Money-saving tips as temps rise and so does your utility bill

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Katharine Halpin likes to keep her house cool.

“We have to be cool,” she said while taking us through her historic Phoenix home, “a woman of a certain age has to be cool.”

But with the temperatures rising possibly as high as 98 degrees this week, keeping things cool will be a bit more of a challenge – and much more expensive.

“Having a strategy will help you save money,” says Mike Donley, owner of Donley Service Center.

The first thing to do, he says, “Flip your air conditioning on to make sure it’s working.”

For those with older units, you want to make sure there aren’t any problems. Find out now before it gets into the triple digits here in Arizona.  “That way you won’t have an emergency when it’s 110 degrees,” says Donley.
Or think about upgrading to a programmable unit. Donley says the short term cost will really pay off in the long run.

What else can you do to keep your air conditioning bill under control?

Donley says raise the thermostat, “For every degree you raise your thermostat,” he explains, “you save 3 to 4 percent in air conditioning energy costs.”  

“The rule of thumb,” he told us, “is 4 to 6 degrees during the day.”

But Donley says perhaps the most important thing a homeowner can do is change the filter every 30 days.  He suggests buying a bunch of the more inexpensive filters so you have them handy.

Katharine Halpin does keep a stack of filters at her house and she’s learned to change them herself. One thing she can do to cut down on her overall cost – which will be climbing in the coming months. “In April it’s our lowest month at about $150 and then in the summer it can get to be like $390.”

While Halpin has lived in the valley for many years and is used to a price spike in the summer, she says it’s never easy to part with that much money every month. After all, she told us, “It’s not like you got a weekend in San Diego for your $400!”

3 On Your Side also recommends if you are going to hire a contractor to help with your air conditioning unit, make sure you check them out first. You need to know who it is that you are letting into your home. Are they registered? Do they have a license number? You can go to the Better Business Bureau http://www.bbb.org/ or you can check on a contractor by visiting the Heat Pump Council. http://www.electricleagueofarizona.org/.

Below we’ve posted more tips from the Electric League of Arizona:
10 No Cost Energy-Saving Tips
1. Switch off dishwasher dry cycle.
2. Run dishwashers just before bedtime and unload the next day to help shave peak demand.
3. Do laundry later in the evening to help shave peak demand.
4. Use cold-water cycle for more clothes.
5. Clean air filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation or line-dry clothes.
6. Lower hot water temperature if you never experience hot water shortages.
7. Unplug infrequently used televisions and DVD Players.
8. Shorten pumping cycle on pool and shift to off-peak time.
9. Close drapes or blinds in unoccupied rooms, keeping the heat in during winter and the hot sun out in summer.
10. Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer.
"Phantom Energy" Adds to Electric Bills
While Arizonans are going "green," becoming more mindful of recycling, reusing grocery bags, cutting fuel use and switching to more energy-saving appliances and other products, "phantom energy" may take tiny bits of energy from electric outlets in their homes and offices.
According to the Arizona Department of Commerce's Energy Office, they are known as "phantom" loads, and may include electrical cords for appliances, device chargers, electronics and other items left plugged in that sap energy, even if they are turned off or not in use. The most likely culprits are appliances that power clocks or timers and/or can be turned on or off with a remote control. "Phantom" loads are estimated to account for 10% of household power-consumption.
The solution is simple:
•    Unplug products that are rarely used. The best example is the television and VCR in the second guest room.
•    Use a power strip with a switch to control clusters of products. The most likely targets are computer clusters (PC, display, printer, scanner, speakers, wireless transmitter, etc.), video clusters (TV, DVD player, powered speakers, game consoles, etc.), audio clusters (receiver, amplifier, CD players, etc.). Be sure to keep the set-top box and modem on a separate circuit to avoid loss of connection.
•    Buy low-standby products. This sounds like reasonable advice but it's nearly impossible to follow because few products list their standby power use. Most Energy Star endorsed products have lower standby.