It’s summer and the heat is on. If that means your air conditioner is running a lot—then the heat is also on your utility bills. How to control runaway summer energy costs? You can stay cool and comfy and still save some energy and bucks, thanks to advances in today’s home systems and green technologies. Following are a few good energy-saving ideas.
Get a Nest
Nest delivered software upgrades this spring to its learning thermostats, and the upgrades are designed to discount sunlight shining directly on a thermostat and causing overcooling by misreading the room temp, turning on the AC when the humidity gets too high and syncing your home’s fans to run independently of the compressor to help circulate air. (Read our review of the Nest 2 Learning Thermostat here.)
Turn It Down (or Up)
Don’t want to shell out $250 for a Nest thermostat? Then take a few minutes to program your programmable thermostat. If you program the set point a degree or two higher during the summer, you won’t notice the change but you’ll save 3 percent to 5 percent on your energy costs. That’s worth a minute at the old t-stat. Also turn the AC down when you’re not at home—and no, you won’t use more energy by running it later. You’ll save a lot.
Nest’s energy history on an iPhone
Get a thermostat with a wireless Wi-Fi connection and a smartphone app—Nest isn’t the only one—and you can either program it to turn on the AC before you typically get home or control it directly from the phone. If you’re on a utility that offers variable Time of Use rates or a Demand Response program, you can pre-cool your home at the lower rates and then turn the system off or down during the higher rate period, saving you some bucks. View our slideshow of 9 Smart Thermostat options.
Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostat
Ever see a skylight with a ceiling fan beneath it? Then you’ve seen a thermal chimney, and its effective way to remove heat from a space. Just open the skylight and run the ceiling fan in reverse—so the downturned sides of the blades lead—and this will help draw up warm air and vent it out. A clever custom electronics pro can connect a motorized window or skylight to a ceiling fan and temperature and moisture sensors so the window opens and the fan automatically turns on. Bathroom ceiling fans on upper floors can also be used to vent rising warm air, and some can be wired to control systems to turn on at various times during the day.
This may be the coolest way to stay cool. Geothermal heating and cooling systems use tubes buried in the ground, either in wells often hundreds of feet deep or in horizontal arrays a few feet below the ground, to transfer warmth from the ground in the winter and remove heat to the ground in the summer, much like a refrigerator operates. This is best done with in-floor-radiant tubes encased in concrete, though it can also be used with forced-air systems. It requires a ground source heat pump that runs on electricity, though you’ll save far more in heating and cooling costs. The caveat: The systems are expensive—think about $15,000 and up and up—and are best installed in new constructions.
Bonus tip: Cooler Savings
Tie your home’s thermostats into a control and automation system, and you can save even more by turning your HVAC systems on and off when a security system is armed or disarmed, for example. Even better, t-stats can be grouped in a mechanical room out of site, and be connected to inconspicuous temperature and humidity sensors around the house.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates