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My summer EE checklist (grandpa would be proud)

Scott Allen

By Scott Allen, CUB Environmental Outreach Coordinator (Hillsboro)

As the weather turns warm, it’s time to get your home ready for summer. And that reminds me of the jobs I used to do for my grandpa, when I was a kid in Griggsville, Illinois, population 1,200.

Over time, Grandpa Jerry, a carpenter who served as mayor for eight years, had helped just about every family in town, and eventually he recruited me to assist. That’s how I found myself removing storm windows, fixing screen doors and cleaning air conditioners for people in town who couldn’t do it themselves.

Grandpa Jerry

Grandpa Jerry would tell you he put me through this summer ritual because he believed school breaks made kids lazy, and, apparently, working for free built character. But he also knew that such seasonal improvements made a home more efficient, and that lowered air conditioning bills.

So in honor of grandpa, who passed away in 2010, I give you this checklist to prepare your home for the dog days ahead.

Give your air conditioner a checkup. Once a year, get your air conditioner inspected by a professional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist. Making sure your AC system is properly maintained can help you save hundreds a year. If you take the small financial hit to pay for yearly maintenance, you’ll avoid having to replace the whole system if it breaks. Nicor Home Solutions, an unregulated sister company of Nicor Gas, has maintenance plans that range in price from $8.95 to $15.95 a month. But be warned—these might be more costly than they’re worth and there may be cheaper options. Your AC might come with a warranty that includes maintenance. You can also see if your local heating and cooling professionals offer maintenance plans, which can be cheaper than those offered by Nicor Home Solutions.

Also, remember you don’t need a contractor to clean your air conditioning unit’s filter. It’s an easy way to improve performance and save energy.

Fix winter damage. The winter season can create a number of problems for efficiency. Check to make sure your windows and doors haven’t been damaged so that when you use your AC in the summer, the cool air stays in your house.

Locate & seal air leaks: Keep hot air out and cool air in by sealing leaks with caulk or weather-stripping. If needed, add foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates, and between walls. Don’t forget to also check the insulation of unconditioned spaces like attics. Remember, many Illinois utilities offer rebates for sealing and insulation. Just ask.

Take out storm windows and doors. Remove your storm windows and replace your glass front doors with screen doors so you can allow natural breezes to circulate in your home on milder days.

Think about investing in fans. By investing in and strategically using floor and ceiling fans, along with other sources of ventilation, you can get away with setting your thermostat one to two degrees higher and save money on your power bills. (Each degree you knock off can reduce your power bill by about 3 percent.)

Change your ceiling fan direction. In winter months, your ceiling fan should rotate clockwise (from your position looking up at it) to help rotate warm air that has risen. In the summer, though, you should run your fan counter-clockwise to get a breeze going. Your ceiling fan should have a small black switch on it that lets you change the direction of the spin.

Consider purchasing a programmable thermostat.  Having a programmable thermostat can help you save energy without thinking about it. You can program a slightly higher temperature when you’re at work or sleeping to make sure you don’t waste any energy when you don’t have to.

For a bit more money, smart thermostats adjust based on your behavior and can be controlled remotely. ComEd, Ameren, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas all offer rebates of $100 or more for smart thermostats. Check out the energy efficiency page for more information.

Get a free assessment. Many utilities offer a free home energy assessment, in which a technician will install efficiency items like a programmable thermostat, low-flow showerheads, a smart power strip and efficient bulbs—all for free. The technicians also may offer select smart thermostats at a discount. Ask your utility if it offers these assessments.

Dust off the grill: I had to add this. Grills keep heat out of the kitchen, meaning air conditioners don’t have to work harder to cool it off. If you don’t have a grill, consider using the microwave to cook on especially hot days.