The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest seasons ever throughout the United States. Record temperatures were set ablaze and smoked on an almost daily basis. On just one day — August 3, 2012 — 143 benchmark temps were either tied or broken; this was after July had already taken the crown for hottest month to ever hit the books.
To keep from melting, most Americans were forced to set their AC units to “meat locker”, putting the power grid to the test. If heat stroke from the rolling black outs didn’t make you to hit the deck, your electricity bill probably did. Whether we face the same braising this year remains to be seen. We plan on being prepared. These relatively simple tips to increase energy efficiency should keep you cool and help your wallet stay fat and fluffy this summer season.
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Free and Easy Fixes
This weekend (before you hit the deck) spend an hour and boost your home’s HVAC potential for free (if you have offspring, now’s the time to pressgang them). Start by cleaning or changing your furnace filter, and then go around the house to make sure the return-air ducts are clear of obstructions — you’d be surprised how far this will help your house breathe freely and ease the effort of your blower’s motor.
Once that’s done (and the vacuum is back in the closet), take a peek at your thermostat. Making sure that it isn’t baking in direct sunlight or sitting above a heat-producing appliance, even a lamp, will keep readings as honest as the summer day is long. When Monday rolls back around, take five minutes to lower the blinds and close the drapes before you head to the office. This keeps the sun out, and shows your damn prying neighbors you mean business. While you’re at it, raise the temperature a degree or two and crack any upper-level windows to let excess heat out — there’s no point in cooling an empty abode. When you finally get home after a hard day, keep dinner cook times to a minimum, go entirely heat-free, or embrace your inner cave man. Moving meals from the oven to the great outdoors will keep your house cooler and immediately scale back your electricity needs. At least, that’s how you can sell it to wifey when you come home with the new ‘que.
Spend a Little, Save a Lot
Once the freebie-fixes are in place, you can evaluate how much dough deserves to be reinvested. The best plan of attack is to have your home tested for leaks. Sadly, a leaf-blower and some duct-tape won’t quite cut it, so call in the pros to play big bad wolf to your brick house. They’ll figure out how perforated your palace really is; you can go about plugging the holes. Often, a couple tubes of caulking and some cans of spray-foam applied around doors, windows and the transition areas between concrete foundation walls and wood framing are all you need to batten down.
Someone (I think it was Louis C.K.) recently said that we’re cutting out discomfort entirely from our lives, and we’re suffering because of it. Last summer, “one of the hottest seasons on record”, as Mr. Neundorf so nicely put it, I lived without AC, so, suck on that, Louie.
To paint the full picture: I lived with no AC, with three roommates, in a tiny two-room NYU dorm room. To make matters worse, our window only opened a crack: suicide prevention, which, in a cruel cyclical way, made us want to commit suicide. Spans of 100-degree days and 90-degree nights turned me into a crotchety, oil-slicked mess. My dorm felt like a fish tank with the bubbler turned off, filled with unmentionable scum, stagnant in every sense of the word.
The funny thing was, it started to work for me. I would sit alone at night, lights off, growler of beer on my desk, babbling crazy brain-cooked thoughts and drinking and leaking out ideas and sweat. I wrote some of my best work there, box fan roaring out the traffic on Fifth Ave and the rumbling subway five stories below me. I got used to it. I got used to bitching about it. I got used to sweat-stained shirts, living in my boxers and sleeping on my side so the smallest amount of my skin touched the coal-hot sheets.
And I’ll never live without AC again. - Chris Wright
That Extra Mile
With the exterior sealed up tightly, you can turn your attention (and wallet) to some interior upgrades that will pay off faster than your Facebook stock. For example: that series of tubes hidden behind walls and underfoot can get a little loose and leaky over time. Instead of pumping beautifully chilled air into cavity spaces all over the house, spend the extra money to have the pros test and tackle this one. If you’re thinking of swapping your AC unit for a new higher-efficiency one, a duct inspection is required — just make sure they actually do it.
Upstairs, the installation of a whole-home fan will keep hot air masses moving on up and out through the attic while sucking in the cold front looming outside. These systems are most effective after dusk and overnight and can easily save 5 percent on energy costs. Window tinting can put another 5-10 percent back into the kitty every year (depending on how much sun hits your home). The best bang for your buck, however, is through the installation of a programmable thermostat. The Nest 2.0 system is a perfect example, both because of its ease of installation and its integration with iOS and Android devices (not to mention its Kubrick-esque appearance).
Serious Sweat (-Free) Equity
If you’ve got a Prius in the driveway and a Brammo in the garage, you’re probably ready to give your house the full monty. Start by investing in your attic. While most homes have an ample R19 insulation rating up in the rafters, fluffing up to an R30 level will save you an easy 10 percent on energy costs year round. Better venting (a ridge-vent for peaked roofs is a good example) will also help get rid of any hot pockets (not the pepperoni kind) lingering up there.
If your windows are older than One Direction and look more weathered than Lin-Lo, replace them with Energy Star Certified panes to claw back another 10-point annual bonus. Finally, changing out your furnace and AC unit for an ultra high-efficiency unit will not only score you some immediate savings, but will also go a long way toward maximizing everything else you’ve done. Look for a system with an EER (energy-efficiency ratio) in the double digits to start seeing some immediate savings, and an increase in asking prices when it’s time to sell. Until the sign hits the front lawn, though, we suggest you chill out for a bit. You’ve done enough.
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