The problem with most articles about summer energy saving is that they're geared for homeowners. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. rent their homes, and tips that help homeowners save energy may not be practical for them.
So you're a renter? That power-bill insert suggesting you upgrade attic insulation is probably more frustrating than useful. The same applies for most tips related to improving property. If your appliances are furnished, it's likely you don't even have the option to replace them with more efficient models.
What's a renter to do?
Summertime energy prices can turn a trip to the mailbox into a stressful experience. But while major home improvement projects may be off the table for renters, it's still possible to take some of the sting out of summer power bills. The key is conservation.
If you can't change your living space, change your behavior. Reducing consumption is the greenest of green. We've rounded up 20 ways to stay cool and save money through the warmer months. While you may already be doing some of these, you should find a few that will fit your energy saving arsenal.
Take action and save!
1. Set your air conditioner to 78 degrees (F) or higher. An obvious pointer, but also one of the most ignored. Running your air conditioner at colder temperatures won't cool down a room any faster than a more moderate setting, but it will force your system to work harder. Worse yet, it's easy to forget to turn it back up. Stick with the warmest setting you can tolerate, and move on to other stay-cool ideas.
2. Wear cool, loose clothing — even indoors. Shorts, absorbent fabrics and loose-fitting clothes all work outdoors. They'll work inside, too. It's your space: dress for comfort. The cooler your clothing, the less you'll need air conditioning.
3. Indulge your taste for spicy food. There's a reason Indian and Latin food is hot: It makes you sweat! If you have proper air circulation, sweating is an effective way to cool down. That sheen on your arms, face and legs is pretty much odorless, by the way. Crank up the heat in your food, and you'll feel cooler. It may also provide other health benefits, such as improved circulation.
4. Use fans to improve air circulation and set existing ceiling fans properly. This goes hand in hand with not being afraid of a little sweat. Fans use a fraction of the energy required by air conditioning. Just as in the case of wind chill outdoors, moving air will substantially lower the perceived temperature. During the summer, a ceiling fan should (in most cases) be running counterclockwise when viewed from below. You want the setting with maximum downdraft. Flip it next winter to bring warm air down from the ceiling. Just keep in mind that fans are for people, not rooms. There's no point running them when nobody is around.
5. Take cold showers. If you live in an area experiencing water shortages, skip this one. Otherwise, a quick three-minute cold shower is a fantastic way to cool down. Going longer than three minutes won't make you feel much cooler, so skip the soap and just enjoy the relief. For regular showers, avoid using hot water during the summer. In most temperate locations, tap water is plenty warm for bathing by July. The cooler you run your shower, the less heat and steam you'll need to remove from your living space. Use the exhaust fan if it's vented outdoors.
6. Drink plenty of water. You may not sweat enough if you’re dehydrated. While some traditions, such as Ayurveda, discourage consumption of cold liquids, they'll temporarily cool your body core. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks tend to dehydrate, so choose wisely.
7. Draw drapes and blinds on windows exposed to direct sunlight. Window coverings are one of the few home additions tolerated by most landlords. Curtains, blinds and window shades can all go with you at the end of your lease. In warm weather, you'll want to be sure the space at the top of curtain between the rod and the wall is covered, or hot air will rise through the gap. It's possible to buy curtains and shades with thermal ratings, so shop around or make your own. Window coverings have the added benefit of keeping heat from radiating outward during the winter.
8. Cook outdoors. Grilling is a classic summer pastime. Best of all, it keeps heat outside. Of course, you want to minimize the environmental impact of outdoor cooking.
9. Use the microwave. The lowly microwave is your kitchen's most efficient plug-in appliance. In addition to saving money year-round, microwave ovens are a good bet for summer cooking. Here's why: Microwaves direct most of their energy into the food, rather than the kitchen. That means you'll stay more comfortable and burn less energy removing cooking heat from your home.
10. Eat more smaller meals through the summer months. The bigger the meal, the harder your body must work to digest it. Try splitting mealtimes across the day, opting for more and smaller meals when it's warmest. This will keep your body from having to stoke its metabolic afterburners. It's also a great time to experiment with cold foods — perhaps even raw cuisine. Less heat in the kitchen, less heat in your tummy.
11. Spend more time outdoors or away from home. Why not soak up someone else's air conditioning? A little window shopping never hurt anyone, and it's likely there are several ice-cold destinations within walking distance or a short bicycle ride from your home. While eating out is a luxury for a lot of people these days, blowing a couple hours with a frosty drink and a book someplace cool isn't a bad way to spend a sweltering summer afternoon.
12. Try a cool pillow. It's tough to sleep when you feel like you're in a sauna, and the alternative is running a fan or air conditioner all night. In addition to dressing out your bed with seasonally appropriate sheets and bedcovers, consider a "cool pillow." They're marketed under names such as Chillow. Cool pillows are designed to draw heat away from your head, where about 30% of body warmth is dispersed. They require no power or special preparation. Here's a low-tech idea for beneath the sheets: Fill a hot water bottle or two with icy water. It's like a refrigerator for your bed.
13. Shut down unnecessary electronic devices. Here's another year-round energy saver. During the summer, however, it's even more important to pull the plug on home electronics. Anything with a transformer creates heat. Shut down unused desktop computers (they have cooling fans for a reason), televisions and entertainment systems — pretty much everything with a plug.
14. Wash your clothes at night and line dry them in the morning. Some power companies offer off-peak rates to their customers. Take advantage of these. In any event, even a properly vented clothes dryer radiates heat. Restrict its use to the coolest part of the day. Wherever possible, line dry clothes. It worked for our parents' generation, and it will work for ours. This should be no problem if you're renting a house. A simple line between two sturdy supports will do, and umbrella-style clothes lines are an affordable investment. Line drying is more of a challenge for apartment dwellers. You may be able to get away with a small line on a porch — check your lease terms. It's also possible to dry indoors, and there are many retractable lines and racks made just for that purpose. Indoor drying may be the best choice if your area is dusty, or if you happen to be particularly susceptible to outdoor allergens.
15. Shut down your furnace pilot light. It's small thing, but there's no point running a gas furnace pilot light through the summer months. Locate the gas shutoff valve. There are safety issues here, so if you have any question about how to properly extinguish a pilot light, consult your building supervisor, utility company or heating and cooling professional.
16. Close doors to unused rooms and closets. Your winter clothes do not require air conditioning, so get into the habit of keeping closets and cabinets closed. Shut unoccupied rooms and their cooling vents. If you're using window units, close the door in the air conditioned room whenever practical.
17. Replace or clean your air conditioning filter. Dirty filters dramatically reduce air-conditioner efficiency. Check your filter once a week, and replace as often as necessary. Filters are generally throwaway items, but some may be reusable if thoroughly vacuumed. Clean window-unit filters once a week. Some window air conditioners have a warning light to indicate when air flow is restricted.
18. Close your fireplace damper. If you're fortunate enough to have a fireplace, close the flue during warm weather months. Chimneys are another void you don't need to cool, so keep fireplace doors shut or construct an airtight screen to close the hearth when not in use.
19. Replace standard bulbs with low-energy equivalents wherever practical. The heating effects of incandescent bulbs are generally overstated, since most lights are mounted close to the ceiling. But every degree matters when you're trying to keep power bills under control, and the money-saving benefits of using LED or CFL bulbs year-round are obvious. Concerned about the mercury in CFLs? These dangers are usually overstated, but proper CFL handling and disposal is a responsibility. (See 5 ways to dispose of old CFLs.)
20. Talk to your landlord. Property owners usually take action when it's in their financial interest. So do your homework and see what might make sense in terms of energy-saving improvements. There may be local, state or federal incentives for things such as improving insulation values or weatherization. Landlords of utilities-included rentals will be particularly receptive to projects that save them money over the long term. In any case, you may be able to obtain permission — or even rent credit — for making small improvements on your own. You'll only know if you ask.