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Tips for fighting high summer electric bills in this heat wave

Temperatures are rising as a heat wave sets in for Illinois, one of the increasingly common results of climate change. A CUB study found climate change will cause ComEd customers to pay an additional $10.9 billion on their electric bills over the next 30 years. You might be fretting about higher electricity bills, but energy efficiency can help soften the blow. Check out some of our top tips to stay cool, safe and energy efficient:

Be safe. Efficiency means staying safe and cool while reducing your energy waste. Raising your thermostat by a few degrees and using a ceiling fan can lower air conditioning costs over the summer. Just be smart about it—don’t raise the temperature to an unsafe level. Many utilities (ComEd, Ameren and MidAmerican) recommend setting the thermostat at about 76-78 degrees when you’re at home. Read our blog on setting the thermostat, and check out this Energy Star guide.

Check out your utility’s efficiency programs. ComEd offers a home energy assessment to all customers, and Ameren does to lower-income consumers. At no cost to you, an energy advisor will walk through your home to suggest improvements and install money-saving products, such as LEDs and efficient showerheads. MidAmerican offers a free online assessment that then allows first-time participants to get an energy-efficiency kit. Visit our Clean Energy page to learn more about programs offered by Illinois utilities.

Give your AC a break. Prevent hot air from seeping in by sealing the gaps around windows and doors. (Check out sealing/insulation tips from Energy Star.) Shut blinds or shades during the daytime hours to prevent the sun from cooking your home and your air conditioner from working harder to cool it. At cooler times of the day (night and morning) or on milder, less humid days, open up windows and use screens to let refreshing air come in. Clean or replace your air conditioning unit filters about once every 1-2 months during the cooling season to make sure it’s running efficiently. If you have central air, schedule your yearly check up with the HVAC technician. (Here’s an AC maintenance guide from the Department of Energy.)

Buy energy-efficient appliances. The Energy Star program, managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), identifies appliances that reach certain energy efficiency standards. They can save you hundreds of dollars in energy bills. See a full list of products here. Some popular efficiency purchases include Refrigerators, Clothes Washers/Dryers, Smart Thermostats and Room Air Conditioners. But if you don’t have the budget for big purchases right now, stick to something simpler, like light bulbs.

Use fans. Fans alone aren’t adequate in a heat wave, but they can be used with an air conditioner—so you don’t have to blast the AC. Run a ceiling fan counter-clockwise, from your position looking up at it, to create a downdraft, and make sure to turn off your fan when you leave the room. (Fans cool people, not rooms.)

Avoid hot tasks. Delay heat-producing tasks, such as dishwashing, baking, or laundry, until the cooler night or early morning hours. Consider grilling out to keep the kitchen from overheating and your AC from over-working. If grilling isn’t for you, make meals in the microwave.

Shut it down. Turn off and unplug extra appliances that produce more heat and make your home hotter (TV, computers, laptops, lights), and make sure to unplug your phone charger. Turn off lights in empty rooms. 

Use a smart power strip. For computers and entertainment systems a smart power strip can be helpful. These strips help you cut down energy costs associated with products that go into standby mode.

Important: Be safe! Don’t jeopardize your health to save money. If you get too hot, here are a few important safety tips:

Drink plenty of water. Sip about four to eight glasses of fluids a day, but avoid too much alcohol or caffeine, which promotes dehydration. If you need help remembering to keep hydrating throughout the day, set up reminders on your phone. Water Reminder is a great app available for free in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.  

Limit outdoor exposure. Take frequent breaks indoors or in the shade.

Never leave children and pets unattended in vehicles. A car’s interior can heat up by 40 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour, which can be dangerous or even deadly.

Take the edge off. For temporary relief, use a spray bottle filled with cool water to apply a refreshing mist on your face. Soak your feet in cool water. Place ice cubes, wrapped in a wet fabric, on your “pulse points,” where the blood vessels are close to the skin: wrists, neck, the insides of your elbows, the tops of your feet and the inside of the ankles.

Be a good neighbor. Make sure you and your neighbors have a safe and cool place to stay. Illinois opens free cooling centers in times of extreme heat (find out where they are here and here’s a list for Cook County). Many of those are open during business hours, although Tollway Oasis locations are open 24 hours a day. If a cooling center isn’t near you, remember shopping malls, movie theaters, public libraries and the homes of friends and family can be cool places of refuge.

If you want to read more, check out our Tips to Prepare Your Home for Summer, the Department of Energy’s summer tips, EnergyStar.gov and our Clean Energy page.