Streamlining Energy and Electricity Use for Summer - New York City, New York
When the leaves are back on the trees and the flowers in the garden are in full bloom, you know that summer is on its way. You know what that means: bright sun, rising mercury and spending extra time outside. Just as winter brings challenges to the American energy infrastructure, summer brings its own, unique challenges. Here are some things you need to think about between warm June and chilly October.
With so many hot and muggy days to deal with, air conditioning is in the forefront of most people's minds during the summer. If you think about it, air conditioning was an important invention because it expanded the boundaries of comfortable living. Areas such as the Southwest experience extreme summer temperatures, and the growing population has been encouraged by the prospect that, even if it's unpleasant outside, people can work and sleep in much more temperate conditions. Unfortunately, air conditioning uses a great deal of energy, particularly if your home is equipped with central air. This added electricity demand puts a strain on the energy infrastructure.
During summer, some geographic areas experience electricity interruptions because of this extra strain. In August of 2003, a stress-induced blackout caused millions of Americans and Canadians to lose power completely. In order to prevent areas of the power grid from becoming under- or over-supplied, regulatory agencies sometimes institute rolling blackouts. These are planned outages for a specified amount of time in a specific area. Instead of losing power completely for an undetermined length of time, customers rotate, losing power for eight hours a day, for example. This also ensures that the grid doesn't suffer a more uncontrolled failure. Fortunately, power regulators around the nation only use rolling blackouts as a measure of last resort.
The summer brings another concern: heat-related deaths. Between 1999 and 2003, extreme heat caused 3,442 deaths. Reducing the amount of electricity you use alleviates stress on the power grid, ensuring that heat-sensitive people have the juice they need to run their fans and air conditioners.
There is also a lot that you can do to streamline your home's energy efficiency during those long, hot summer months. First of all, if you have central air conditioning, get a programmable electronic thermostat. This gives you a lot of control over the temperature of your home. You can program the air conditioning or fan to work harder when you're at home and ease up when you're not. Using a ceiling fan is a good idea as well. It consumes less energy than your central air and keeps the cool air circulating around where you can enjoy it. Remember, things that are cold want to sink, so the fan can keep upper floors of your home as cool as lower ones. The intake and exhaust vents of your cooling system can also get clogged, limiting their efficiency. Clear or replace these each month.
Consider using a one-room, window-mounted air conditioner in your bedroom instead of cooling your entire home. Either way, you should try to run the A/C less during the night, when all you're doing is sleeping.
Make nature work for you. The searing summer sunlight that comes through your windows can heat your house a lot. Keep curtains drawn over east-facing windows in the morning and west-facing windows in the evening. If the night is unexpectedly cool, keep the windows open overnight and sleep to a good, old-fashioned breeze.
Your refrigerator works overtime during the summer, and this consumes a great deal of electricity. To improve the efficiency of your refrigerator and freezer, keep it as fully stocked as you can. When filled with nice, cold food and drink, the appliance will not have to turn itself on quite so often. If you like drinking ice water and don't have an icemaker, reuse plastic juice bottles by filling them with water and keeping them in the freezer. When you're in the mood for a cool sip, you have a ready supply waiting for you.
When you think about winter, you think about sealing up your home to ensure that the warm air doesn't get out. The reverse is true in the summer. To keep the cool air inside your home, be sure to verify that the weather-stripping on your doors is not cracked or broken. If you have older windows, invest in newer double- or triple-pane models that will block UV rays from heating up your house. These windows will also insulate your home, reducing the amount of cool air you lose to the heat outside.
Even though the summer sometimes seems to last forever, before you know it, the days will grow shorter and it will be time to worry about optimizing your home for winter again.