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Summer is a season many look forward to, with longer days and warm weather perfect for outdoor activities. However, for seniors on a fixed income, the increase in utility bills as summer energy rates soar can be a cause for concern. High energy costs can strain budgets, but there are numerous ways to keep these expenses in check without sacrificing comfort. 

Here’s how seniors can save on energy and water expenses during the summer, ensuring a cool, affordable season.

What Are the Biggest Utility Expenses in Summer?

During summer, the biggest energy hogs are typically your air conditioning and fans. (You can find resources on taming other energy hogs here). As global warming causes summers to see more extreme heat waves and higher temperatures overall, electricity bills between June and August are likely to increase as well. In 2023, the average summer electric bill for homes ranged between $150 and $200 per month. Seniors who live in warmer states such as California are likely to have even higher bills and for a longer period than most. 

And although you might be spending less energy heating your water than you would in winter, odds are you’ll be using more water overall during the summer for things like watering your lawn and landscaping, filling wading pools, and taking more frequent showers. Understanding these key expenses is the first step toward managing them effectively. Being strategic about your electricity and water use can help you save money on energy to a significant degree.

How to Lower Your Electric Bill in Summer

Don’t worry: lowering your electric bill doesn't have to mean sweltering in the heat. Below are several practical tips to help you keep cool while saving money.

Weatherize Your Home

Proper insulation and sealing of windows and doors (also known as weatherizing) can stop cool air from escaping and hot air from entering. This helps to prevent your air conditioning system from having to work harder than necessary to keep your home cool.

Close Windows and Window Coverings Strategically

Open your windows and window coverings during the coolest parts of the evening, night, and early morning as temperatures allow. As indoor and outdoor temperatures approach the one at which your air conditioning is set to kick on, close all windows along with window coverings on sun-facing windows. Keep them closed until temperatures cool down again. Use thermal curtains to block the sun’s heat more effectively.

Maintain Your HVAC System

If you have central air conditioning, a few simple maintenance steps will go a long way. Taking good care of your HVAC system not only helps it to run more efficiently (and cost you less on your electric bill) but also prolongs its life and prevents the need for expensive repairs and replacements. Take these steps:

  • Have your HVAC system serviced in the spring. Do this before you plan to begin using air conditioning for the season. Having your air ducts cleaned and your system checked by an HVAC technician will ensure it operates efficiently. Making any small repairs or adjustments as advised by your technician can also save you from having to make more expensive repairs later on — or having to replace your system altogether.

  • Change your air filters. Change (or have someone else change) your HVAC system air filters about every three months. This will help maintain the air quality in your home — particularly during wildfire season — and will also help your system run more efficiently.

  • Clean your air vents. Ensure that there is no built-up debris in or around your air vents so that air can flow freely through them. This will also help to keep your indoor air clean and free of dust particles.

Use Energy-Efficient Cooling Methods

You can minimize your air conditioning use by setting your thermostat to the highest possible comfortable temperature and using ceiling and portable fans. Run them only in rooms you’ll be spending the most time in and turn them off when you leave. Consider installing a programmable thermostat to optimize cooling, or be more vigilant about optimizing the one you have. Setting your thermostat to 78 F when you are home and higher when you are away can lead to substantial savings.

Use Fans Wisely

Ceiling fans can create a wind-chill effect, making you feel cooler without lowering the thermostat. Ensure ceiling fans are rotating counterclockwise to push cool air downward.

How to Lower Your Water Bill in Summer

Water bills can also spike during summer, but there are several strategies to keeping your water usage under control:

  • Install water-saving fixtures. Installing low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets can significantly reduce water usage without compromising performance.

  • Water lawns and gardens efficiently. Water your garden in the early morning or late evening to minimize evaporation. If at all possible, consider using a drip irrigation system rather than overhead sprinklers. Placing mulch around plants can also retain moisture in the soil, reducing the need for frequent watering.

  • Fix leaks promptly. A small drip from a faucet can waste gallons of water over time. Fixing leaks quickly helps prevent unnecessary water waste and high bills.

Other Ways to Get Help With Your Summer Utility Bills

If managing utility bills becomes challenging, there are programs and resources available to provide assistance:

Utility Company Assistance Programs

Some utility companies provide financial assistance or flexible payment plans to help customers manage their bills. They may also offer energy efficiency programs, rebates, and incentives to reduce energy consumption and costs. Contact your utility provider to see what programs they offer.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

This federal program, which operates at the state level, provides financial assistance to eligible low-income householdsto help cover the cost of heating and cooling their homes. LIHEAP can assist with paying utility bills as well as providing energy-saving services such as weatherization. To apply, visit the LIHEAP section on the Administration for Children and Families website.

Nonprofit Organizations That Advocate for Seniors

There are many nonprofit organizations that offer services to support seniors in various ways. Check to see if there are any near you that offer weatherization or utility bill assistance programs.

Lower Your Energy Bills With Spectrum Community Services

At Spectrum, we work hard to support financial, physical, and mental health in our senior clients. We offer a wide variety of community programs and services in partnership with local service organizations. Our long history of community outreach has advanced our mission of promoting our clients’ financial sustainability and improving the overall quality of their lives. Providing resources and services related to energy savings is an important part of this work.

If you'd like to save on your energy bill or have been blindsided by a higher-than-normal utility bill, we may be able to help. Call today to see if you're eligible for weatherization assistance or funding from LIHEAP.

Spectrum Community Services is committed to improving the quality of life for low-income families, seniors, and individuals in Alameda County. Through financial assistance and other services, our goal is to support community members in building healthy, safe, and independent lives. Contact us to learn more about our services, or consider making a donation to support our work. We can't wait to work with you!