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6 tips to reduce your cooling costs during this sweaty D.C. summer

Bi Yoo (Express illustration)

Americans have taken heat for our so-called obsession with air conditioning. But just because we consider it a necessity doesn’t mean we aren’t looking for ways to save on cooling costs this summer. Upgrading appliances to Energy Star-rated, green, energy-saving machines often tops the list of ways to trim your energy bill. But for those sweating in an apartment, upgrading appliances often isn’t an option. So what can renters do to beat the heat while keeping energy costs down during the sweltering summer months?

Cool yourself first
Before you crank up the AC, find ways to chill your body naturally. Staying hydrated is the first step to cool off, but Dr. Kyle Smith, a family physician who practices in Maryland, warns that not all liquids are created equal.

“Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, so when you’re trying to stay hydrated it’s important to drink water or a drink like Gatorade,” he says.

Look for other savings
If you can’t bear to turn down the AC, trim down other costs on your energy bill. According to the Department of Energy, 5 percent of the average home’s electric bill comes from lights. So do an extra check of all lamps before you leave home.

While you’re at it, unplug your cellphone charger: Electronics that are plugged in, but not currently in use, spend “vampire power.” While most everyday devices create vampire power that adds only pennies over the year, cable boxes and sleeping computers — even laptops — can add about $20 together in standby power alone. Double that if your cable box is equipped with DVR.

Keep your AC in shape
According to Joel Cohn, legislative director of the District’s Office of the Tenant Advocate, “There is no requirement that a landlord must provide AC.” If air conditioning is provided, Cohn says, there are some rules: AC units must be inspected annually and maintained in good working order, and AC must be provided for a minimum period of time, typically May 15 through September 15. If your landlord is keeping your AC unit in good shape, your energy costs will be lower. You can help by cleaning or replacing air filters in your unit monthly.

Get what you pay for
Gaps or cracks around air vents, windows and doors allow cooled air to leak out. For the price of a tube of caulk and 30 minutes of your (or your landlord’s) time, you can seal up gaps and keep the air you’re paying for where it belongs.
Keeping doors closed to rooms that aren’t in use also keeps you from having to pay for a cool — but empty — room. When you’re at work, try closing bedroom and bathroom doors to keep rooms cooler.

Move the air that’s there
Corby Lyons O’Connor rents a townhouse in Alexandria and owns property in Florida, so she’s no stranger to keeping cool in a humid climate. Her favorite solution: ceiling fans. “I use those in the bedrooms and would like one in the dining area,” she says. “I prefer them over the air conditioning.”

Fans create a wind chill effect that cools people down, not the whole room. And while ceiling fans are the most efficient, a box fan or another portable fan will get the job done, too. The Department of Energy says that using a ceiling fan allows you to set the thermostat about 4 degrees warmer and be just as comfortable.

Listen to your body
Unless you are very old, young or ill, there’s no medical reason to panic if your air conditioning goes on the fritz during the summer (or you want to try going without, for serious savings). “If the human body is working normally, even if you’re exposed to external warmth, your body temp should stay the same,” says physician Kyle Smith. “For the vast majority of people, air conditioning and keeping cool is purely for comfort.”

But if you’re concerned about a roommate or a neighbor in the heat, Smith says, the first thing to do if someone feels overheated is to “see if they are thinking or responding normally; if so, it’s probably safe to take care of them without getting medical attention.” If someone seems to be struggling to think normally, “seek immediate medical care,” Smith says

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