En Español | Statistically, July 24 is the hottest day of the year across the entire United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center. That may very well be correct from a meteorological perspective. But as a researcher in the field of frugality, I've noticed that at our house the temperature tends to spike around the tenth of each month throughout the summer. That's the day when our electricity bill usually arrives in the mail. That's when my blood really begins to boil.
Depending on where you live, the U.S. Department of Energy says, air-conditioning your home may very well account for the single largest portion of your annual electrical costs. A central AC system in the typical home uses about 3,500 watts of electricity every hour it's on. That's the equivalent of operating 10 refrigerators for an hour … with the doors wide open!
The good news is, there are a number of things you can do to stay cool this summer without using air conditioning, or at least without using it so much. Check out these cool ideas for saving on the cost of air conditioning.
• Draw the curtains or install window awnings, particularly on the sunny side of your house. Room temperatures can rise by as much as 10 to 20 degrees because of direct sunlight entering the room. Installing window tinting or reflective film — a possible do-it-yourself job — is another cost-effective way to keep sunlight out.
• Turn off lights whenever possible. They produce a lot more heat than you might think, plus they're obviously using even more electricity.
• Avoid using the stove or oven during the summer and stick with the microwave or outdoor grill when possible. Also, eating cold foods and drinks helps to lower your internal body temperature. What better excuse to eat lots of ice cream this summer?
• Think twice before opening the windows. If the temperature outside is warmer than inside, leave them closed, because most homes tend to keep warm air out and cool air in. Obviously, if there's a breeze and you have good cross-ventilation, then opening them can make sense.
• Rinse your shirt in cold water a couple of times a day, wring it out a little and wear it around the house. You'd be surprised how much cooler you'll feel. (I also keep my spare, slightly dampened boxer shorts in the freezer during the summertime, too … but don't tell anyone, OK?)
• Ceiling fans can make you feel 3 to 8 degrees cooler, and they're relatively inexpensive to purchase (starting at about $50) and cost only a couple of pennies per hour to operate. Most ceiling fans are reversible, so make sure that your fan is blowing air downward, not upward, during the summer months.
• If you have a stone or brick patio directly adjacent to your house — or even a cement front/back porch or sidewalk — try hosing it off on really hot days and see if it helps keep your house cooler. A breeze blowing across a cool, wet surface acts as a natural air conditioner.
• Similar to the above, place a shallow bowl or tray of ice water in front of a directional or window fan to increase the chill factor, or even hang damp strips of cloth in front of fans or open windows when there's a breeze.
• You might have seen special cooling pillows advertised on TV that claim to help you stay cooler when sleeping on hot summer nights. You can make your own "chill pillow" by keeping a 5- or 10-pound bag of rice in the freezer during the day (still sealed in its unopened plastic bag), and then putting the bag in a pillowcase for nighttime use. The rice retains the cold for at least a couple of hours. That should be enough time for you to fall asleep and dream of cooler temperatures and sushi rolls.
• If you keep your wrists cool, it tends to cool your entire body, since blood vessels there are so close to your skin's surface. I make cooling summertime wristbands by repurposing worn-out tube socks. I cut them into strips (like thick rubber bands), dampen them and keep a supply in the freezer for when I need a quick cool-down. Plus they're kind of stylish!
• Although it's a longer-term strategy, planting as few as three shade trees in strategic places around your house can reduce indoor temperatures by as much as 20 degrees (once they're mature, of course). Plus, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that a single mature tree can add more than $600 to your home's value. That's what I call a growing investment, or an investment worth growing!
• Last but not least, cold showers, baths, trips to the local swimming hole, and old-fashioned squirt guns are how this cheapskate is going to be keepin' it cool this summer. Anybody up for a water balloon fight?
Jeff Yeager is the author of three books: The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches, The Cheapskate Next Door and Don't Throw That Away. His website is UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter