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A news release from Direct Energy recently crossed my desk, talking about ways to save energy in the home in the summer. It seemed like an odd time to talk about energy efficiency, which I equate with keeping warm by sealing the house to cold drafts, adding insulation and upgrading the furnace.

But summertime is the peak season for electricity use in Canada. The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) says that the all-time record for the province’s electricity demand was on Aug. 1, 2006 during a heat wave. All of the top 20 demand days in history were in the months of June, July or August.

So this is a great time to look at ways you can save electricity and lower your energy bills.

An annual maintenance check by a professional HVAC technician for your central air conditioning will ensure it is functioning at its best. Replace the air filters every three months to keep dust out of the ducts. If you’ve had renovations done in your home, chances are the ducts are full of drywall dust and should be cleaned out.

Keep the vents clear of carpets, drapery and furniture, and close the vents in rooms that you don’t use very much.

Clean the outside compressor with a hose. IESO suggests cleaning the grilles and fan blades and cleaning and lubricating the fan motor and coil fins by following the manufacturer’s directions.

If you are thinking of buying an air conditioning unit, check the seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER number), which is its energy efficiency rating. Direct Energy says a 13 SEER rating can deliver as much as 29 per cent more efficiency than an older 10 SEER air conditioner.

A programmable thermostat allows you to turn the temperature up during the day if nobody is home and again at night when the temperature goes down. Turning the thermostat up by 1 C can lower your electricity bill by up to five per cent – or raise it by 5 C at night and save up to 10 per cent on your bill, says Direct Energy. Open your windows at night and use fans to blow in cool air. During the day, keeping the windows closed and the curtains drawn will keep solar energy from overheating the house.

Room fans use a lot less energy than central air and can do a good job of cooling a house, as do ceiling fans.

IESO says a tree or shrub that shades your air conditioner can improve its energy efficiency by up to 10 per cent, but keep plants a minimum of two feet away from the unit. Keep the top clear of obstructions. Planting a deciduous tree on the south side of your lawn will block the sun during the summer and let in solar energy in winter when it has no leaves.

Topping up the insulation in the attic helps in both summer and winter, as does sealing air leaks around windows and doors.

Another way to save energy is by getting rid of old inefficient appliances, and many provinces and municipalities have programs to help with this. Depending on where you live, you can get free pick up of these appliances. In Ontario, for example, the Great Refrigerator Roundup program by Hydro One has collected almost 70,000 old refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners.

Across the country there are also a number of grant, rebate and incentive programs to help improve energy efficiency. The federal government has cancelled the popular ecoENERGY retrofit program, but many provinces and municipalities still offer incentives. For example, the Ontario Power Authority’s Cool Savings Rebate program offers a $25 rebate for replacing an old non-programmable thermostat with a new programmable one; it gives a $250 rebate if you replace an existing central air conditioner with an Energy Star qualified system with a minimum 14.5 SEER.

To find out what incentives are available in your area, visit Natural Resources Canada’s Incentives and Rebates (https://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/corporate/incentives.cfm) site and click on the map.

The IESO says consumers can help keep electricity costs down by shifting usage from the peak demand hours of the day. "Typically, demand peaks between 4 pm and 7 pm every day," it says. "Demand in the middle of the night can be as low as 12,000 MW to 13,000 MW and can rise by as much as 10,000 MW later the same day." It says demand is primarily influenced by weather, hours of daylight, business hours, school holidays and consumption patterns as people arrive home from work.

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