Heat adds unwanted stress to budgets, KY offers tips

Kentucky's temperatures are forecast to top out at or above 100 degrees for the next few days. With thousands of Kentuckians trying to keep cool, the heat wave is dangerous for anyone in affected areas, especially the elderly and ill.

The heat also can add unwanted stress to family budgets. The Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence (DEDI) urges Kentuckians to take precautions to protect not only their health and safety, but also their pocketbook.

"Improving home energy efficiency can help consumers stay cooler for less – saving 20 percent or more on the cooling portion of a homeowner's bill," said John Davies, deputy commissioner of DEDI. "Simple techniques, such as strategically opening and closing blinds or windows at the right time can offer greater comfort; keeping your central air conditioning equipment serviced can make it run more efficiently. And investments in sealing or insulating your home, or replacing old equipment can not only offer savings today, but pay for themselves over time."

The following no-cost or low-cost tips are easy ways to save energy and money:

  • Use a programmable thermostat so that you can automatically set temperatures back when no one is home.
  • Set your air conditioner thermostat to 78 degrees and use fans to circulate air.
  • If using room air conditioners, close off the rooms without AC and stay in the room that has cooling.
  • Lower hot water heater thermostats — 115 degrees is comfortable for most uses.
  • Take showers instead of baths to reduce hot water use.
  • Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
  • Do not place lamps or televisions near air conditioning thermostat; the heat from these appliances will cause the air conditioner to run longer.

For more ideas about saving energy, visit Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet Web site, http://www.energy.ky.gov, or go to http://energystar.gov.

More substantial changes to your home can help you save even more. For the do-it-yourselfer, it requires only minimal costs and time. For others, you may need to seek a professional. Typical areas where you can realize the greatest return on investment is to seal your heating and cooling ducts; seal the envelope of your home; and replacing an older air conditioner with an Energy Star qualified unit can result in savings up to 50 percent on cooling bills.

Low-income households can contact their local Community Action Agency – if the household qualifies – to perform an energy evaluation and install many of these energy saving measures for free. To find a local agency, see communityactionky.org or call 800-456-3452. For everyone else, there is KY Home Performance. They provide a network of pre-screened, certified home energy evaluators and contractors that have experience in making your home operate more efficiently. Visit online KyHomePerformance.org or call 877-741-4306. The program offers simple, low-interest, unsecured loans to help finance the work.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission also recommends homeowners contact their electric or gas utility. Many offer home energy audit programs at little or no cost. These can identify ways to reduce energy usage. Some utilities also offer rebates or similar incentives for the purchase of high-efficiency central air conditioning systems. Anyone needing to replace an HVAC system should check with their electric utility to see what's available (same rebates also may be available for water heaters or other appliances).

Finally, save all receipts and documentation; certain Energy Star equipment purchases are eligible for tax credits. Ask a qualified tax expert for details.