Our guide to saving money on your summer energy bills

The Bay Area that we all know and love is infamous for its high cost of living. In most cases, this is brought up when talking about rent and home prices, but there’s actually another place we’re all feeling the pinch: our summer energy bills. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of electricity in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward) during May 2019 was 62.5% higher than the national average—a difference that is up about 7% from the prior year. Year-round, we pay far more for electricity per kilowatt-hour than the rest of the United States.

There’s not much any of us can do to control the price of electricity. What we can control—as homeowners, as property managers, and as renters—is just how much electricity we use. By making your air conditioner and home more energy efficient, you can greatly cut down on your electric bills, lessening the pain brought on by “energy sticker shock” every summer.

In this article, we will review some of the most effective ways to make your home more efficient—including calling us to schedule a whole-home energy audit.

Our tips for saving big on your energy bills

Put your air conditioner on the pathway to saving energy

About half of the energy used in the average American home goes to cooling or heating. In fact, your air conditioner and furnace probably use more energy than the next several categories—your water heater, your washer and dryer, your lights, your refrigerator—combined. If you want to reduce the amount of energy your home uses and lower your summer energy bills, you’ll want to start with your air conditioner.

Schedule an AC tune-up

As we write about often, a spring heat pump or AC tune-up is one of the best ways to boost your home’s energy efficiency. During this checkup, one of our experienced technicians inspects your cooling system to make sure it is ready for the long, hot summer ahead. We also optimize its comfort settings, allowing it to work as efficiently as possible.

Is it time for a new air conditioner?

If you have an older air conditioner and you’ve been suffering through high summer energy bills, chances are that the other energy-saving upgrades and changes mentioned in this article are only going to help so much. An inefficient air conditioner is going to lead to rising energy costs, no matter how much efficiency you squeeze out of the rest of your home.

Eventually—from a performance, energy conservation, and reliability standpoint—it just makes sense to have our team install a new Carrier AC unit. We’d be happy to discuss your options with you. Call us today for a free in-home estimate.

Upgrade your home for long-term savings

Outside of the air conditioner itself, there are things homeowners here in the Bay Area can do to make sure the cooled air you are paying for isn’t wasted. Let’s review some common areas of waste and discuss how to rectify them:

Your thermostat

Consider upgrading to a smart thermostat that allows you to program the temperature of your home at certain times. With a traditional thermostat, you leave yourself open to human error: you forget to raise the temperature before you leave the house for work, causing your air conditioner to work hard and use additional energy to keep your (empty) home cool. A smart thermostat eliminates this room for error, and many models can even give you recommendations for energy savings.

Your air ducts

Air ducts—which are responsible for transporting cooled air from the blower to the living spaces of your home—are one of the single largest areas of efficiency loss. This occurs for several reasons. One is that air is generally a poor transporter of temperature over distance—this is why ductless systems, which can deliver cooled and heated air right in your living spaces, are far more efficient than traditional cooling and heating setups.

Beyond that, however, your air ducts could be extra inefficient because of pinholes and cracks that have formed deep within the ducts as your home settles and the ductwork experiences normal wear-and-tear. These allow for cool air to escape, which greatly lowers your energy efficiency. A duct sealing can help eliminate this energy loss.

Your insulation

A great deal of air loss occurs through the attic. Proper insulation can help trap that air and keep it from escaping. Attic insulation also helps prevent heat energy from being conveyed through the roof and attic and into the living spaces of your home—which is important, given the amount of sun we get here in the summer here in the Bay Area.

How much insulation is enough? This can depend on how much your home already has. We recommend giving us a call for a consultation with our certified energy audit specialists. As part of our whole-home energy audit (more on this below), we evaluate your current insulation and make a recommendation regarding whether you need more.

Your windows and doors

These are obvious areas where cooled air can escape and hot outside air can get in (as it turns out, there was a reason your dad always told you to close the patio door!). However, this isn’t quite the open-and-shut case that your dad made it out to be. Poor insulation around and underneath doors and windows can also lead to energy waste.

The strategic application of weatherstripping and caulking can often help with this problem, but you’ll want to consult with the experts here at ABC about your other options, too. While the upfront cost is high, homeowners who upgrade to dual-pane windows not only cut their energy use by as much as 25%, but also add value to their home.

Just how important are your day-to-day energy-wise decisions?

Let’s start by addressing something that is important to remember: on the whole, systemic improvements are more important than your day-to-day actions. Yes, it is important to remember to turn off the lights when you leave the house, and, yes, that can help you save energy. However, switching that lightbulb out for an energy-efficient one is going to have a far greater, more consistent, and long-lasting impact on your energy bills.

To bring it back to an HVAC example, you can cut your energy bills by leaving the thermostat 1-2 degrees higher than you would have otherwise. However, that shouldn’t subsitute for a tune-up or air duct sealing, which will have a far greater impact without you having to sweat the summer out.

All that being said, making smart energy decisions can play a role in lowering your energy bills. You can unplug “vampire” appliances and devices that use electricity when off, turn off lights and fans when you leave the room, and close shades and blinds to block out sunlight during the day. Often the trick here is remembering to take these actions on a daily basis. Try putting them as an alert in your smartphone or using the time-honored trick of leaving yourself a note on the garage door.

Schedule a whole-home energy audit with our team

If you are serious about cutting down on your summer energy bills, a whole-home energy audit from the ABC team is perfect for you and your home. We send a certified energy expert to your home to complete a thorough evaluation of exactly how your home is currently using (and potentially wasting) energy. We use equipment to check for air duct leaks, evaluate current attic and wall insulation, take notes about your lights and electrical appliances, and complete an energy cost analysis.

All this work results in a detailed report that shows you exactly where your home is wasting energy and money. This can be your checklist to making improvements, whether those are do-it-yourself projects like adding weatherstripping or switching out lightbulbs or hiring our team for professional services like adding insulation or tuning up your air conditioner.

The bottom-line is that information is power. A whole-home energy audit gives you the data and information you need to act. The power to make your home more energy-efficient is in your hands.

For a general overview of how home’s use (and can save) energy, be sure to check out this infographic our team created. It breaks down what homeowners can do to get more out of their energy dollar.

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