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How to beat the summer heat and high electric bills

Locals save money with conservation, high-efficiency systems
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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As temperatures rise, locals are taking steps to ensure their energy bills don?t. They say conservation and installation of more efficient systems are two ways to save money on cooling costs, while air conditioning experts say just like with a car, performing regular maintenance on air conditioning units can save people from having to have major repairs later. Pacific Gas and Electric officials say there are a number of tips people can take advantage of to reduce their energy bill. Bill Mohammed, of Newcastle, installed a more energy efficient air conditioning unit five years ago. The installation earned him a rebate from PG&E. While PG&E doesn?t offer the rebate on central air conditioning systems anymore, he still sees savings on his electric bill ?In the summertime we pay over $140 to150, but it is cut down quite a bit since I put the new unit in,? Mohammed said. ?It runs a lot better.? On Friday, he was having maintenance work done on his air conditioner by Maki Heating and Air. Changing the air filters regularly is one step Mohammed takes to keep his unit running efficiently. Shaun Weiss, service manager for Maki Heating and Air, said business also heats up for the company as the mercury rises. He said it?s usually small, preventable things that cause an air conditioning unit to go out. ?With routine maintenance we can catch and predict a lot of things before they happen,? Weiss said. ?It?s little things that go, small parts called capacitors and connectors, that we routinely check.? Chris Carmichael, owner of Mountain Heating and Air, said he agrees that as simple as it may sound, regular maintenance is the best way to keep from having a crisis on a hot summer day and to save money on cooling costs. He said cleaning the outdoor coil, opening all of the vents in the home and making sure there is no duct leakage all help lower electricity bills. Replacing an outdated system can often save enough energy to pay for the replacement itself, he added. Even raising the thermostat by two degrees can dramatically lower bills and energy consumption, he added. ?Be judicious with the use of your thermostat,? Carmichael said. ?If you turn it down only two more degrees all month long, you will probably use double the amount of power. Set the thermostat to the highest tolerable level.? Heidi Van Zant, an Auburn resident on the executive committee for the Sierra Club Placer Group, said she looks for as many ways to conserve energy as possible, which also reduces her energy bill. She dries her laundry on a clothing line in summer and cooks on an eco-friendly grill rather than using the stove or oven. ?I do what I can to avoid using an air conditioner in the summer. I have fans installed in every room and those use up to 90 percent less energy than central air conditioning,? Van Zant said. ?I like to close up the house in the morning to keep the hot air out, and I open it up later when hopefully the Delta breezes star blowing in.? Brittany McKannay, spokesperson for PG&E, said there are many tips on PG&E?s website to help customers save money on their energy bills. She said there are also financial assistance programs and the balance program plan, which allows customers to pay a consistent bill each month based on their average energy consumption throughout the year. Other tips are simple, but can create big savings, she added. ?One way is by setting your thermostat to 78 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees when you know you are going to be gone for 3 or more hours,? McKannay said. ?In the morning, open your windows, try to let the cool air in. Then when it starts to heat up later in the day, close the windows and close the blinds.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter