Personal Finance

4 ways to save on cooling costs as a dangerous heat wave grips millions of Americans

Key Points
  • Millions of Americans are battling scorching temperatures as the country faces a dangerous heat wave.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. residents are expected to pay about 2% more for electricity this summer, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts. 
  • Experts cover four ways to save money on cooling costs this summer.
The sun sets behind power lines near homes during a heat wave in Los Angeles, Sept. 6, 2022.
Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images

As millions of Americans across the country grapple with scorching heat, experts are offering tips for saving money amid record-breaking temperatures.

Despite falling inflation, electricity prices remain elevated with a 5.9% annual increase in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This summer, Americans are expected to pay about 2% more for electricity compared with last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts

"This is one of those difficult times where staying cool is not just a matter of comfort and convenience — it can be a health and safety issue," said Bruce McClary, a senior vice president of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. 

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McClary said the heat wave is particularly concerning for warmer parts of the U.S., where summertime energy bills are already higher. For cash-strapped consumers, larger-than-expected electric bills can sometimes be the "tipping point" into a financial crisis, he said.

With lingering triple-digit temperatures in some parts of the country, here are some of the best ways to save on cooling expenses, according to experts.

1. Increase your thermostat

One of the top ways to save on home-cooling costs is to bump up your thermostat, according to Mary Farrell, a senior editor with Consumer Reports. While your savings may depend on many factors, she said that changing the setting by even a few degrees can mean substantial savings.

You can save up to 10% per year on both cooling and heating by adjusting your thermostat seven to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

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2. Minimize heat gain

It's also critical to reduce your home's "radiant heat gain" by closing the blinds or curtains for sun-facing windows and keeping the doors shut, said Arcadio Padilla, complex issues supervisor for Texas-based Reliant Energy.

While it's nice to have natural light, it brings too much heat into the home during the summer, he said. "And that's our enemy right now."

3. Optimize your airflow

Another wallet-friendly option is to check on your system's airflow. "Air conditioners use more energy when they have to work harder," said Adam Cooper, Edison Electric Institute's managing director of customer solutions. 

Cooper said replacing dirty air filters reduces energy consumption 5% to 15%, and you can make sure the system is working efficiently with regular tuneups and keeping debris clear from the unit outside.

4. Check your thermostat setting

For high-humidity areas, Padilla from Reliant Energy also recommends keeping your thermostat on the "auto" setting rather than "on" or "circulate."

"We don't want to introduce more humidity," he said, so if you have a smart thermostat, it's critical to turn off the circulate function.