I've noticed my summer electric bill creeping up. Do you have any suggestions about cutting cooling costs? - Henrietta Hot
Dear Ms. Hot: Each summer, I write a column about this subject, but information becomes a bit more updated with each passing year. So on with the old and the new, compliments of power companies' advice.
• Check out your air conditioner. Be particularly alert to holes or cracks in the ductwork, which can cause about 20 percent air leakage. Cover the openings with duct sealant, tape, or caulk. Also, using a garden hose, spray debris off outdoor condenser-unit coils. (If dirty, these coils can eat up more than 30 percent more energy.) Don't forget to change the filters monthly or at least every other month.
• Increase the AC's efficiency. To save 5 to 15 percent on your bills, set the temp to 78 when you're home and turn it back up to 88 when you leave for at least eight hours daily. Programmable thermostats allow you to set the AC to turn on right before you arrive home to enter a cool house; then you can turn it back up when you leave for the day. (Even though most experts say to leave ceiling fans on constantly in order to help maintain coolness, an epb representative once told me it's a money-waster. Go figure...)
• Consider installing a ceiling fan. Speaking of ceiling fans, if you're not too terribly hot-natured, the difference in expense of using each can be astronomical. The average ceiling fan uses 100 watts of power an hour and costs about $9 monthly; a central AC uses 3,500 watts per hour and costs about $300 per month. Be sure the fan blades rotate counterclockwise in the summer and, additionally, unplug - don't just turn off - appliances you're not using since current creates heat. An extra tidbit of advice for a cooler room is to place a bowl of ice cubes in front of a non-ceiling fan so the frostier air blows, blows, blows.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday. Email her at consumer firstname.lastname@example.org.