06/12/09 — Ways to save when it's sizzle'n hot ...

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Ways to save when it's sizzle'n hot ...

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 12, 2009 1:46 PM

Spring made a valiant effort to hang on after Memorial Day, but the milder season recently retired to a spot in front of the air conditioner, fanning itself and clutching an ice-choked glass of sweet tea.

Welcome to another North Carolina summer.

With temperatures already rising into the 90s during the first few weeks of June and a difficult economy already making it hard for many people to pay their electricity bills, citizens in Wayne County may be wondering what they can do to stay cool without going broke or burning out the air conditioner.

Whether you're a renter looking for temporary solutions to the heat or a homeowner planning to renovate your house for maximum efficiency, or just someone hoping to change the way your family uses energy during the summer, take some tips from city Inspections Director and Energy Committee member Ed Cianfarra and the U.S. Department of Energy.

*Looking to renovate, build or buy a more energy-efficient home?

Many countries near the equator, the hottest part of the world, do not always have easy access to electricity, but people still manage to live there year-round. Homes in hotter parts of the world are often built with "passive cooling" systems that work without a single watt.

There are two reasons they can get away with it: Materials and location, he said.

Deciding which way a home will face, or taking direction into consideration when looking to buy an existing home can make a big difference over the long term.

Thicker walls made of quality materials will insulate against heat as well as cold. Many walls are built with 4x4 planks, but using 4x6 planks provides more of a space for insulation and a barrier to heat, he said.

The amount and type of insulation is important, too. Loose insulation becomes compacted over time, like stuffing in a pillow, and should be checked about every ten years. Loose insulation is blown into walls with special equipment, and can be replaced without a tremendous amount of invasive work on a home. Other, more modern and expensive insulation, such as Styrofoam, is even better than traditional fiberglass at keeping a home warm in winter and cool in summer.

Purchasing a home with or installing double or even triple-paned windows can also help make a home more energy efficient.

*Renting an apartment, or otherwise unable to make big changes to your home?

There are many ways to lower an energy bill and the summertime temperature inside a home, whether it's a rented apartment or your own property, without taking out a home improvement loan.

Addressing the windows by dressing them in thicker coverings is one simple step. While it all depends on an individual's sense of style, generally speaking, the heavier and thicker the window coverings, the less heat will leak through the window and heat up the interior of the room.

Tightly-woven bamboo shades, popular for a reason in the hot and humid tropical regions of the world, blackout curtains and heavy drapes can all help keep the heat on the outside of the house during the summer. And believe it or not, it's more energy efficient to close the drapes and turn on a light, Cianfarra said, especially if the light bulb is a compact fluorescent bulb.

Changing light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs have a threefold effect: They last longer than traditional bulbs, they cost less to operate and they produce less heat.

Another option is tinted window film, available at most any home building supply store. The film attaches to window glass and blocks out the glare and hot sunshine that would comes in different strengths, depending on how much light you want to block.

Some people don't like the film because it darkens the inside of their home, but applying the film only to windows that receive the most sunlight can still make a difference, Cianfarra said.

Asking a landlord to install a digital thermostat can also result in big savings by allowing more accurate control over interior temperatures. Keeping your air conditioner filter clean and using the thinnest possible filter - unless you have allergies and require a denser one -

Using the thin filters and changing them every two weeks to once a month will help prevent any clogs, Cianfarra said.

*You don't have to spend a dime to lower your electric bill and keep your house more comfortable in summer.

Changing your energy consumption behaviors can also result in monthly savings. Just keeping the door closed and not running in and out can make a big difference, he said.

Using the fan but not the cooling part of the furnace will circulate air within a home without running up a huge bill. Moving air can make it more comfortable even if it's a few degrees warmer than you might usually like. Fans in general use far less electricity than an air conditioner.

Much of the interior heat generated by appliances such as clothes dryers and dishwashers also makes up a lot of the average home's electricity bill. Washing clothes or dishes after 9 p.m., when it's usually cooler outside, will be easier on your cooling system and likely cost less.

And taking advantage of the nice weather to fire up the grill outside can avoid the problem of heating up an oven.