Time to summerize: Get your home ready for warm weather

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 22, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
Every fall, here’s a lot of talk about winterizing your home. But it’s now late March, and some of us missed the boat.
But what about summer? Are there things you can do to help prepare for the warm weather that’s coming?
Yes. And they’ll help you save energy, which means saving money as well. Here are some tips for things you can do to keep your energy bills down this summer — and all year round.
AC Systems
Heating and cooling costs, on average, account for more than 50 percent of a household’s energy costs. Make sure you’re not spending more than is necessary to cool your home.
• Test your air conditioning system to make sure it’s running. Switch your thermostat to “cool” and turn down the temperature. If there are problems, you can call a professional before everyone else is doing the same thing.
• Change your filter often, preferably monthly, for most efficient running.
• Check the area around your outside unit and trim any shrubbery that might be obstructing air flow.
• Make sure vents are clean.
• If you’re thinking about a new heating and air system, spring isn’t a bad time, since manufacturers tend to offer a lot of rebates. A high-efficiency unit will save you money in the long run.
• Set your thermostat at 78 degrees when you’re at home. If you’re not home, set it at 85 or turn it off. Consider getting a programmable thermostat to help make sure you’re not overcooling your house when you’re not there.
• Using a ceiling fan can help keep you comfortable with the thermostat at a higher setting. But when you’re out of the room, turn it off, because a fan cools people, not rooms.
• Don’t try to “speed cool” your home by cranking the thermostat way down. It’s not effective, and it can cost you money.
• If you have unoccupied rooms, close the air conditioning vents (but not more than 20 percent of your house).
Look for lost energy
• Check windows and doors for air leaks, since your house can leak cold air as easily as it can leak warm air.
• If you find places where air is escaping, caulk, putty or weatherstrip where needed.
• Make sure your fireplace damper is closed so you’re not losing energy up the chimney.
Even so, a fireplace flue, especially an old one, can be a channel for air loss. To seal your flue when it’s not in use, you might consider an inflatable chimney balloon. These are made of plastic and sit beneath your fireplace flue when not in use. The balloon is easily removable and reusable. (If you forget to remove it before making a fire, the balloon will quickly and automatically deflate.
• If you have gas logs, turn the pilot light off. That uses more energy than most people realize.
• Consider replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs to save energy and money.
• Check your attic to see if insulation needs to be added or replaced. To determine whether you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of the insulation.
If it is less than R-30 (11 inches of fiber glass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose), adding some is probably a good idea.
In the laundry room
• During hot weather, you’ll want to minimize dryer use, which can add unwanted heat to your environment. Maybe this is the year to put up a clothesline to take advantage of the sun’s energy. Not only will your home be cooler but you’ll save money. If you don’t want to commit to a clothesline, then invest in some inexpensive drying racks.
• Unless you have a truly dirty job, you probably don’t need to wash your clothes in hot water. Choosing warm over hot will use much less energy. And choosing cold water to wash your clothes will save even more. (Cold-water detergents are widely available). Always use cold water in the rinse cycle.
• Wash and dry full loads. If you must wash a small load, make sure to select the appropriate water-level setting.
• Make sure the temperature on your water heater is set to 120 degrees and not higher.
• Clean your dryer’s lint screen after every load to improve air circulation and reduce the chance of fire.
• Check your dryer vent to be sure it’s not blocked. This step will save energy and may prevent a fire.
• Every so often, use the long nozzle on your vacuum cleaner to remove any lint that has collected below the lint screen.
• If you have south-facing windows, close the blinds or draperies during peak sun to save money on cooling.
• If you have some money to invest, consider thermalpane windows, which can save you money in the long term.
In the Kitchen
• Clean refrigerator and freezer condenser coils.
• Keep your kitchen cooler by using your oven less during the hottest months. Bring out your slow cooker and use it to prepare meals when you can. Fire up the outdoor grill. Use a toaster oven when possible instead of your full-sized oven.
• Let your dishes air dry in your dishwasher to further eliminate some heat.
• When you’re boiling water, cover the pot it’s in; it’s faster and uses less energy.
In your home office
• Plug your home electronics such as TVs, DVD players and printers into power strips. Turn off the strip when you’re not using the equipment. Or even better, invest in a smart power strip that will turn off automatically so you’re not using “vampire” energy.
• If it’s time for a computer upgrade, consider replacing your desktop with a laptop. Laptops use far less energy than desktops.
For more energy saving tips, go to www.energysavers.gov.