The heat of an Arizona summer – with temperatures reaching 110°F and above – can be enough to drive the thought of energy savings from one’s mind. Our modern electrical grids and homes are designed to keep inhabitants comfortable, and during a heat wave, the ability to cool down is a priceless luxury. Arizona natives will tell you tales of sleeping under wetted sheets, cold showers, and hopelessly trying to keep the doors shut when children are at play to capture every little bit of cool. After all, the cost of keeping one’s house comfortable and cool with air conditioning can be rather high. Thankfully, there are solutions that will help you to keep your home cool while saving energy. The best solution is a balance between an affordable energy plan and making some renovations around the house. Let’s start by looking at alternative pricing plans here in Phoenix.
Alternative pricing plans
Living in the Phoenix metropolitan area, you are serviced by one of two energy providers: Arizona Public Service Company or Salt River Project. Both utilities understand that the heat of an Arizona summer creates an extremely high demand on the electrical grid as consumers turn down their thermostats. Electricity generation costs soar to meet peak demand, and the risk of brownouts and blackouts are high. Therefore, energy prices for customers are highest during the summer months.
Both APS and SRP offer alternative pricing plans for customers that want to cut down on usage during peak hours and save money. Depending on the plan one signs up for, the price per kilowatt hour fluctuates during on- and off-peak times. This ensures that customers pay less for using electricity during off-peak hours. These plans aim to decrease peak demand, but in doing so, customers must be strategic about planning to stay cool in those peak hours with less electricity.
One strategic method to cut down on usage during the peak hours of your savings plan is to turn down the thermostat during off-peak hours. By “supercooling” the house to 68-72 degrees while electricity is cheapest, then raising it to 80 degrees when peak usage prices kick in, the house will already be cool and it will some time for the air conditioner to turn back on at the higher thermostat setting. Most modern homes come equipped with a programmable thermostat that can help you enact this strategy.
Things You Can Do
A basic energy audit is a great way to start looking at the areas of your home that are losing energy and costing you money. Some easy things to investigate are appliances, lighting and landscaping. Once you have adequately assessed your home, you should develop a plan which outlines your spending budget, greatest energy losses, and a timeline of fixing the issues you encountered, and whether or not you need to hire outside contractors to help complete the job. You can hire professionals to come into your house and perform energy audits for an affordable price, and for certain areas of the home like insulation and heating and cooling equipment, hiring a professional is highly recommended.
Here are some other recommendations to help lower your energy usage.
Turn It Off!
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality recommends unplugging items that are not in use to prevent “phantom” loads, or even investigating certain appliances like televisions, entertainment consoles, and desktops to see if they have power saving settings. Remember to turn off lights before leaving the room!
Energy Efficient Lighting
Lighting can account for approximately 10-12% of your electric bill as estimated by the ADEQ and the Department of Energy, and therefore should not be taken lightly – pun intended. Consider replacing old incandescent bulbs with newer, energy-efficient bulbs like energy-saving incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps, or light emitting diodes. Different lighting solutions will produce different results. For example, LEDs produce a brighter light with an almost bluish hue, whereas incandescent bulbs produce a yellowish, warmer type of light. Always check the product label for energy efficiency certifications.
Strategic Shading and Landscaping
The DOE estimates that up to 30% of a home’s energy can be lost through windows, and about 76% sunlight passing through a window becomes heat. Installing energy efficient windows and window attachments like blinds, blackout curtains, roller shades, and window films help to keep sunlight out during the hottest times of the day and ensure that your house isn’t heating up when it should be staying cool.
Another more labor intensive option is landscaping. Trees, vines and other foliage provide shade while also performing a process called evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the process by which plants move and release water vapor. This process can help to keep your yard cooler. Deciduous trees have high spreading crowns and should be used to provide maximum shade in the summer. Evergreens should be used to block wind and provide year-round shading. Lattices and vines can be utilized to create a cool and serene walkway or path through the yard.
Cameron Schultz is a college intern in the Safety Services department at SRP.