Energy companies offer advice to keep bills down and stay cool

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published August 21, 2019

  Frequently running the air conditioner in the summer can add up when it comes  time to pay the electric bill, but energy companies are offering some advice to use  it less often and keep homes cooler without it.

Frequently running the air conditioner in the summer can add up when it comes time to pay the electric bill, but energy companies are offering some advice to use it less often and keep homes cooler without it.

Photo provided by DTE Energy

METRO DETROIT — Summer weather can make it tough to beat the heat, but running an air conditioner can make it even tougher on the electric bill.

As houses heat up, the air conditioner comes on more and more — which can be expensive. However, energy companies do have some tips for their customers that can help keep those bills down without losing their cool.

“July was a very hot month — one of the hottest in the last few years,” said Debra Dodd, a spokesperson for Consumers Energy. “The hotter the temperature is outside, the more people will use their air conditioner. That’s a big factor in higher bills in the summer. They take a lot of energy compared to other items using energy in the home.”

“Some of the biggest things about this season that people don’t realize is how much weather can affect their bill. With a particularly hot or long summer, it can add up because people are running their air conditioning more,” added Kimberly Huffman, principal marketing analyst for DTE Energy. “Heating and cooling is about 50% of your energy costs. You can do little things; like, lowering your thermostat by only 2 degrees and using a ceiling fan, you can lower your cooling costs by up to 14%.”

Huffman said updated air conditioning and thermostat equipment can be among the most effective solutions, as can ensuring that the equipment residents already have is in good working condition.

“Programmable thermostats are great. We’ve seen that they can save you $180 a year. They can really help manage your air usage,” she said. “Making sure your equipment is in good condition also can make a big difference. Getting a tuneup at the start of the warm season or the start of the cold season can help. You can also check your furnace filters as well, which can make your heating and cooling systems more efficient.”

Dodd said that keeping a thermostat at or above 78 degrees can make a big difference.

“Set your thermostat at 78 degrees when you’re home,” Dodd said. “Not everybody can do this, but this is a Department of Energy recommendation. For every degree higher than that, you will cut down 1%-3% on your bill.”

Fans also are a good option to accompany air conditioner use or to use instead, but Huffman said fans can only do so much. She also said that keeping them off when no one is in the room can save a few bucks at the end of the month as well.

“Fans only cool people; they don’t cool the room,” Huffman explained. “They just create a windchill effect on your skin, so make sure to turn them off when you leave the room.”

In fact, Dodd said monitoring the use of appliances can be one of the best ways to cut down on electric bills.

“There also are some general energy-saving tips people can use all year round that can help reduce your bill,” she said. “You can wait until a dishwasher or clothes dryer is full so you’re using it less overall, and you can turn lights off whenever possible, and so forth.”

She added that many appliances also give off excess heat, which can require even more air conditioner use.

“Limiting the use of appliances to the morning or evening can help so they aren’t adding extra heat to your home,” said Dodd. “Using things like a crock pot or something else that plugs in instead of an oven, which heats up the house, can help as well.”

Both went on to say there are also some low-cost, low-effort methods that can help keep a house cool.

“Closing blinds where the summer sun can come into the house can help cool the room naturally and cause your air to click on less often,” Huffman said. “Heat and humidity both affect how you feel, so offsetting appliances from heating the house can make a difference. Use them sparingly when possible.”

“Close off the registers in rooms not in use so you’re not heating or cooling rooms that you’re not using,” added Dodd. “Use drapes to keep the sun from heating up rooms. Now that we are getting close to fall, open up windows and let some of the cooler air in during the evening or early morning.”

Dodd also advised to look over the home to see if there are any leaks or other problems that could cause hot air to leak in or cold air to seep out.

“Something that’s low cost and relatively easy is going through your house and looking for air leaks,” she said. “Caulking or weatherstripping can make a big impact and are easy to do. You also can add insulation. That can add up to $200 in savings on some people’s energy bills.”

Energy companies such as DTE Energy and Consumers Energy also have some financial aid or assistance programs that can help those struggling financially to keep their bills paid.

“We also have options to help people pay their bills, and we can help set up a budget plan for residents,” Dodd said. “A lot of energy companies and utilities have options like that if people need a hand. There also are rebates people might be able to qualify for, and they can find information on those programs on our website at www.consumersenergy.com.”

DTE Energy has similar resources available at www.dteenergy.com/saveenergy and additional tips for beating the heat at www.dteenergy.com/summer.

“The less you have to rely on your air conditioner in the summer, the lower you can keep your bill,” said Dodd.