Most of Missouri is under an excessive heat warning or watch now through Saturday.  Daytime highs in the upper 90’s to 100 are forecast in most areas.  The St. Louis area is predicted to be especially hot with highs of 103 everyday through Saturday, and a heat index up to 112 tomorrow.

Image courtesy of the National Weather Service

The state’s largest provider of electricity, Ameren Missouri, has tips and suggestions to keep utility bills from shooting up with the temperature.  According to Jeff Berg, one of the company’s Energy Efficiency specialists, it can be as basic as closing windows and blinds on hot days.

“You’re immediately hit with that blazing sun, right? If you have that coming in through your windows, it’s like a greenhouse in there,” says Berg.  “It’s heating up your home, and it’s making your air conditioner work harder.  It’s really easy to close those blinds and drapes when you leave in the morning or during the hot part of the day, and keep it cooler inside.”

Another simple measure individuals can take to help cool down their homes at no cost is turning ceiling fans to run counter clockwise in the summer.  Most fans have a switch to controls the direction of movement.

It’s also important to make sure to have doors closed tightly when cooling a home.

People often think they’re savings energy and money by closing off air conditioning vents in rooms that aren’t being used.  Ameren’s Berg says doing so has the opposite effect.

“Your system is actually designed to be moving air through that entire system.  There’s a certain pressure and amount of air that it moves through there,” says Berg.  “So when you shut that vent off, it increases the pressure in there, and it makes your motor and your furnace work harder.  By doing that, you’re really making you air conditioner work harder and use more energy.”

Another common oversight which will lead to higher energy bills is a failure to regularly change out air filters in homes.

“That gets back to the air pressure again,” says Berg.  “If it’s dirty, it’s having to work harder to push that air through there.  It does cost a couple of dollars to replace those air filters.  But if you do that, that’ll help whenever you’re running your air conditioner.”

Berg recommends changing out air filters at least once every three months.

Setting the thermostat at a higher temperature while away from home is one obvious way to cut down on energy usage.  A further step can be taken with a smart thermostat that not only presets temperatures, but also detects when someone is in the house.  Berg says different name brands function in different ways.

“Some of them are tied to a cell phone, so if the phone is present or not present.  Some of them actually have sensors to know if people are walking back and forth in front of the thermostat,” says Berg.

A smart thermostat can be set up to work with a particular schedule.

“If you set a schedule and you say ‘I want it to set at 72 degrees on Monday’, but then it looks and sees that you’re not there on Monday, it can set it up to be 78 if that’s what you’ve told it to do when you’re not there,” Berg says.

About 40% of electricity used by a household every month on average goes to heating and cooling.  Berg says a range of other options available to bring that portion of your costs down, and in turn, reduce your utility bill, especially during the hot summer months.

“One of the big takeaways is I think there’s something for everybody that they can do in terms of keeping their heating and cooling costs down, from behavioral changes all the way up to investing in something like a smart thermostat or a new central air conditioning system,” he says.

Investing in an air conditioning system can be costly.  The upside is that new high-efficiency units can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs.

The three investor owned/regulated power utilities in Missouri offer rebate programs for residential customers who upgrade their systems.

Ameren, the state’s largest utility, offers up to $500 for central air systems, $900 for air-source heat pumps and up to $2,000 for geothermal heat pumps.

KCP&L, the second largest utility, doesn’t list dollar figures for rebates on its website, but works with authorized contractors to determine the amount.  KCP&L does advertise credits for wind and solar power user.

Empire District Electric offers $400-$500 rebates for air conditioning system upgrades and $800 for ENERGY STAR Qualified Home Designations.

Empire District operates in southwest Missouri and parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  It’s based in Joplin.