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20 ways to REALLY reduce your summer utility bills

Fred Winsol

Joined: May 22, 2011
Posts: 155
Location: Sierras
Thanks - yes - I am very familiar with those.  They can keep food marginally cool but really suck up the electricity.  Thermoelectric diodes i believe is what they use.  i even tried one of those fridges and it was a joke.... even that kept things marginally at 45F.

The best solution I've found is an ice maker powered by solar panels in the middle of a summer day.  Next summer i will add a couple solar PV panels and try one of the new 'efficient' freezers and try freezing water bottles... that's what seems to work with a lot of people. 

I personally don't care for the expensive SunFrost fridges that use propane which is how many off-grid people go.

Life is too important to take seriously.
Rita Vail

Joined: Feb 28, 2010
Posts: 61
Location: Ashland. Oregon
@winsol3 - Thank you. Sorry to hear that, but you just saved me some money. One reason I wanted to try the car cooler was for traveling, because I sometimes spent too much money on a room if it had a fridge in the room. I will have to start carrying a cooler big enough for ice, I guess. As it turns out, I have almost quit traveling anyway.

I would really like to work out getting along without solar panels and batteries. Now I am thinking about making a big wooden box that can be moved, insulating it well, and keeping a cooler in it with ice for lettuce and greens. The big box would be primarily for food storage. We had a lot of days around 110 this summer and I worried about the seeds and oils especially.

I had a small freezer and it wasn't too bad to freeze gel packs (or jars of water) and put them in the cooler, except for when I was away too long. It was a good experiment, though, because I found out that my fridge didn't seem to raise my electric bill by more than a couple of dollars. My bill tends to stay under $28, even in summer with fans going constantly and lots of computer time. I didn't use hot water (the cold was plenty warm). So it was just for fans, fridge, laptop charging and the hot plate once in awhile. And lights sometimes, but not usually. Oh yeah - and the blender each morning. It would be really tough to live here without fans. Everything else I could let go of.

Its the heat from the fridge that bothers me more than the cost now. I will have to make the zeer pot idea work.

We had a low of 47 last night. Unbelievable. I am freezing, but at least my stored food has now cooled down.
Melba Corbett

Joined: Apr 23, 2011
Posts: 164
Location: North Carolina
I sometimes put out a kid's wading pool, fill with water out of the hand pump near the porch, and take my bath in late afternoon when the water is sun heated to a nice warm temp.  Then, after it cools down by next morning, I use it to water the garden located near there.  I always use a mild soap like castille which should not hurt the plants, or sometimes no soap at all, as I just need to rinse the perspiration off from working out in the hot daytime temps in the garden.  Most people use too much soap on their skin which dries out the natural oils.  My property is heavily wooded and secluded from neighbors, but not on one side and on that side I put up a couple of metal posts, string a clothesline and throw a sheet over it for privacy. 

My house is on a slab, and a spring is under the kitchen floor so it is naturally cool all summer anyway indoors.  It might get up to 93 degrees outside and is always a nice 70 degrees inside.  Winter it never freezes either, even though it might get minus 5 degrees outside. 

I do cook outside as much as possible in the summer, and would love an outdoor canning kitchen/bath house/laundry room.  In fact, my husband is building one for me now! 

Wild Edible & Medicinal Plant classes, & DVDs
Live in peace, walk in beauty, love one another.
Rita Vail

Joined: Feb 28, 2010
Posts: 61
Location: Ashland. Oregon
Red Cloud - lucky woman!
Jackson Barnett

Joined: Apr 21, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: Foothills of SW Maine - Zone 5a

I just found this site: Sustainable Energy - without the hot air. Fascinating...

"...for any renewable facility to make an appreciable contribution – a contribution at all comparable to our current consumption – it has to be country-sized. To provide one quarter of our current energy consumption by growing energy crops, for example, would require 75% of Britain to be covered with biomass plantations. To provide 4% of our current energy consumption from wave power would require 500 km of Atlantic coastline to be completely filled with wave farms. Someone who wants to live on renewable energy, but expects the infrastructure associated with that renewable not to be large or intrusive, is deluding himself..."

Be Well and Happy... It's more fun!
P Thickens

Joined: Jan 15, 2012
Posts: 177
Location: Bay Area, California (z8)
Use wind to cool hot areas:

Slap a vertical trellis up in the path of the hottest winds -- begin it a foot from the ground; it should be no less than 6 feet tall. Once your chosen vines are tall enough, trim the leaves from the bottom foot. The wind running underneath will be cooled by the shade/dampness of the vines -- lovely on bare feet! Even better with misters (ducks and hummingbirds love them).

Cook only at night, so the open house can release all that heat before the day begins.

Determine where air currents run in the house; encourage them with fans/propped doors to 'suck' hot air out. This can be encouraged by making the exit side of the wind cold; shade or hosing down a wall works.

Suck some mint to cool your mouth.


Joined: Jun 10, 2011
Posts: 55
Cook less...

That is why the U.S. is fat and disgusting. How about "cook smarter". Cook grains in preparation for more than one meal, use alternatives like solar, etc. Plus a fuller fridge is a more efficient one.
Claire Skerry

Joined: Jan 04, 2013
Posts: 28
Location: Converse, Texas
On the note of growing trellised vines a bit away from the house but near the walls. You could probably make it so it goes up to the edge of the roof with some strong wire mesh or something to connect it there and give the rainwater a line to come down to the roots of the plants. I've seen a few 'sustainable' centerpiece houses that have done that and it looked pretty cool actually. So it waters itself and is far enough from the house it shouldn't do to much damage or you can see when it is going for it.

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. ~Frank Lloyd Wright
Melba Corbett

Joined: Apr 23, 2011
Posts: 164
Location: North Carolina
Indigenous peoples around the globe who lived in very hot climates frequently built their abodes underground, where the ambient soil temps kept it from getting too hot during the day. Great for sleeping and no need for AC. My house in the N.C. mountains is on a slab, no basement, but it is so cool all summer I never need AC and in fact, have to put on a long sleeved blouse or a light jacket when I come in overheated from the garden.

Last summer, just for fun, I put a small wading pool out in the sun, put up clothesline around it to hang sheets over for a "screen", and took baths out there with just the water warmed from the sun. I always use castille soap so it doesn't hurt the soil which may have something planted in it eventually. I also have a fire pit outside with a rack I can set pots on, or a sheet of galvanized I use my stainless steel or cast iron cookware on and in summer time I use it a lot, using up some of the scrappy wood or fallen branches I need to clean up out of the yard anyway. It's kind of like camping out, just at home.

I think most of the population has become soft from dependence on energy hog appliances. The day is coming when we won't have any of that, and we'll have to know how to survive (and thrive) without it.

Only a couple of generations ago, our ancestors didn't have those things and they got along just fine. Most of the people in rural areas had a well house to keep milk and butter cool, but not cold. When milk clabbered, they just used it to make cornbread or biscuits or ate it as it was. Eggs will keep at least three weeks as long as they are unwashed so the "bloom", which is the natural coating they come in, is still intact. Keeping them slightly cool will extend that. People would cook only what they could consume at one meal or if they had leftovers, it was something that did not require refrigeration and would keep at room temperature to snack on later. Often it was just bread or fruit. When bread is totally dry (think biscotti) it doesn't mold and keeps for months.

The real key to everyone having whatever they need is to be a good neighbor and friend and help one another, sharing what we have. (This does not include moochers, they need to be gotten rid of quickly.) My best childhood memories were of the extended family getting together for corn, or pecan harvest or hog killing. It was a great social event, the feast was scrumptious, and we all went home with food.

When we share knowledge, we improve the quality of lives for those who listen and learn. This is why Permies is so great!
Marianne Cicala

Joined: Aug 14, 2012
Posts: 579
Location: south central VA 7B
We built this place, so there are no windows on the west facing wall and the south facing windows are under an overhang. Regardless, it's hot and humid here. I bought insulated drapes (pretty cheap on overstock) and hung them on every window. I pull them closed just after b'fast and keep them closed until dark. That alone brought the electric bill down 15% last summer.


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Lucy Guss

Joined: Mar 03, 2013
Posts: 12
Use solar heated water to shower, and shower outdoors to keep the humidity out of the house.
Renate Howard

Joined: Jan 10, 2013
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
Apple cider vinegar helps your body feel cooler on hot days. There used to be a drink called "switchel", or "haymaker's punch" that was apple cider vinegar, ginger, honey, and water. It's wonderful tasting - a cross between ginger ale and lemonade, and very cooling.

Be sure to eat enough salt - you lose it when you sweat, and most heat fatigue is actually low electrolytes from sweating out too much salt. Seniors who die in heat waves are often on low-salt diets.

IMHO the vines everyone is talking about should be annual - don't want to lose that solar heat in winter!

Keep your chest freezer in the basement where it's naturally cooler so it doesn't have to work as hard.
Tony Masterson

Joined: Nov 03, 2013
Posts: 13
Evaporation is a great coolant. Keep your roof wet. Doesn't need to be much, just moist. Could be done with a little pump
Ideally would be wit pressure from a well or pulsar pump

I'm planning to build a south facing 430 m2/4628 sqft, 1 story house with floor heating near Indianapolis or the southern half of Nova Scotia. Insulation R20 walls, Roof R40+, double of triple glazing. Constant indoor temperature of 21C/70F.
Gus Mccologie

Joined: Feb 19, 2013
Posts: 11
If you have a paved driveway, paint it a light color. Any thinned paint will work, as anyone who has spilled paint on theirs will know! It takes YEARS to wear off.

Adding to the post above ^ My parents always sprayed their roof with the garden hose; but just once, as soon as the sun was off in the evening. Also previously mentioned, they kept their freezer in a barn cellar and always froze cider in the fall, replacing it with gallons of water in the summer as we drank it.

Something else I don't think has been mentioned is not to drink coffee or high caffeine drinks if you know it's going to be a hot or humid day.
Deb Rebel

Joined: Dec 23, 2013
Posts: 113
Location: Zone 6b
On south side of house, I am building a tall tall trellis house (East, South, West enclosed, north side open) a few feet away from house. I have started 'long gourds' (also known as snake gourds) that are from 'competition growers' so the fruits might get 10' long or better.... and will plant those on the OUTSIDE of the trellis house every 4'. They grow quickly and will give me a lovely cooler shaded place to enjoy, and if I am lucky a few fruits to hang down as well. This way there is nothing growing ON my house but it will give me some summer shade relief (though as we go to the longest day of year sun is almost directly overhead so it won't help much for a few hours). Tall? close to 16' (that is what the calf fence panels come in, 50" x 16' long, and they make a perfect trellis for the vines) but I will bend over a bit to tie the top in together. Only problem with those seeds is they are hard to start. Notoriously so.

I also try to cook crockpot overnight while it's cool and I'm building a solar cooker right now (just sourced the cardboard) to use when I'm working outside and can keep an eye on it. No use heating up the house. For an afternoon, some careful drafting and cutting, and about $5, it's well worth it. I agree with we're too soft in general across the developed world and as resources get scarcer we're all going to have to learn to scale it back!
Topher Belknap

Joined: May 19, 2014
Posts: 205
Location: Midcoast Maine (zone 5b)
paul wheaton wrote:In my feeble attempt to be a good site steward, I've been learning to use reddit and tell reddit about stuff here.

I came across something there that says "10 ways to reduce your summer utility bills" and it seemed to be all about brain dead air conditioner stuff. 

Get that a lot.

1) make that summer heat work for you:  dry your clothes on a clothes line

Actually wind does most of the drying. Heat not so much.

3) increase your thermal mass indoors:  more stuff inside.  The heavier, the better.  A greater thermal mass makes for greater thermal inertia.  The cool from the evening, or even a few days ago will cool you during the warmest part of the day.

This is very climate dependent! It only works well (by itself) in climates with cool nights. If your nights are hot too, thermal mass is your enemy.

9) put motion detectors on your outside flood lights

Don't HAVE outdoor floods...

Some other things:

1) Short showers or baths. Wipe down the shower stall when you are done. Run the bathroom exhaust fan while in the shower.

2) Open windows at night, close them during the day. [Another climate dependent one; only where it gets cool at night] Don't open ALL the windows, open a few as low as possible on the windward side (the side from which the wind is blowing) open about half that amount of area on the leeward (where the wind is going) side, as high as possible. Make the wind and stack effect work for you.

3) Only run fans that are blowing ONTO a person.

4) Ceiling fans should be in the SUMMER position, i.e. blowing DOWN, (up for winter time).

5) Turn off lights!

6) Plant hops, or some other fast growing vine, such that it shades your South (equator-ward) and West windows.

7) Awning or outside shading, especially on the West side. Your South side is hopefully already setup with year-long appropriate shading.

Keep the windows in your basement shut. [Climate dependent] The basic rule is to never have windows in the basement open when the dew point outside is higher than the temperature inside.

9) Remove the insulation on some of your cold water pipes (preferably in the basement), and collect and dispose of the water that condenses.

10) Insulate the house.

11) Air seal the house, and add controlled ventilation.

12) Keep that fridge door SHUT.

13) Wash hands, etc. in cold water.

14) Add interior storm windows to any windows you don't open.

15) Microwave > Saute > Boil > Bake. Put a lid on that pan.

16) Light colored roof [Climate dependent]. Look into the benefits of a radiant barrier in the attic, in your area [Climate dependent].

17) Monitor your humidity.

1 Unplug any vampire circuits that you missed. Put anything with a remote on-switch on a separate switch (e.g. power strip), and turn it off when not in use.

19) Swamp Coolers [Climate dependent]

20) Heat Chimneys [Climate dependent]

21) Turn off the pilot light in your furnace or boiler (if it isn't making your hot water).

22) Make some ice cream. [Not climate dependent ]

Energy Curmudgeon
Green Fret Consulting
Deb Rebel

Joined: Dec 23, 2013
Posts: 113
Location: Zone 6b
I like #22 about make ice cream....

Here during the summer we often have sun blazing, 25mph sustained wind, single digit humidity, and... if you have enough clothesline to peg out your entire load; and start at one end... by the time you get to the far end you can go back to where you started and take down dry clothes. Sweatpants and jeans need to hang until the next load comes out. We are not 'urban big city' so we don't have city-haze smell, the clothes smell fresh... so my solar powered clothes dryer works GREAT, the washer can't keep up, and it gives great exercise. Only drawback is if it's a cicadia year, in which case you have to wear hearing protectors to visit the line. (we have some EVERY year, but 2009 we had THE year and it was insane. They can do 110-115 decibels in a focused direction, and if one set up over the clothesline and you couldn't find and squirt him with the garden hose to get him to move... it was horrid)

Mother Earth News just put up how to make a really good large solar dehydrator. Drawback is it's BIG, the solar heat collector part is long. it has a lot of space though for drying (lots of racks)....trying to talk hubby into it, and trying to figure a mod where I could detach the collector, cap it for dust control, and store it separately... hm.
Lee Bewicke

Joined: Oct 08, 2013
Posts: 4
Just wanted to add "cool roof" (mostly white metal) can be 40 F cooler than asphalt. Of course a couple feet of dirt with plants growing on it is good too.
Deb Rebel

Joined: Dec 23, 2013
Posts: 113
Location: Zone 6b
Yes, if you are in warm climate a white roof. I'd rather have some dirt and plants on it, but I take what I can get.

I am running a swamp cooler and it got a major boost by putting an exhaust fan at the other end of the house and running it full blast. That little anemic cooler can keep up with 100f now, it just needed help to circulate the air. If we get substantial humidity (for here that's over the upper 20's percentage) then it doesn't work so good, but when there's single digit humidity, it is wonderful.
And of course using window shades and such... spouse complained but I covered the bedroom windows (south) with aluminum foil (inside) and put some quilt batting between that and the miniblinds (down) and voila, it's much cooler. He complains about it every year, I do it anyways, and it makes a big difference. ...
Lee Bewicke

Joined: Oct 08, 2013
Posts: 4
Deb ,I'm envious of your low humidity!
They actually make special paints materials to reflect more heat and emit heat upwardly rather than absorb the heat. There is something out there called the Cool roof rating council .

"A high solar reflectance—or albedo—is the most important characteristic of a cool roof as it helps to reflect sunlight and heat away from a building, reducing roof temperatures. A high thermal emittance also plays a role, particularly in climates that are warm and sunny. Together, these properties help roofs to absorb less heat and stay up to 50–60°F (28–33°C) cooler than conventional materials during peak summer weather."

Sounds like you are doing all the right things! keep cool.
David Creed

Joined: Jul 12, 2014
Posts: 31
I love my cups of tea and drink about 6 to 8 pints a day but the drawback is we have a 3000watt electric kettle, so being interested in rocket stoves my daily routine is to fill 3 vacuum flasks with boiling water at around 6pm, the water stays hot overnight and just needs a tickle with the 3ooow monster next morning, cheers Dave
Ronald Greek

Joined: Oct 15, 2010
Posts: 22
Location: Outside Yuma, Arizona

Get a chart of the solar exposure for your area so you can predict the location of the sun throughout the year, see:

In appropriate locations position something like wicking garden beds, growing edible tree or vine crops.

Set up your plumbing to route the grey water to beds to avoid using "good" water.
For low-energy use home design / construction ideas check Mike Reynolds "earthship" ideas.

His three Earthship books are available free to read online:

Seminar on earthships by Mike Reynolds, two multi-hour sessions.

Garbage Warrior (His fight with zoning, inspectors, etc)
Another high thermal mass design site is:

This site emphasizes dry stacked concrete block, with both sides then coated with a single layer of fiber reinforced, surface bonding cement ("structural stucco").

the See:

For shelter that saves on HVAC energy, see also the book Passive Annual Heat Storage, where author John Hait indicates that insulating the soil out something like 20 fee from your underground home creates a large soil thermal storage area which can be utilized by buried air/water circulating tubes, with modest blower/pump power gaining access to a lot of stored thermal difference. An above ground home may need a lot of insulation to make up for the surrounding thermal storage of an underground home.

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17409
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)

sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
world domination gardening 3-DVD set / my youtube videos / my podcasts
Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 5495
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
Turn your rocket mass heater or masonry stove into a passive air conditioner/swamp cooler.

Dale's picks - These are some of my favorite threads. Greed - My garden - ethics - Good wood bad wood Alder - Bees - Pulling nails -
subject: 20 ways to REALLY reduce your summer utility bills