Energy adviser: Play it cool this summer

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Keeping your home comfortable can be tricky when the average Pacific Northwest temperatures can swing 30 degrees or the heat stalls out in the high 90s or above like we've experienced this week.

Undoubted you've learned to expect a bump in your utility bill during the hottest months,July through September. But cooling your home is less costly than heating for the winter.

"Air conditioning isn't as costly as customers may think, and for many it's a worthwhile investment," said DuWayne Dunham, energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities.

Running central air conditioning or a heat pump on hot summer days can cool an average-size house for an extra $1 to $1.50 per day. Using a 1,100-kilowatt air conditioner — one large enough to cool one 10-foot-by-10-foot room — for five hours per day, will run homeowners about $13 per month.

Maintaining your equipment helps reduce cost too. If your central air conditioning or heat pump hasn't been tuned up for a couple of years, you might want to consider scheduling one. The tune-up should include checking refrigerant levels and recharging the chemical if needed; checking for leaks; cleaning, oiling and inspecting the motor; checking the cooling coils and changing or cleaning the air filter. Outside, make sure the heat pump unit is clear of grass, debris, leaves and shrubs. The unit needs four to five feet of clear space around it to draw air properly.

If your central air conditioning unit is more than a dozen years old, Energy Star suggests replacing it with a more efficient Energy Star model. Doing so could cut your cooling costs by 30 percent.

Running the central air system on the "fan" setting creates a draft so you feel cooler. An added bonus is that the indoor air is being filtered as it circulates. Also, setting your air conditioner or heat pump thermostat to cool at 76 to 78 degrees or higher saves you energy and money.

No air conditioning? There are still ways to stay cool.

• Use portable or ceiling fans to create cooling drafts. A ceiling fan running six hours a day for a month adds just 90 cents to your bill and can make you feel several degrees cooler.

• Air out your rooms in the early morning and late evening to create a draft that will keep you cooler. Before the morning heats up, close the curtains on the south- and west-facing windows. If you have small children in the house, however, remember that open windows are safety hazards, especially on second floors, so take care to keep kids safe (search "window" at http://nsc.org for advice).

• Think shade. Place awnings or shades on the outside of south- and west-facing windows.

• Proper landscaping helps. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home reduces the sunlight hitting it. This also makes it easier on an air conditioner.

• Adequate insulation helps both heating and cooling. Insulation in the ceiling or attic can help slow the transfer of heat into the home when it's hot outside. With adequate levels of insulation, you can probably get through a couple of consecutive hot days with minimal air conditioning.

Check the utility website for more tips and remember to check on elderly neighbors and friends during bouts of extreme heat to be sure they're safe.

Clark Public Utilities offers financial incentives to add or replace an existing heat pump, and to make other energy-related home improvements, including insulation and weatherization. In addition, homeowners may qualify for a federal income tax credit. Contact a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor at 360-992-3355 for the latest information.

Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.