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Wed, Feb. 19

Column: Some 'cool' tips from Randy

Boy it's hot out there! My only consolation when getting out of a 130-degree attic is thinking about all the home inspectors in Phoenix. I think somebody mistranslated something when they found Phoenix. I don't think the ancients called it the 'Valley of the Sun,' I think they called it the 'Surface of the Sun'.

With the high-energy costs today everything we can do to lower our energy bills helps. So take my advice - I'm not using it.

Use a setback thermostat if you have a central air conditioner. These are inexpensive today; some are only $20. These thermostats can be programmed to raise the temperature when no one is home. I have mine set to turn on the air conditioner at 5:30 a.m., just before we get up. Then it will raise the temperature to 82 at 8 a.m. after my wife and I leave. The air conditioner will come back on about 5 p.m., before my wife gets home. It raises the temperature at 11 p.m., and then it repeats and lowers the temperature at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. Most setback thermostats allow you to set different temperatures for Saturday and Sunday, when you might be home. They are also easy to override, so if you get home early you can easily lower the temperature. And most are pretty easy to set, unlike the first ones a dozen years ago that required a teenager to program them.

And don't forget to check those filters. A dirty filter can cost you a lot when operating an air conditioner.

A lot of homes in our area have evaporative coolers. These are quite effective if the outdoor humidity is low, which it is most of the time in our area. These use much less electricity than an air conditioner. For you recent New Jersian transplants, the principle is quite simple. Water evaporating off something will carry heat away, and thus cool the object. This is just as true for animate objects. Ever get out of a pool or lake on a hot day and you're cold until you dry off? The water evaporating off your skin is cooling you down. When the water evaporates off the pads in an evaporative cooler it will cool the pads down, and therefore the air passing through the pads.

An evaporative cooler brings in a lot of exterior air. To get the maximum efficiency you need to open a couple windows a little. If you have 'high' windows, open them - this will blow the warmer air near the ceiling out. If your evaporative cooler has only one or two large vents in a hallway, you can draw the cool air into a room by opening the window in that room.

If you have a gas fireplace with a pilot light, turn off that pilot light. Even a pilot light generates some heat (and of course uses gas). If you put your hand on the glass doors of a fireplace with the pilot light on you will feel how warm the glass is. And this heat is being transferred into the home, making the air conditioner or evaporative cooler work even harder.

Ceiling fans do not cool a room down! All they do is move the air around. The 'breeze' can cool you down, but it doesn't lower the temperature in the room. Running a ceiling fan when no one is in the room doesn't do anything but use electricity.

Installing fluorescent bulbs in light fixtures saves money and generates much less heat, making the air conditioner work a little easier.

Hot water circulator pumps are becoming common. They won't cool a home, but they can save energy and water. These are usually located near the water heater, and circulate hot water through the pipes so you don't have to wait long for hot water at the sink or shower. Newer pumps have a timer so you can set the pump to come on in the morning and evening when you need hot water but it doesn't run all day and night. Note that in some configurations if the hot water circulator pump is turned off it will take even longer to get hot water to the shower. This is because some of the hot water is being routed back into the water heater through the return loop. If this occurs, you need to make sure that timer is on whenever your wife needs hot water. I can't think of anything worse than a wife that's angry because the water wasn't hot enough for her shower. If she takes a cold shower, you may be taking them too for awhile.

If you follow all these hints you'll save enough money to buy a couple large pizzas every month. But find someplace that delivers - you won't save enough for the gas to go get them.

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