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Published: Jul 06, 2023 9 min read
Man installing an air conditioning unit
Money; Getty Images

We're well into the hottest months of summer, and that means pricey utility bills as the temperatures continue to rise. Fortunately, there are some tactics you can employ to ease that financial burden of staying cool.

It's not just the regular seasonal heat that's driving up costs. Climate change is forcing up average temperatures across the board; the 2023 Fourth of July holiday saw the highest average global temperature since at least 1979, when this data started being tracked. That makes paying summertime electric bills even harder for Americans who may still be reeling from the high costs of heating homes in winter.

People tend to use more electricity for cooling and entertainment in the summertime, and many service providers will raise prices in accordance with supply and demand. These cost increases put many Americans at risk of falling behind on bills and ultimately losing access to important utilities like electricity and water.

A report by the Conversation revealed that energy utility providers shut off electricity services for 3 million Americans last year. Roughly 30% of those shut-offs happened in the midst of the summer — the fifth-warmest since modern weather record keeping, according to NASA.

How to lower energy bills in summer

Cutting costs is a crucial practice for those struggling to stay current on their energy bills — and for those who simply don't want to spend a fortune on utilities every month. Here are some of the best ways to save:

1. Get an HVAC check-up

Having your air conditioning unit working at optimal efficiency is important to keeping costs minimal. The better it's working, the better it can cool your home; experts say an AC unit tune-up can increase efficiency by 10% to 15%.

Getting your unit checked will of course come with expenses of its own — usually somewhere north of $100. But the upside comes by way of sustained performance that you will pay less for in the long run.

Experts can clean your AC's filter and diagnose issues that could be hindering the unit's ability to do its job. Check out our list of the best HVAC companies before you make the call to get a check-up.

2. Set the thermostat at a higher temperature

Even at full-efficiency, an HVAC unit can rack up costs when running constantly. It might not be the most comfortable option, but setting your thermostat to a higher temperature is a free and highly effective way to combat high bills.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that turning your thermostat up by 7 to 10 degrees can reduce your energy costs by up to 10%. Generally, you want to keep temperatures at the highest level possible while remaining comfortable. Strategically placed fans can help with comfort too.

The department also advises that when leaving the house, you consider setting your AC to a warmer temperature. Programmable thermostats have this feature automatically integrated.

3. Upgrade your thermostat

On a similar note, upgrading your thermostat entirely can be a great way to save. By upgrading your thermostat to one that's smartphone controlled, you are more incentivized to make temperature changes that can save you money. Similarly, you can change the temperature even while away from home, meaning you don't have to pay so much for forgetting to raise the temperature before leaving on that work trip.

Another impressive feature of smart thermostats is the learning capabilities of these devices. Over time, a smart thermostat can learn your cues and adjust temperature changes based on common behavior. For example, if you tend to raise the temperature at a certain time of day, the thermostat will eventually learn to do this automatically. Check out our list of the best smart thermostats to help you pick the right option.

4. Unplug electronics when they're not in use

You might think you're doing enough by not turning on your appliances and leaving them running. But that doesn't mean you're saving the most energy possible.

When you have things plugged in around the house, they are using energy even when they're switched off. TVs, sound systems, laptops, phone chargers, coffee makers, electric kettles, modems and more are often left plugged in, and they can sap hundreds of unnecessary kilowatt-hours of electricity per year while you're not using them. This is known as "phantom power."

Phantom power is a contentious thing, with many believing the continuous power drain to be a myth. However, there's plenty of evidence that it's a real drain: The Nature Resources Defense Council's study of phantom energy in California revealed "always on" energy loads account for almost a quarter of all residential power consumption in northern California.

Unplugging one of these electronics might not make a huge difference, but it adds up when you get into the habit of plugging them in only when they're in use. The NRDC's report estimates that unplugging these devices would save between $210 and $440 per year in energy costs.

5. Avoid "peak hours" charges

One thing you might not know is that, yes, depending on the time of day, your electricity provider can charge you more money. Just like how in summer months, companies raise rates in response to demand, they charge more for using electricity at popular times of day. Depending on the company you use for electricity, prices can be over twice as much as you'd pay during off-peak hours.

Knowing when your provider charges these "peak hours" rates can net you a lot of savings. Generally, these hours tend to be in the middle of the day. So, waiting to wash that load of laundry or dishes until early morning or late night is more cost effective than doing it on your lunch break. In the case of electric cars or plug-in hybrids, you'll generally get your best cost-effectiveness by charging them overnight at home.

6. Lower water heating costs

A major drain of electricity even in the summer is your water heater. The Department of Energy says that water heating accounts for about 20% of the average American's energy use.

Reducing the amount of hot water you're consuming is therefore another great way to save. Fewer hot showers can help with this, as can running laundry on warm or cold water settings as opposed to a hot setting.

Tankless water heaters are a similarly great way to save energy, and the benefits are year-round. These systems heat water as it travels through your pipes, as opposed to heating a reservoir tank. It doesn't run out of hot water, you don't have to let the tap run before you get the hot water, and it's a much smaller system. Check out our list of the best tankless water heaters for more information.

7. Plant some trees

This option is perhaps the most labor intensive, and it requires having time on your side, but planting shade plants is a great way to naturally cool your property. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a shade tree can cool a house just as effectively as 10 room-sized air conditioners running almost all the time.

Not only will planting shade trees help you to reduce your energy consumption, but they'll also give your property a boost in value. Studies show that homes with trees are worth up to 15% more than homes without any. There are a number of tools out there that can help you maximize cost-effectiveness and decide which trees are right for your property, too.

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