Your Home: Don't Sweat It
As the mercury rises, so can the
costs of keeping your home cool. And while news reports about high energy prices may have
you in a sweat, the Federal Trade Commission has some tips to help you save money while
keeping your home cool this summer.
- Do an energy audit to help detect waste and gauge the efficiency of your current cooling
system. Your utility company may offer free or low-cost energy audits, or you can conduct
your own. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) offer
tips and checklists at www.homeenergysaver.lbl.gov.
The home "walk-through" can help you spot areas that need attention or problems
that, if fixed, could save you money. For example:
- Check your attic, attic stairway, attached garage walls and basement to make sure your
home is insulated to DOE-recommended levels for your geographic area. When inspecting and
buying home insulation products, look for the R-value. The higher the R-value, the greater
the insulating power.
- Have your central air conditioning (AC) system serviced each spring. Your utility
company may provide this service.
- Hire a professional to seal and insulate leaky ducts, and to ensure that the airflow
distribution system serving your equipment is operating at peak efficiency.
- Clean or replace AC and furnace filters once a month or as needed, and seal holes around
plumbing and heating pipes.
- Install a programmable thermostat. You can save money by keeping your house warmer than
normal when you're out, and keeping the setting at 78 F when you're home.
- Install drapes, shades, blinds or another window covering. Keeping them closed during
the day blocks the sun and the heat from the sun's rays.
- Consider replacing single-pane windows with double-pane windows with high-performance
glass. Look for low-emissivity (low-e) or spectrally selective glass. In warmer climates,
select windows with spectrally selective coatings to reduce heat gain. In colder climates,
select windows that are gas filled with low-e coatings on the glass to reduce heat loss.
- Open your foundation vents each spring if your home has a crawl space under it.
- Install ceiling fans. The air circulation promotes cooling in the summer and heating
efficiency in the winter.
- Prune back shrubs and remove debris, like grass and leaves, that may block airflow to
your air conditioner.
- Plant a tree. Landscaping is a natural way to shade your home. Well-placed trees and
shrubs not only deliver shade, but also add value to your property.
- Shade room air conditioners from direct sun to reduce their workload. Clean the filters
once a month and replace them as necessary to promote energy efficiency. Lower the setting
when you go out to reduce operating costs.
- Apply a reflective coating to your roof. Dull and dark-colored home exteriors absorb 70
to 90 percent of the sun's energy. Light-colored surfaces reflect most of the heat away
from your home.
If you're buying a new air conditioning system, make sure it is sized
correctly (bigger is not always better) and installed properly for cost-effective use.
When selecting a new unit, be sure to consider high-efficiency models. While energy
efficient appliances may cost more up front, they may save you money in the long run. To
compare models, check the black and yellow EnergyGuide labels, which the FTC requires on
most major appliances, including central and room air conditioners. The labels provide
useful information about products' energy efficiency and estimated annual operating costs.
Air conditioners with higher energy efficiency ratios are more energy efficient.
Ask your utility company about a budget billing plan to protect against
sudden or unexpected price increases. Your provider takes the amount of energy you use
during one year and divides your monthly payments into equal parts. At the end of the
season, you pay any outstanding balance or your provider credits any overpayment to your
next monthly bill.
- If you're on a fixed income and have trouble paying your utility bills, contact your
utility company. They, or your state or local government, may have energy assistance plans
to help you pay your energy bills.
Protecting Your Cold Cash
When energy prices rise, so does advertising for a host of energy-saving
products and services - including some that are overpriced or just plain bogus. Be wary of
devices, gadgets and energy-saving products that promise drastic reductions in home
cooling costs or extreme energy savings. For example:
- Read the energy-saving claims carefully and, if possible, get independent information
about a product's performance.
- Be wary of unsolicited offers from door-to-door salespeople and high pressure personal
or telephone sales pitches from contractors offering air conditioning systems, windows,
roofing, and other home improvement projects.
- Make sure that a contractor is licensed and reputable: Ask your friends and neighbors
for referrals; ask the contractor for customer references; and check out potential
contractors with the Better Business Bureau, state and local consumer protection
officials, and your state licensing agency. The FTC's Cooling-Off Rule gives you three
business days to cancel a contract if you sign it in your home or at a location other than
the contractor's permanent place of business.
For More Information
Call the FTC toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or visit www.ftc.gov, to get the free publications: Heating and Cooling Your Home, How
to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home Appliance, and Home
Insulation Basics: Higher R-Values = Higher Insulating Values.
DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network is a clearinghouse of
energy-efficiency information. Find it online at www.eren.doe.gov;
call toll-free, 1-800-DOE-EREC (1-800-363-3732) (TDD: 1-800-273-2957); or write to U.S.
Department of Energy B EREC, PO Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER