Can your home beat the heat?
Tips for keeping your interiors cool as the weather warms up
We may still be enjoying spring breezes and open windows, but it's never too early to start thinking about the summer season and the impact it will have on your energy bills, which can be considerable, depending on how inefficient it is to cool your home when it's hot outside.
Experts agree that it pays to think ahead and plan for recommended maintenance, repairs and improvements well before your thermostat switches over to "cool."
"A lot of the things you can do to keep your home cooler in the summer will also benefit you now… allowing you to stay more comfortable year-round and conserve energy as well," said Cristina Miguelez, remodeling specialist for Wilmington, Delaware-based Fixr.com.
To improve indoor comfort while temperatures climb outdoors, reduce your electric bills, and decrease stress on your HVAC system, follow these tips provided by the pros:
• Examine and upgrade the sealants around your home's exterior.
"These areas are easy to overlook but are significant energy loss culprits. Walk around the exterior of your property and inspect the condition of weatherstripping around your exterior door jams, door bottom and windows, as well as the caulking around windows and doors. Also, address any damaged siding, fascia and soffits, mortar cracks, and other areas of identified air leakage," recommends Ian Charters, owner of Handyman Connection in Grapevine, Texas.
• Hire an HVAC expert.
Hire an HVAC expert to conduct an energy audit to determine where you're losing energy. "My experience is that older homes experience around 70% air leakage in ductwork, on average. An HVAC professional can perform a building envelope test that will determine if your ducts need sealing or replacement," said Frank Wickstead, adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Building Construction in Atlanta.
• Add extra insulation in attics and crawl spaces.
"This can help prevent these places from becoming superheated and transferring heat down to the living areas," Miguelez said. The recommended level for most attics is to insulate to R-38 or approximately 10 to 14 inches, based on insulation type, per the US Environmental Protection Agency.
• Ensure your attic is well ventilated with a properly working attic fan.
"This helps keep air circulating throughout your attic, which prevents it from becoming superheated and transferring the energy downstairs," Miguelez advises.
• Upgrade your thermostat.
"Invest in a programmable smart thermostat that lets you automatically adjust the temperature around your household schedule," said Chris Roth, CEO/owner of National Technical Institute, an HVAC trade school in Las Vegas. He notes that a smart thermostat can save as much as 10% annually on heating and cooling bills.
• Invest in thermal curtains.
"Prepare to use these when the sun is at its peak to block heat from entering your home. These curtains can also help cooled indoor air from escaping through poorly fitted windows," Miguelez said.
• Tune your AC system once springtime arrives.
"Have the equipment cleaned, electrical checked, system charged, and mechanicals evaluated to make sure your air conditioning system is running at its best capabilities," said Jeff Fitzsimmons, the Tempe, Arizona-based operations manager for Goettl Air Conditioning & Plumbing.
• Change your air filters regularly.
"A clogged filter reduces airflow into the system and decreases the output of cooled air. Restricted airflow also strains your system, increasing the chance of failure," cautions Fitzsimmons. Many experts recommend changing filters every month to 45 days.
• Use ceiling fans.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, a ceiling fan can make a room feel 10 degrees cooler, yet only uses 10% of the energy expelled by an air conditioner. "Today, most ceiling fans use the same electricity as a 100-watt light bulb," Roth said. "There are also smart ceiling fans that can be set on a schedule."
• Replace incandescent, halogen and fluorescent light fixtures and bulbs with energy-efficient LED upgrades.
"Those older types of bulbs can be a considerable heat source during hotter months," Charters said.
• Remove obstructions.
Make sure furniture is not blocking any air registers. And provide ample clearance around your exterior air conditioning unit. "Keep shrubs, bushes, plants and other items at least 2 feet away from your AC unit," said Roth. "However, try to keep your outdoor unit in the shade, as it will use up to 10% less electricity than if it were exposed to sunlight."