Cheaper Summer Cooling

by Gary Foreman


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Your recent article concerning summer cooling focused mainly on persons who own their own home and can make changes such as adding insulation, providing shade and shrubs, and replacing windows. In addition to fan usage, what can those of us in apartments do to keep ourselves cool this summer?
Erica R. in Adams, WI

Erica is right. Apartment dwellers feel the sting of higher cooling bills, too. And, replacing windows or air conditioning units isn't an answer for them. So let's see what we can do to reduce the amount she spends keeping comfortable this summer.

We'll begin with one that Erica mentions: fans. You probably can't put a ceiling fan in a rental, but that doesn't mean that you can't use floor or table fans. Studies show that even at 82F and 100% humidity, comfort can be maintained as long as air is blowing across the skin. That moving air helps the body to dissipate heat. And fans are a cheap way to move air.

But Erica was looking for some ideas beyond using fans. How about using colors to cool you down? Sounds strange, but Kathy Wilson, editor of TheBudgetDecorator.com website, says that it works. "Using cool colors while decorating your rooms is one of the most cost-effective methods of keeping cool during the summer months. Using cool colors within a room immediately lowers the visual temperature, which is a very powerful tool!"

Kathy suggests using colors from the blue and green family. "When the eye sees a cool color, your brain relates it to cool water, fresh blue sky, or sweet spring grass." You can add these colors to your room by using throw pillows, slip covers, area rugs, room accents or even painting one wall.

Cool colors are great, but what can you do when the thermometer clears 80 and keeps rising? While you can't eliminate the sun, you can banish other sources of heat in your home. Cooking is a major heat generator. Use your oven and stove-top as little as possible. Replace them with your microwave oven or cook outdoors. And your BBQ isn't the only way to cook outside. A slow cooker can be used on a porch or patio.

Summer is also a great time to consider a lighter diet. Avoid those heavy roasts and casseroles. Not only will you look better in that swimsuit, but it takes less energy (which creates heat) for the body to digest a simpler meal. How about a dinner salad tonight?

Not only do you want to keep from generating heat inside your home, you also want to keep the heat outdoors. If you have outside access to windows and doors, caulking around them could be a good investment even if the landlord won't help pay. Caulking is cheap and it doesn't take much time to run a bead to close up obvious leaks.

Another way to keep heat outside is to prevent the sun from shining into your home. Sunlight creates a lot of heat quickly. Especially when shining through a clear window. We all remember using the sun shining through a magnifying glass to set a leaf on fire. Draw your shades so you don't become that leaf! No shades? Consider installing them yourself. Even an inexpensive roll-up shade can make a big difference.

Next, Erica wants to help her air conditioner to work efficiently. Normal dust will reduce airflow by about 1% per week. Experts advise cleaning or replacing filters monthly. Disposable filters are cheap and anyone can learn how to replace them. Any money you spend will be repaid in lower electric bills.

Reduce the amount of space you're cooling. Close off unused rooms. That means shutting the door and the A/C vent.

If you have access to the outdoor portion of the A/C unit, make sure that air can flow around it. Even renters are allowed to trim bushes and shrubs that prevent an air conditioner from working properly.

Many utility companies will inspect your A/C system for free. While your landlord might not be legally required to act on their recommendations, they might feel obligated to solve any problems that are found.

Finally, raise your thermostat as much as possible. For every degree, you'll save about 4% on your A/C bill.

Erica may not have all the options that a homeowner has. But that doesn't mean she needs to be hot under the collar all summer long!


Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and he's a regular contributor to CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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