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Battling the heat and the bill

How to cut cooling costs

Rising summer temperatures set the stage for a battle between you and your energy bills. There is hope for victory in the form of tips that will not only keep you cool, but save money, too.

Blaine Rekken, energy services supervisor for Nodak Electric Cooperative in Grand Forks, believes it is the little changes that can save a lot. Inside the home, for example, he suggests keeping curtains and blinds closed. "Most homes lose heat through the windows, not the walls."

He and Bonnie Lund, an Xcel Energy representative in Grand Forks, also say cleaning and maintaining air conditioners will make them more efficient.

Below are some more ideas to save on energy:

- Use awnings to keep windows cool and prevent heat from transferring into the home.

- Open windows later in the evening to bring in cool air. "Take advantage of the cool outdoor temperatures," said Lund.

- "Turn off the lights when you leave a room," said Lund.

Shutting off the lights in empty rooms does more than keep your electricity bill down and your home cool. Xcel Energy website calculates that if customers reduced their home electricity use by 15 percent each year, each would see an annual savings of $80 a year, 500 pounds of coal and CO2 emissions equal to the amount emitted by a car driven 1,400 miles.

- Use ceiling and standing fans to circulate cool air. They use less energy than air conditioning units.

- Cook outside as much as possible. "It's less heat you have to remove from your house by running an air conditioner," Rekken said.

- Air-dry dishes and clothes instead of running dishwashers and laundry appliances to cut down on heat production and energy consumption.

Rekken calculated that a customer using 5 kilowatt-hours per load of laundry could save 50 cents each load. "It may not sound like a lot to some," he said. "If you do multiple loads each time you do laundry, it starts adding up."

- Use a programmable thermostat. Set higher temperatures during the day when no one is home and at night when it's naturally cooler. Set for lower temperatures before the end of the work day so you can come home to a cool house.

- Maintain your heating and cooling system. Be sure your ductwork and furnace fan are clean. Dust and debris can cause obstructions and slow down the air traveling though the ducts. A dirty fan will not work as efficiently and will cost more to operate.

Remove dust and other debris from coils to ensure the air conditioner is efficient.

Outdoor central air units should have one to two feet of space in each direction. Lund suggests shading the unit as well to keep the units' coils cool.

When buying central air units look for ones with high efficiency ratings, she said. "Some companies are offering rebates of $200 per ton" on these units right now.

- Sign up for savings programs offered by some utility companies. Lund said Xcel offers a savers switch program. Customers can switch to a high efficiency central air unit and receive free installation on the unit. Xcel then determines the unit's operation cycle, switching it on and off at their discretion. In exchange for control of the unit, they offer the participating customer 15 percent off their energy bills from June until September.

- Ensure you have adequate insulation. Rekken says check the R-value of your insulation, recommending R-49 for attics and R-13 for walls.

Select windows with Low-E coating, which decrease the amount of heat transferred through the window.

- "Use landscaping to cool your home," said Rekken. Trees provide plenty of shade that can keep a home's inside temperature comfortable, he said.

Reach Jewett at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 736; or send e-mail to