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How to cut the electric bill without losing your cool

Been suffering electric (bill) shocks from cranking up the air conditioning? We have ways to reduce the torture.

Fanning the flames: Air conditioning is rarely as efficient as users would like. Hot air rises, cold air falls. As sun beats down on the roof, the top floor will always be harder to cool. And no matter how well you "balance" air flow through vents, the side of the house closer to the blower or the side of the room near the window unit will invariably feel colder.

Fixing the gaps: With thoughtful placement, a ceiling fan over the sofa or bed and a small, portable fan or two near your window AC unit or central system vents can help a lot to balance the climate zones.

When spinning in a counterclockwise direction, a ceiling fan pushes cooler air downward as it adds a perspiration-wicking breeze.

To make life better, add a flexible, portable fan like the Honeywell HT-900 TurboForce air circulator.

The $20 (at Best Buy) Honeywell isn't fancy and doesn't "oscillate" left and right. But this head-flexing (180-degree rotatable) fan does a fine job of blowing a wide-angle breeze you can feel up to 27 feet away. Ideal for moving chilled air from one side of a room to the other, or directing cool air up a staircase to a warmer floor.

Waist-high air movers like the Holmes 31-inch tower fan ($30 at Target) look nice and fit into cramped spaces. But with an equally narrow, vertical waft of breeze, these fans seem best suited for close-in bedside cooling.

Looking for a kid-safe, robust air mover that's also whisper-quiet, free of buffeting and energy efficient, consuming as little as 3.6 watts at low speed and only 20 watts at high (versus 25 to 35 max for a Honeywell or Holmes)?

Dyson's second generation, bladeless AM06 Air Multiplier is the ticket. But this novel alternative costs $299.

The big payoff: When spreading the cool around with fans, a miraculous thing happens. You can turn up the temperature on the air conditioner by several degrees, still feel comfortable and save lots of dough. Adjusting your AC's temp setting up by just 1 degree shaves 5 percent off the unit's electric consumption, according to a calculation by an app at

But wait, there's less: Save another small fortune in energy expenses (up to 33 percent, it's claimed) and help the environment with an automatic setback thermostat installed on your AC/heating system. Or a window air conditioner with onboard 24-hour timer.

Just $35 (at Home Depot) buys a basic, self-installable Honeywell wall thermostat (RTH2410B) with "5-1-1 Day Programmable" skills. Enter one program for weekdays, another for weekends. With each, the time/temp can be adjusted up to four times a day.

This thermostat has the smarts to kick on the AC (or the heat in wintertime) a couple of hours before your preset wake time, knowing the temperature adjustment cannot be achieved instantaneously. This predictive feature ("Early Start") can be disabled.

Extra brain power: While pricey, at $220 to $279, the newest breed of supersmart, Wi-Fi enabled thermostats from Nest and Honeywell have lots more features and seem the best thing going in today's surge of home automation products.

Fine-tuned with motion sensors, a Nest Learning Thermostat will automatically (and ruthlessly) kick temperatures up or down based on your comings and goings. And the just-launched Honeywell Lyric works with the GPS location skills built into your smartphone to wake up the AC (or heat) when you come within a few blocks or miles of home.

Do you keep an erratic schedule? Those programmed time/temp settings on Wi-Fi-connected thermostats can be remotely monitored and recalibrated on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

How to cut the electric bill without losing your cool 08/07/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2014 4:09pm]
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