7 ways to beat big heat wave bills

Jeanine Skowronski


Jeanine Skowronski

Jeanine Skowronski

Former Head of Content at Policygenius

Jeanine Skowronski is the former head of content at Policygenius in New York City. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, American Banker Magazine, Newsweek, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, MSN, CNBC and more.

Published July 5, 2018|4 min read

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It's turning into one hot summer with cities across the U.S. feeling extreme heat. Per the Red Cross, you're officially experiencing a heat wave when temperatures are abnormally high — generally 10 degrees or more above average and accompanied by excessive humidity — for a prolonged period of time.

Summer itself can mess with your money, but heat waves can cause even bigger spending spikes. Here are seven ways to stay safe, chill and on-budget during a heat wave.

1. Keep cool & hydrated

Heat waves aren't just a utility bill nightmare; they're dangerous. Extreme temperatures can cause heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn and heat rash. They can also exacerbate existing health conditions.

Avoid heat-related illness, hospitalization and unnecessary medical bills by drinking plenty of water, wearing light clothing, putting on the right amount of sunscreen and limiting outdoor activities. Take frequent breaks if your job is outside, the Red Cross recommends.

At home, be smart, but not overly cheap, about your AC use. Energy.gov suggests setting your thermostat to at least 78 degrees when you're at home to stay safe and comfortable.

2. Look for low-cost AC alternatives

If you don't have air conditioning or are on an extremely tight budget, identify free or low-cost places you can go to escape the heat during the hottest part of the day. Think nearby community centers, malls, libraries, YMCAs, cafes or movie theaters (many run discount matinees on weekdays).

3. Give your AC an assist

An overworked AC will spike your utility bill and shorten its shelf life. Older units could easily fail on the hottest day of the year. To mitigate pricey AC disasters, clean or replace your air filters every month or two.

A few other ways to save your AC some work — and yourself some money — include cleaning the machine's evaporator coil, investing in programmable thermostats, properly sealing units to windows and closing your curtains and blinds during the day.

4. Clean the fridge

Your AC isn't the only appliance that can prematurely break or run up your utility bill during the summer. Keep an eye on your refrigerator, too. Ideally, it should be kept at 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, says EnergyStar.gov. You can help it stay at that temp by keeping the doors closed and replacing ripped rubber seals.

If you have an older fridge, clean its condenser coils. (They're responsible for releasing heat.) You can usually find them under or behind the fridge. Refer to your owner's manual or your manufacturer's website for the best and safest way to get the task done.

5. Save chores for the beginning or end of the day

Temperatures are cooler in the morning, when the sun hasn't reached its peak, and in the evening, of course, when the sun's gone down. There's two big reasons to use this window (between 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. in most areas) to tackle household chores.

First, you'll avoid heat-related illness when doing outdoor maintenance, like cleaning the gutters or mowing the lawn. Second, heat waves have the ability to overload power grids and cause power outages — which means no AC and a hot fridge full of bad food you'll need to throw away, among other issues. Do yourself and your neighbors a favor by running laundry machines and dishwashers at night when everyone isn't cranking their AC to the max.

6. Unplug energy vampires

Energy vampires are appliances that pull power from outlets, even when they're off or idle. Per Energy.gov, these appliances, which include hair dryers, coffee makers, cable boxes and even a laptop or desktop computer in sleep mode, can cost households $100 to $200 a year. They can also up the odds of a power outage during a heat wave.

To save money and electricity, pull these vampires from your outlets when you're not using them. For complex entertainment or computer systems, plug all the important pieces into a power strip that can get switched on and off during downtime.

7. Negotiate

If you live in an "energy choice" state, you might be able to get a better deal on electricity. Compare rates between the providers in your area and ask about any discounts or promotions they might be offering new customers. You can also use a lower quote as leverage to get a better rate from your current provider. Ask, too, about programs, incentives or rebates they might offer in exchange for energy-efficient upgrades.

Here are some simple ways to negotiate your way to a better budget.