Hold onto your hats -- and your pocketbooks! The cost of air conditioning a house this summer could dwarf what it cost only a year ago. The Department of Energy, for instance, predicts that 1981 electricity costs per kilowatt-hour will rise as much as 21 percent from 1980.
Last summer was a tough one for many homeowners as utility costs hit the sky.Soaring demand for power -- especially in the South, which went through a sweltering heat wave -- combined with a 20 percent increase in kilowatt- hour costs, led to skyrocketing energy bills for millions.
Texas Power & Light reported 45 consecutive days with the temperature at 100 degrees plus, which meant that Dallas residents paid a whopping 50 to 90 percent more for their utility bills over a year earlier.
In Wichita Falls, Kan., where the temperature hit 117 degrees on June 29, demand forced the local utility to buy out-of-state power and use older generating equipment. As a result, rates were nearly quadrupled, rising from 5 1/2 cents per kilowatt-hour to 20 cents.
At that pace, not surprisingly, homeowners are looking for big and little ways to tighten their homes, not from the cold alone but from the excessive outdoor heat of summer. Obviously, a tightly insulated house not only cuts heating bills in the winter but cooling costs in the summer.
Heat is energy and it moves toward the cold.
"Homeowners traditionally have believed that insulation is a cold-weather product only, but the heat wave last summer helped to demonstrate to people that this is not true," according to Charles Hartmann of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation.
Insulation works just as well in keeping hot summer air outside as it does in keeping heated air inside during the winter.
If your home doesn't have adequate insulation in the attic, start there.
Most authorities recommend an insulation value of R- 38 in ceilings and R-19 in walls for best protection. (R- value indicates the thermal efficiency of insulation or the resistance to the passage of heat through the product.) Check with the local utility or energy-product dealer for the recommended R-values in your area of the country.
Thermal (double-or triple-pane) windows are a good investment as well. Check out storm windows if your house doesn't already have them. Caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows. Insulate around a home's concrete perimeter. Wrap insulation around the hot-water heater and pipes. Insulate around outside-wall electric switches.
Don't forget the federal income-tax credit on qualified energy-conservation outlays. Many states also provide tax benefits for energy-reducing projects as well. Remember them when you make out your income-tax returns next winter.
If your house is air condition, don't bypass the machinery as you try to cut housing costs.
"All air conditioners should be serviced once a year," urges Al Ubell, author of a new book entitled "Al Ubell's Energy Saving Guide for Homeowners" and a reporter for ABC-TV's "Good Morning, America." This means, he adds: "Motors should be lubricated, coils cleaned, and filters changed."
Air conditioners operate as heat and humidity extractors, he explains. They draw warm, moist air out of the room or house, remove the heat and moisture, and dissipate them outside the structure. "Dirt will hinder the flow of hot air and make the unit work longer, thus increasing the energy bill," he goes on.
To get the most out of your window air conditioner, Mr. Ubell says:
* Try to place the individual window unit on the north side of the home or in the shade. If that's impossible, place an awning over the unit. Less heat outside the house makes it easier for th e unit to dissipate heat from the inside.
* Keep the temperature of your home at 78 degrees. For every degree you raise the temperature in an airconditioned room, you'll save 2 to 3 percent of your cooling costs.
* On very hot days the air conditioner will perform most efficiently with the fan set on high. However, in very humid weather the opposite is true. A low fan speed allows more moisture to be removed.
"It's no longer a question of helping to reduce dependence on foreign oil, but rather of family survival in the face of runaway fuel prices," asserts Mr. Hartmann.