How to beat the heat

How to beat the heat

By Gary Beaumont, University of Illinois College of ACES

Energy use and costs are greatest in the hot, summer months when air conditioning use peaks. The Illinois Electric Council suggests taking measures now so your home can better weather the summer sun, heat and humidity.

“There are a number of measures, small and large, that can make a big difference in comfort and electric bills,” says Molly Hall, Illinois Electric Council executive director. “Most steps can pay for themselves relatively quickly. For example, weather stripping and caulking are inexpensive ways to boost efficiency and cut energy costs.”

Reduce energy costs and ready the air conditioner with a cleaning and tune-up. An efficiently-running cooling system will save dollars. If you’re purchasing a new unit, check the efficiency rating, or SEER. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the air conditioner.

Ventilate the attic and check insulation. When the outside temperature is in the 90s, your attic can easily reach 140 degrees. Adequately sized vents and/or an attic fan can help keep hot air from building up. If your attic has less than 6 to 8 inches of insulation, consider adding more. Be sure the insulation doesn’t block vents or cover exhaust fans.

Caulk and put weather stripping around windows and doors. This will reduce air infiltration and reduce both cooling and heating costs. Install awnings over windows exposed to direct sunlight. Outdoor landscaping that includes shade trees and insulating foundation plants can also reduce energy costs.

When performing these or any home improvement projects, the IEC and its Safe Electricity program offer these safety tips:

n Make sure you’ve got the right tools and check cords for any cracks or frayed insulation.

n Take note of potential hazards in the work area such as overhead power lines, especially those connected to the home. Keep ladders and long metal tools at least 10 feet away from them.

n Make sure outdoor outlets are equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets don’t have them.

n If your projects include digging, like building a deck or planting a tree, call your utility locating service before you begin. For most of Illinois, it’s “JULIE” (1-800-892-0123) and in Chicago, call “Digger” (1-312-744-7000). Never assume the location or depth of underground utility lines. Call at least two business days ahead of your dig date. This service is free, prevents the inconvenience of having utilities interrupted, and can help you avoid serious injury.

Follow these operating tips for greater energy efficiency and reduction in air conditioning costs:

n Throughout summer use, change air conditioner filters monthly, more often if pets live indoors.

n Dial up. For each 1-degree increase in the thermostat setting, you can trim cooling costs by about 3 percent.

n Install a timer or programmable thermostat to raise and lower the temperature automatically. Leave it on a higher temperature while you’re away, and set it to cool the house half an hour before you return home.

n Install ceiling fans that circulate air and reduce air conditioning use.

n Turn off unnecessary lights and televisions sets you’re not watching. Don’t leave computers on when not in use.

n Make sure heat-producing appliances like televisions and lamps are away from the thermostat. They will raise the temperature at the thermostat and cause the air conditioner to run when it is not needed.

n Plan to do hot work—washing and drying clothes, cooking and baking—during cooler morning and evening hours.

n Keep your kitchen cooler by cooking in a microwave oven or grill outdoors.

n Keep the sun out of your house. Close blinds, shades, or draperies during the hottest part of the day.

The Illinois Electric Council (IEC) is an electric industry forum headquartered at the University of Illinois. The IEC and its Safe Electricity program offer information year round to help consumers use electric energy efficiently and safely. For more information and tips to help cut costs and improve home safety, visit the Web sites and

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