Keep Your Cool and Save As the Summer Heats Up

Hot enough for you? Unless you just got back from the North Pole you have probably noticed that we’re in the middle of one of the hottest stretches of the year, or any year for that matter. We’re suffering from the effects of what is known as the ‘Heat Dome” which currently stretches all across the country. So you don’t think weather patterns are changing and the extremes from one season to the next are dramatic and unpredictable? (Perhaps you’d like to read what science says about that.) But wait a second, what is the “Heat Dome” and what can you do about it?

Keep Your Cool and Save as the Summer Heats Up

The dome effect is, well, a dome effect which occurs when the heat that is present just can’t escape into the atmosphere because of several factors including the dew points, humidity and yes, the stagnant pollution. In addition, “corn sweat” (yes you heard that right) produced by the Midwest crops adds to that condition building up dangerous and potentially lethal conditions from the high temperatures.

Temperatures around the country are expected to hit 100 degrees F in many areas and Arizona may approach 120 degrees F at the worst of it. Only the Pacific Northwest may escape the dome.

So what can you do to keep cool now and in the summers that will follow? After all, summertime is the most expensive time of the year for using electricity to cool your home.

According to the Energy Information Administration, July and August increase the cost of your electric bill about 33% more than your May and June bills on Average each year. The typical monthly bill across the country is over $114 a month on average year round. That’s a big chunk of money for the typical budget to deal with and in summer it is at its peak. So how can you save some money without suffering through this “red hot” time of the year?

1. Shop Around

If you are a resident in an area with energy choice, you can purchase your electricity from an alternate source other than your local electric company. Energy choice is available in Washington DC and areas of these 15 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey (yeah!!), New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas. About 13% of all Americans (near 12 million families) are currently using alternate suppliers and saving money.

It is fairly simple to switch, nothing at your home really changes (check your utility website as a starting place for information). You get billed the same way you always do by your utility and you still contact them in case of any issues you have. The main difference is that your electricity supply comes through them from another company that theoretically is less expense for you.

There are, however, things to investigate and some potential problems. The price you pay may be fixed at first and offer savings, but at some point it will become a variable rate and when that happens you may actually be paying more than your utility charges. Keep on top of the terms and prices so you can switch back if necessary. There may also be other requirements to get the better supply costs which may or may not be a benefit. Things like bundling your automatic thermostat (which you buy from them but can actually save you money in the long term) or tying in a maintenance plan for your electric appliances with your electricity supply may be required. Bottom line, it’s a lot like shopping for cell phone packages, so check all the details, fine print, and customer reviews to see whether it’s for you before you sign on.

2. Check Your Utility for Savings

Whether or not you live in a state that offers energy choice, contact you own local utility and ask what deals and offers they have that will save you money. One potential way to save is with time of day rates that include discounts on non–peak times of the day, like 9 pm to 7 am usages. If you are a person who can do things like laundry overnight and use most of your power off-peak, you can definitely save. When it comes to air conditioning, some utilities offer a big discount if you agree to have a device monitoring your air conditioning use that can be cycled on or off just a few minutes a day to prevent brown outs or power failures and keep businesses with power at full strength. You may not even be home or even notice the slight increase in temperature. In fact, here in NJ, cycling has been done for users of the program only one time in the past several years and has saved lots of money for those users who just agree to have it.

3. Be “Smart”

Installing a “smart” programmable thermostat allows you to raise the temperature when no one’s home, but have it nice and cool by the time you arrive back. But there’s other items like smart lightbulbs that not only save on electricity, but they don’t give off as much heat as traditional incandescent bulbs. And don’t forget the simple things as well like unplugging chargers after using them and pulling the plug on things that may draw power when not being used, like your television or computers.

4. Close That Door, Please

I can’t tell you how many times my mother told me to keep the doors and windows closed when I’d come during the summer air conditioning season. Are we air conditioning the back yard? It’s simple. Just make sure you close the door (interior doors too if you’re only air conditioning part of the house), keep your windows closed and curtains drawn to prevent the sun from baking in. And make sure you have everything properly weather stripped and sealed. You can do that all by yourself, but you can also have your utility company perform an annual free home audit to help you track any problems you have.

5. Keep It Clean

Make sure to clean and/or replace your air conditioner filters regularly. That means during the summer, at least every few weeks. Filters from window units can usually be washed in the sink while filters from central units can be hosed off outside.  Periodically, your air conditioner will need routine maintenance. In the long run, preventing a problem is worth the money.

6. Have a Wattless Wednesday

Back in 1979 (some of you may not have been around then), the Three Mile Island debacle occurred. That was something I lived through here in NJ and my utility company was the one directly involved (Jersey Central Power & Light). I joined a group that started Wattless Wednesdays as a way of protesting both the high cost and the dangers of nuclear power. Wattless Wednesdays simply means that we used as little electricity as possible for a whole day each week, year round. Despite the inconvenience, it turned out to be fun for the family and somewhat of an adventure. Sleeping in a tent in the backyard, using a barbecue for cooking our dinner, and listening to a battery operated radio or reading a book with a flashlight lamp was an experience I won’t forget too soon. I’m not saying it’s for everyone and certainly if you’re sitting in the middle of 100 degree temps it may not even be healthy, but it’s something to consider. Even if you only try it once, you will find that it will bring your family closer and will be a learning experience for everyone.

7. Get Out of the House

Ok, here’s the easiest way of all to deal with a heat problem this summer. Go someplace cool. The movies, the senior center, the mall, the ocean or the lake. If the sun gives you warmth, then cool off either on someone else’s dime or in Mother Nature’s bathtub! Ok, you can’t do it every day but you can on occasion. It will help. By the way, this stuff applies to your pets as well, don’t forget that they are as hot or hotter than you are!

While we’re dealing with these hot temperatures, please don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated, water being your first choice and avoiding caffeine at all cost. Protect yourself from the sun with proper sunscreen and wear the proper clothing too. Keep your exertion level to a minimum and if you have outside requirements, do them early in the morning or later in the evening when it will be coolest. You remember all of those common sense things your wonderful mother taught you, don’t you? And, oh yeah…one more thing: please close the door!!

Have you had any problems with the summer weather so far this year? Do you have a plan to deal with 100 degree temps and save at the same time? What about your pets?


  1. Jamie

    I agree. It’s hot nowadays! I know my electricity bill will be higher this month and the following months, and I am ready for it. Using environmentally budget friendly appliances will definitely help me with my bill. I am glad I invested in them.

    1. Energy saving appliances are definitely the way to go. My recommendation is for everyone who is replacing an appliance to investigate them. There are also many rebates from the state and tax credits from the federal government which makes the savings even greater. Thanks for your comments, Jamie.

  2. Great advice, Gary. Thank you. Mrs. Groovy and I are very fortunate. Up in New York it cost us $175-$200 month to cool our 600 SF condo during the summer. And we set the thermostat very high (80 degrees) before we left for work. Here in NC, though, it costs us $120-$125 a month to cool our 2000 SF house during the summer. And we work from home! So the thermostat is set at 74-75 degrees for most of the day. But these are great reminders for any energy consumer. I especially like the wattless Wednesdays.

    1. One of the reasons that there’s such a variation in the cost of electricity is that the public utilities are guaranteed a profit by law and are more or less a total monopoly. Energy choice helps, but isn’t a total answer. I’m glad that in NC your costs are more manageable; it seems that here in the northeast it’s not quite that way. Thanks for your comments, Mr. Groovy, and try the Wattless Wednesday if you can.

    1. Mrs. Groovy, we’ve had energy choice here for a number of years now, but it’s not a perfect situation. You need to stay totally on top of the electric rates which change after short periods of introductory savings. Doing personal conservation like Wattless Wednesdays (as sometimes difficult as that might be) was very effective for me back in the day.

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