Beat the heat and save money doing it

By: Sarah Wojcik, | Shelby - Utica News | Published June 14, 2017

METRO DETROIT — With summer heating up, local experts have weighed in on ways to stay cool while slashing utility bills and reducing your carbon footprint.

Teri VanSumeren, executive director of Consumers Energy’s energy efficiency program, offered seven tips to help reduce summer energy use.

If you have central air conditioning, she said to clean leaves and debris off the unit and away from the compressor, because they can block airflow. Dusty filters make air conditioners work harder, so she recommended cleaning the filter regularly.

 Closing curtains and blinds can block direct sunlight from entering homes, which can keep living areas cool and reduce energy bills.

Closing curtains and blinds can block direct sunlight from entering homes, which can keep living areas cool and reduce energy bills.

Photo provided by Brynn Guster, senior communications specialist for DTE Energy

When you’re not home, VanSumeren recommended, set the thermostat to 78 degrees or higher. Programmable thermostats are available, so homeowners can start their air conditioners right before they return home.

She said to close drapes, shades and blinds during the day to prevent the sun from heating the home, and open windows and doors in the early morning and evening to let in cooler air.

To keep cool air in and warm air out, VanSumeren said, seal and insulate your home.

She recommended that homeowners operate stoves, ovens, dishwashers and clothes dryers in the morning or evening, when it’s cooler outside, because they add extra heat and make the air conditioner work harder.

Fans, she said, are a quick and cheap way to stay cool. She said homeowners could also reduce the need for air conditioning by installing an attic fan.

Lastly, VanSumeren recommended replacing or tuning up old air conditioning equipment.

DTE Energy also has listed a slew of cost-saving tips on its website.

DTE recommends switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs and LEDs, which use up to 75 percent less energy and last longer without sacrificing light output.

By shading air conditioning units with an awning or shade tree instead of operating in direct sunlight, DTE says units could use as much as 10 percent less energy. DTE also recommends positioning window air conditioners on the shaded side of the house, away from direct sunlight.

“Using a ceiling fan to help circulate air is one of the best ways to cool down,” said Brynn Guster, senior communications specialist for DTE. “Remember, fans cool you, not the room, so only use them when you are around to avoid wasted energy.”

Guster added that shutting air vents and closing doors in unused rooms is another good way to save energy, so that cool air only circulates to occupied parts of the home.

“Close blinds and curtains on the south- and west-facing windows to block out summer sunlight,” she said. “To add more shade, plant trees to shade windows or move container trees and plants in front of windows.”

Roger Morgenstern, senior public information director for Consumers Energy, said the company recently rolled out its Peak Power Savers program. The program utilizes the company’s communicating — or “smart” — meters, which it has installed in more than 1 million homes around the state.

“The program provides customers with several pricing options with central air conditioning, so customers can lower energy bills,” Morgenstern said.

One option, he said, is customers can sign up for their energy use to be shifted to off-peak times during hot summer days. Air conditioner cycling is another option, he said.

“We would, with customers’ permission, send a signal to the air conditioner to turn off the air conditioner and compressor for four hours or less to decrease electrical use during peak times,” Morgenstern said. “The fan continues to run, so customers notice no difference.”

For signing up, he said, customers will receive a $25 gift certificate and $7.84 off their monthly energy bill from June through September.

One of Consumers Energy’s challenges, he said, is it has to buy power on the market on really hot days, which can be more expensive, and the costs are passed on to customers. Because the majority of electricity in Michigan is produced using fossil fuels, he said, lowering energy use benefits the environment.

Morgenstern said he signed up for the air conditioning cycling program last year during testing in Muskegon County.

“My experience has been very positive,” he said. “For me, it’s an easy way to save on my energy and help the environment as well.”

For more information or to get rebates on select services, visit www.consumersenergy.com/myhome or www.dteenergy.com/summer.