In the continuing series about decreasing utility bills, I want to talk about probably the biggest weapon in our war chest of frugality when it comes to our electric bill. Living in the southeast, I am acutely aware of of how miserable the weather can be with nearly 100% humidity and 90+ temperatures for weeks on end during the summer months. Not surprisingly, most houses and apartments here have central AC or at least several window units. Taking a stroll through our community on your average summer night one would see all the windows closed shut with a distinct humming noise coming from all the AC units sitting next to houses, usually behind a neat little fence as to not to offend the passerby with its unsightly mechanics.
Our next door neighbors are typical when it comes to the way many people use HVAC. Every year in early spring they flip the system switch from Heat to Cool letting the programmable thermostat keep the house temperature close to the ideal 70 degrees. In the fall, the switch is simply flipped back to Heat and the cycle repeats itself year after year. I have never seen a window open in the house next door, even on a nice cool comfortable day when the temperature ranges from 65 to 75 degrees. On most days, we fall asleep and wake up to the hum of their AC coming through our wide open bathroom window. Of course there is a possibility that they have a medical condition, such as allergies, requiring filtered air in the house. However, we personally know at least a couple of other families that are also “switch flippers” and they don’t suffer from any ailments.
Cooling a big house such as the one that we live in (3000+ sq. feet) is not cheap. We can easily rack up a $200+ monthly electric bill if we put the AC on 79 degrees and leave it on auto for a month. And 79 degrees is actually pretty warm according to some friends that visit and keep their own houses at around 70 degrees. I would not be surprised if their bills come in at close to $300 per month at that temperature!
I am happy to say that our average monthly electric bills are nowhere near $200 or (gasp) $300. We just celebrated the 4th of July and our AC has been on maybe 6 days total so far this season. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, several box fans are the weapon of choice to beat the heat, but there are other tricks that I’ve learned that I’ll share as well to maybe inspire you to give it a try this summer.
- First, I use 4 box fans strategically placed in windows throughout the house. These are the ones that you see in the picture above. One is a Lasko model like this one and all of them are your standard size 20″ box fans. It’s an interesting collection with one bought back in college to cool the dorm room, another added later for the first house, and the two other ones inherited from the relatives that were downsizing. The last two look like they are from the 1970s, but they are still working great! One goes in the master bedroom, another in son’s bedroom, third one in the attic and the fourth one downstairs in the living room or the kitchen depending on where we are.
- Every morning starts with me walking around the house, taking the fans out of the windows and closing all the windows and blinds. It took me some time to realize that leaving even one window blind up with the sun shining through it for 6 hours can raise the temperature inside the house significantly enough to be uncomfortable. If all windows and blinds are closed for a day, the house will get a bit stuffy with the AC off, but the temperature will usually rise only a few degrees from where it was in the morning.
- In the evening when the temperature starts going down, I open the windows on the shady side of the house and put the fans back in. After the sun sets, I open a couple of windows on the other side of the house to create cross ventilation.
- All fans are set up to blow the cooler outside air into the house. I also open the door to the attic and the attic windows to help the hot air escape since the hot air rises.
- Almost every room in the house has a ceiling fan and it is usually on if we are in that room. For example, in the master we’ll have the box fan going on the lowest setting the whole night sucking in the cooler outside air while the ceiling fan is creating a nice breeze throughout the whole room.
- Sometimes the house will not cool down below 80 degrees in the evening and going to bed can feel a bit uncomfortable. Taking a quick cool shower right before bed usually solves that problem as long as the ceiling fan is on.
- Our community has a pool and we often go there to get out of the heat. It’s amazing how much cooler the air feels after we get out of the pool and walk back home.
I’ve also figured out our family limits on box fan usage. I check the weather forecast every day and once it looks like the picture below, we shut the windows down and celebrate the AC set at a comfortable to us 79 degrees. It turns out that once the night temperatures consistently hover over 70 with the day temperatures over 90, the house does not cool down enough at night to stay comfortable.
This method has worked for 5 years now and it really does not feel like we are suffering during the warmer months at all. I actually prefer waking up in the morning with fresh air filling the room instead of the recirculated filtered AC air.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find another benefit of limiting our AC usage – we both feel like we can handle the heat better in general. When we hear people complaining that it’s too hot out to do anything, we nod, fill up our water bottles and go for a walk.
Happy box fanning!
* If you found this post interesting, you can read more in Box Fans Revisited.