(800) 669-5556


Tips for fighting high summer electric bills

Climate change is a threat to our health and safety, and also our bottom lines. A CUB study found that increasingly hot weather will cause ComEd customers to pay an additional $10.9 billion on their electric bills over the next 30 years. 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 an online home energy assessment to all customers and an in-home assessment to income-eligible customers. Ameren offers an assessment to income-eligible customers. You can get tips for reducing your energy costs, and receive money-saving products, such as LEDs and efficient showerheads. MidAmerican offers a free online assessment. Get more information about efficiency programs from Ameren, ComEd and MidAmerican, and visit CUB’s Clean Energy page.

Make sure your AC is sized properly for the space to be cooled. Contrary to popular belief, a larger unit will not cool a room better. A properly-sized AC unit will be more efficient, and it will keep the space at a constant temperature and a comfortable humidity level.

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 your AC is  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. LEDs use at least 75% less energy than incandescent 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.)

Replace the old thermostat. If you want more control of your energy bills this summer, replace your old thermostat with a programmable one. Even better, get a smart thermostat, which can cut your heating and cooling costs by up to 20 percent.

Avoid hot tasks. Delay heat-producing tasks, such as dishwashing, baking, or laundry, until the cooler night or early morning hours. (Postponing heavy energy use until the night or early morning also can help you save money, if you’re on real-time pricing programs offered by Ameren and ComEd.) 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.

Other cooking tips: If you do have to cook with a traditional oven and stovetop, check on your food through the oven window and try to keep the oven door closed. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside drops, forcing the oven to exert even more energy. On the stovetop, match the size of the pot to the burners. More heat will get to the pot and less will be lost to the surrounding air. Also, clean your burners to ensure they’re working effectively.

Shut it down. Even when electronic devices are powered off, many are still using electricity if they are plugged in. This is called vampire power or phantom load, which can account for 25 percent of a product’s electric usage on average. 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. Leaving your smartphone plugged in to a charger overnight not only wastes electricity, but it also strains the batteries over time. 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.

Clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator. Also, make sure the door seals are airtight. (Close the door on a piece of paper. You should feel tension when you pull it out.)

Turn down your water heater. Lower the temperature to the warm setting (120 degrees). You can also have hot water pipe insulation installed, or cover your hot water heater with an insulating blanket.

Reduce water waste. There are opportunities to cut your water bills too.

  • Use a low-flow showerhead which can reduce your home’s water consumption (and the energy used to heat that water) by nearly 50 percent. (See if your gas, electric or water utility offers low-flow showerheads for free.)
  • Run the dishwasher only if it’s fully loaded. Turn the heated drying selection off.
  • Use a rain barrel, which allows you to collect water to reuse for watering your lawn (which only requires about 2 inches of water per week). Check if your community offers rain barrels for free or purchase.

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.

Additional Resources