Summer is the season of spending. Even if you aren’t planning beach vacations, road trips, and new bathing suits, you probably can’t go too long without blasting pricey air conditioning directly into your face.
Energy, water, and other utility bills can really soak up a summer budget. Looking for a few smart ways to curb some of that spending this season? Here are a few cool tips, tricks, and gadgets that can get you through the sweatiest, spendiest months.
1. Install a smart thermostat and start saving
Smart thermostats have been heating up the smart-home category for quite some time. These gadgets can connect to any home network, allowing users to tweak comfort levels from across the house or across the world. It’s the ultimate convenience, and it can save you money.
The makers of the popular Nest Learning Thermostat ($219) claim the product can shave as much as $145 a year off electric and heating bills. That means the product can pay for itself in less than two years. If your utility company is one of the many that offers rebates and discounts just for installing a smart thermostat, you can save even more.
The Nest is particularly popular because it saves energy through remote control, Home and Away modes that save power while you're gone, Amazon Alexa voice control, and learning features that will automatically adjust temperatures based on your behavior.
If you want to monitor temperatures in more than one room, we recommend the Ecobee3 ($199). This smart thermostat comes packaged with one remote sensor, which can monitor temperature and motion in a separate room, and adjust heating or cooling accordingly. With the ability to support up to 32 sensors, the company says this method can save customers an average of 23 percent on utility costs.
Tip: Enable your smart thermostat’s Away feature, so it will automatically go into an energy-saving mode when you leave the house. No programming is needed!
2. Tell your AC to chill out
Air conditioners use about 6 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States. It may be hard to cut cooling during those sweltering months, but there are ways to keep costs and usage down.
First, think about using a fan, which can not only supplement air conditioning, but also keep that cool air circulating. The Haiku Home L Series from Big Ass Fans (starts at $597) has built-in sensors that adjust fan speeds based on the room's temperature, humidity, and occupancy. Users can also make manual tweaks remotely using an app, as well as voice commands via Amazon Alexa.
Also, if you opt for window AC, choose wisely. Look for an Energy Star label, which promises that the product will use about 10 percent less energy than a standard model. The Frigidaire Cool Connect ($299) has that, as well as Wi-Fi support, so you can create schedules or turn the unit on and off remotely using your smartphone. That way, you won’t have to keep the AC running all day to have it comfortable when you get home from work.
Tip: When installing a window air-conditioning unit, properly cover the area between the AC and the window—and secure it with duct tape! Air leakage can increase your energy costs by as much as 10 percent!
3. Make your plugs smart, too
If you already have an AC unit or fan you like, it’s easy to add new features with a smart plug. These devices plug into any outlet, adding remote control and scheduling options from smartphones and tablets paired with an app.
For instance, if you plug your window AC unit into the Belkin Wemo Mini ($29.99), you can turn the unit on and off from iOS and Android devices. You can also pair this model with the Nest Learning Thermostat ($219), so the Wemo will shut down fans when the house goes into Away mode. If you want to monitor how much energy that AC unit or anything else in the house is using, opt for the iDevices Switch ($41). This smart plug has all of the same remote control and scheduling options as the other plugs, but can keep tabs on energy hogs through the iDevices app.
Tip: If you opt to pair a smart plug with an air-conditioning unit, make sure that AC has a mechanical switch versus a digital one, which defaults to the off position when power is cut.
4. Close the shades when it's bright out
The sun is a great source of free heat in the winter. However, it can make a room unbearable in those summer months. Motorized shades and blinds can help with that.
These products allow you to open and close window coverings at the touch of a button. Some motorized shades have smart features, so you can actually program the system to open and close at set times as the sun moves across the sky, or to adapt to real-time weather conditions. Lutron, Somfy, Hunter Douglas, and Pella all have excellent solutions. However, if you want to go the DIY route, the MySmartBlinds kit ($99) can remotely tilt Venetian blinds using Bluetooth. It even has a solar panel option, so you won’t have to worry about batteries or cords.
Tip: Motorized window shades can save you money on more than just electricity; this solution can actually save furniture from sun damage.
5. Save water with an automated lawn sprinkler
No one likes a brown lawn, but getting up early to turn on the sprinkler is also no fun. That's why you may want to look into a smart watering system that can water the lawn at predetermined times.
Smart sprinklers can also adjust based on weather conditions, seasons, water bans, and even your specific soil. The Rachio ($199.99), the RainMachine Touch HD-12 ($239), and the Orbit 57950 B-hyve ($115) provide remote control watering, as well as updates based on local conditions. If you want to tie the system into other areas of the home, the Orbit works with Amazon Alexa and the RainMachine can integrate with Alexa, Nest, Wink, and SmartThings through IFTTT (“If This Then That”). The Rachio also offers support for Alexa, Nest, and IFTTT, as well as Google Assistant.
Tip: Don’t set your system to water while you sleep; nighttime watering can promote mildew and fungus.
6. Get sensors to turn the lights off when you're not home
Smart lighting is one of the best ways to keep costs down—all year round. Installing something as simple as Lutron Maestro Room Occupancy Sensors ($19.99) can save energy (and money), ensuring that lights aren't left on in rooms that aren’t occupied.
For something slightly more high-tech, the Philips Hue starter kit ($69.99) lets you turn lights on and off remotely. You can even set schedules so you never have to enter a dark house, or tell the lights to turn on and off while you’re away. As an added bonus, the system also works with Amazon Alexa, so you can bark out commands to douse the lights from under the covers.
Tip: Only 10 to 15 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in actual light—the rest is turned into heat. Seek out energy-efficient options, such as LED.