend lots of time in hopefully, and do that instead.

Think shade, my friends, shade is your friend. Like trees or shrubs, awnings shade your abode from the sun's rays.

Attic fans are good, and if you have one and aren't running it then perhaps you should. But they don't do all the work. If you insulate your attic then you keep all that bought-cool air from escaping out through the top of your house. Got central air? You need to seal those ducts too. Did you know you can get a tax credit for this too? Yep, covering up to 30% the cost of the insulation. That's another $1,500! Are we keeping a tally? Cuz that's $3,000 so far (not counting the decrease in your energy bill).

This kinda feeds back on the awnings one. Its all about the shade again. In this case, plant deciduous trees (that's broadleaved or hardwood trees to those of you out of the science-jargon loop) on the east and west sides of your home. Why this type of tree and not a nice ole pine or cedar? Well, in the summer it blocks the sun, but when all of the leaves fall off in the winter the sun can reach and warm your house. And they are a landscaping bonus as they are an aesthetically pleasing addition to your yard and attract wildlife like birds. Also, its not a bad idea to plant them next to driveways and walkways as these materials absorb lots-o-heat. Ever walk barefoot down your driveway in the summer? Ouch!

Good for the body, good for the air conditioner. Get a professional to come out and take a look at your system. Stop problems before they become problems. Sure you gotta pay for the pro but odds are that bill will be much less than buying an entirely new system.

Its amazing what a little cool water can do. It reduces your body's core temperature, and once you get out the water evaporates and cools you further. Don't feel like upping your water bill? Use some ice cubes on your pulse points (wrists, neck, etc) to cool you down.

Funny how often people forget this one, but a dirty air filter reduces air flow through the system and costs you money. A change every three months is probably good, especially if, like me, you own a pet that sheds more than its body weight in fur. Filters are really cheap and super easy to change.

Light bulbs, even the modern compact fluorescent and LEDs, produce a lot of heat. And although buying Energy Star rated bulbs can reduce the emitted heat by up to 75%, it is still to your benefit to just shut off the lights. Now I'm not saying you should sit in the dark (unless you like that sort of thing), but just turn off lights in rooms you aren't using and when you leave the house. That goes for electronics too!

The article recommends drinking a "nice cool cocktail," and I can't say I disagree (ahem, make sure you're of age there kiddies). But any kind of cooling food or drink - fruits, salads, iced beverages - all cool your core body temperature. Kinda like that cool swim/bath from earlier. Also, using the microwave or grill instead of the oven helps keep your casa cool.

One day I'll live somewhere with a programmable thermostat. *sigh* But until that day comes I either adjust the one I have to stay at a higher, but still comfortable, temperature or adjust the temperature for when I'm home versus when I'm not. If you are lucky enough to have a programmable thermostat then set it for warmer when you are away or at work, cooler for when you are awake and at home, and slightly warmer for when you sleep.

It is one of my favorite sayings when I'm out doing field work that sweat doesn't work unless there is air to move across it. Evaporation is your friend. And ok, none of us really wants to sit at home, where we are supposed to be comfortable, and sweat, fan or no. But even if you aren't sweating, just a fan pointed in your direction will cool you off. Still too warm? Simulate sweat by moistening the skin on your face and wrists and allowing the fan to blow across them. Also, as you might have already figured out, fans move air. So find a cool source of air and set your fan in front of it. Get that cool air moving through your house. Have an older house? Its layout may be such as to maximize air flow for the weather conditions in your region. After all, there wasn't always the bliss that is air conditioning.

Oh all right, so I added the "frickin'." Opening your windows can make your house warmer not cooler. I see this on a daily basis as my downstairs neighbor constantly has her windows open regardless of the outside temperature. As a result, her cats are always on the porch looking for a little reprieve. If you need to open your windows then do so at night, preferably with a fan. But only do that if the air outside is cooler than the air inside. Also, anything you can do to shade your windows is key. Yep, back to shade again. Close blinds, add curtains, or even just put some houseplants in front of windows to help block the sun.

As I currently am an apartment dweller and a member of the I-can't-afford-it club, oh yeah and a scientist, I am constantly looking for additional ways, besides these, to save some green. One thing that I've looked into, heard great things about, but have not yet tried is window films. These are completely clear, removable films that you put on your window that block UV rays and help you save energy. They cost about $30 a roll (depending on the size of your windows you can use a roll for more than one window) and I'm very interested in giving them a try. If you, or someone you know, has tried them I would love to hear any comments.

Overall, I would say that regardless of your political beliefs or whether or not you even think climate change is real or whatever, everyone likes to save money. And saving energy saves money. Think about it.

Here's the article:
(image from

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