Keeping cool and breaking the bank

May’s electric bill was high. You would think I kept the thermometer set at 68 degrees or something similar, which certainly is not the case.

Coincidentally, the morning of the day I got the electric bill, I was upstairs for perhaps the third time before lunch and noted, with some amount of annoyance, that I was turning every single light off for the third time that morning. Little fairies seem to magically appear whenever I go downstairs and flip all the switches. So, my kids are getting a fair amount of blame for the expense and have been clearly instructed to keep the lights off or else. I’m not sure they know how serious I am, but when they find out that or else means no TV in the afternoon, it might help jog their memories.

I thought that keeping the upstairs thermostat at 80 was reasonable, but I’ve moved that to 85. The downstairs one is now at 80 from 78. At night, I switch those temperatures. If the bill is not significantly better next month, I will turn off the A/C, at least when my husband isn’t home.

But I suspect that the biggest culprit is the clothes dryer. Eight people generate quite a bit of laundry. My clothesline broke last month, and I used the dryer a lot. The line is now fixed and I have vowed to not use the dryer at all, unless I am desperate. This will be a challenge. The humidity levels are already pretty high, so it takes maybe 2 hours for thicker articles to dry out. I have limited space, so hanging up 4 or 5 loads just isn’t possible. And we seem to get a deluge every afternoon; anything hung up after 2 pm is at a serious risk of getting even wetter if it’s still up when the storm passes through.

I am on a mission. If you know any other energy saving tips, please let me know. Nighttime temps are above 70 degrees down here, so opening the windows at night isn’t going to help much. I did that in April, with much success, but summer comes early down here.

16 thoughts on “Keeping cool and breaking the bank

  1. i too am dreading the may bill. if it weren't for the kid, we could have held out longer, but his room is in the front and gets lot of direct sun all day and at night is just NASTY (and of course, that room has no ceiling fan). plus, he's a sweat-er, so i just felt too bad not turning it on (78. although your 80 makes me want to rethink….)

    we did just get a fan and that helps, but i was wondering if the electricity from running it all the time is really different from the AC…

  2. Do you have your trampoline set up? In a sunny location? Great for drying stuff – the black surface really soaks up the sun.

  3. Mrs. 2LT – the kids mostly hang out downstairs during the day, but the tot takes a nap upstairs, which is the main reason I kept the upstairs reasonable. Now, I keep the blinds closed in my room *(which faces East) and put on the ceiling fan, but only while she's in there. Running a fan constantly has to use a lot of energy, too, and I once read that there is no point in running one if you aren't in the room, because they don't cool the room, only make it more comfortable by stirring the air.

    Christina, I am reluctant to put clean clothes on the trampoline. I think they'd either turn black from the rubber, brown from the dirt or yellow from the pollen. Then the kids would start jumping and knock everything off…

    I'm just happy nobody seems to mind 80 degrees…I like things cooler at night, but daytime, I don't mind it warm. Of course, compared to the outside temp of 90 plus, 80 feels fabulous.

  4. It's really a shame that they don't dig basements in the south — the basement is always cool and a good place for the kids to camp out at night and play during the day on the hottest days of the year.

    I'm sure you don't use your dishwasher drier — but, in case you do, just let them air dry inside.

    Also — grill dinners in the summer. Never heat the house with the oven on hot days. (Saving money on homemade bread is not a savings if your air runs longer to run the oven.)

  5. The power company raises rates for the summer down there. Boo.

  6. Charlotte, thanks for the link. Like you, I do most of these things, but it's still the deep south. And these modern hosues are not built with nature's tricks in mind. I have NO north facing windows (actually, the girls' room faces north and the laundry room faces north, but that's littel help). The house faces east-west. I will try opening the east windows in the evening, though. I lived without A/C in NJ for 7 years, so I do know most of this stuff. And I really don't prefer A/C…I do love the sound of the outdoors coming in…

    Barb, also good tips. This is the time that I really like the bread maker. Fesh bread every day, but no oven heat. Don't think that appliance could possibly add that much to the bill.

    Jennie, I'm sure the rates are higher, but I compared my bill to my friend who kept her thermostat at 75, and we are much much higher than she. She only has one floor, so that helps her…and my winter bill was better than hers, even though I kept my thermostat higher then. Her house faces N-S (same neighborhood), so I think the direction of the house is working against me.

  7. Check your doors and make sure that everything is sealed properly. That lets out a TON of air. We recently fixed our back door and installed a storm door as well – huge difference. I know you're renting, but some of the issue may be the insulation in the house. If it's old, there is not much you can do.

  8. We have those little light switch fairies in our house, too. I have seriously considered unscrewing the lightbulbs in the kids' bedroom because that light is left on more than any other one.

    We lowered our electric bill significantly when we cleaned out the filters in our washing machine and got a new energy-saving dishwasher. At night we turn on our attic fan and open the windows to keep cool air circulating – having the windows open with no fan isn't much help, you're right about that. We open and close blinds depending on where the sun is shining in and that helps a lot. Crockpots help because they don't generate a lot of heat and you can use them on a nightly basis if you want, you cn cook such a huge variety of things in them. We don't have central air so most of my energy-saving tips are more closely related to keeping the house cool!

  9. This is really trashy looking, but you can really help keep the upstairs cool by putting aluminum foil (or other heat reflecting material- they make stuff for it) on the windows. If you're not spending a lot of time in there, it would probably be helpful to use the lights (getting used anyway) and keep the rooms cooler. Also, even though you don't own the house, you might climb up in the attic and find out how well insulated it is.

    If you're desperate, you might take a look at motion sensors for the lights. The main problem is that they take an initial investment, and I don't know how much money they would actually save you in the short term.

  10. Air conditioning doesn't exist where I live, and our bedrooms are on the third floor right under the roof. This is a little embarrassing to admit, but last summer I went out and bought a bunch of space blankets at about a dollar apiece and cut them down and taped them to our skylight windows early in the morning when it was cool. It made a HUGE difference in how cool it stayed upstairs. The space blankets are nice in that they block out the heat but still let some light in, and they are cheap. Although they really are tacky. But, hey, if you're desperate (and I was)…. You could put them up on the back windows where people are less likely to see them, anyway.

  11. The culprit probably is your air conditioner. I know that you said that your bill was much worse than your friend's, so I would ask how old your a/c system is. Older, less efficient systems are horrible for humid climates! Last summer I kept our thermostat at 84 and we still had a July bill of $490. We have a one story 1800 sq. ft. house. When we had someone (three someones) inspect our system, they all said that it was because we had a cheap system that was 12 years old. Apparently in Houston that doesn't cut it. We had a new system installed this February and our May bill (a very hot May) was just a little over half of last year's May bill. We even had the house at 77 degrees too.

    Sorry that isn't much help. I know we turned off our a/c last summer, just to see how hot it would get – 92 degrees (our windows are picture windows that don't open). So we had to run that stupid system. Boy, I fumed over last year's bills.

  12. Oh, Mom of boys made me think of something. I'm assuming you have a dehumidifier? They typically don't use a lot of electricity, but make the ambient room temperature seem a lot cooler.

  13. space blankets are looking like an excellent option for our sunroom aka SAUNA. Fortunately, it has a separate A/C unit which I keep off whenever possible.

    I'm also getting really obnoxious about the door to the sunroom being kept closed. The kids are actually pretty good about the outside doors, and I would have noticed a draft during this past winter.

    Attic insulation…must look into that.

    But if the A/C units themselves are old, I'm just out of luck. We would never recoup the cost to replace them in the 2 years we'll live here.

  14. Kristina, we don't have a dehumidifier here…we've only used them in basements before. I'll think about them and price them up the next time I head to one of those stores. It doesn't seem too humid in the house. Just hot.

  15. @Kristina (and Michelle) – you can also get a less tacky clear insulation for your windows. We had a couple drafty so we put up the insulation and it was a significant help. In the summer it helped keep cool air in and hot air out. I wish I could remember what it's called…all I know is that my husband and his brother put it up by putting some double-sided tape on the window frame, stretching the clear stuff over it, and then hitting it with a hairdryer for a few minutes. It had a shrink-wrap affect so it was very tightly stretched over the window. The downside: I had to use the hairdryer to remove the sticky stuff and it peeled off some of the paint around my window frame.

  16. I have been meaning to comment forever. Which means I have kept this post marked unread in my Reader. And everyday that unread list keeps growing. Ah! Where did all my time go!

    We don't have the humidity that Georgia does, but in Arizona we get way more than our fair share of heat. And we have a pool which increases the electric bill so much more. Our company allows an option for a time of use plan. So in the summer, between 1 and 8pm, we get charged ridiculus amounts for energy, and it's cheaper the other times. I have planned my life around this.

    We have a dishwasher that has a time delay on it. I set it to run after we go to bed at night. I use the dryer for towels, diapers, and underclothes. Nothing more. And I, again, run it during the cheap times. The pool pump is set to run in the middle of the night. I try not to use the computer in the middle of the day. We have programmed the thermostat also. Between 8 and 10 pm it goes to 78, and again from 5-7am. The rest of the time it's at 80. (It's hard to sleep when it's hot). What else? Oh! We rarely turn on lights in the day. My kids are still young so it's easier for me to control right now.

    Now I'm going to read the rest of your comments. And hopefully I can catch up on your blog as well. This post can safely go in the read pile! šŸ˜‰

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