Smart Ways to Handle Summer Heat Waves

Update July, 2023: We first ran this article in May 2021, in anticipation of another hot summer. We’re sharing this again as people all over the world struggle to stay cool and safe amidst record-breaking temperatures.

2020 was one of the hottest summers on record, and the West Coast in particular suffered from both wildfires and intense heat waves last August and September.

Following the heat waves were rolling blackouts. California released a report in January on the root cause of its rolling blackouts, highlighting that an extreme heat wave caused by climate change led to excessive demand for power.

If you’re dreading another long, hot summer with high electricity bills and potential blackouts, it’s good to know that your actions can actually reduce the possibility of a blackout. A study conducted by Sense of California homes found that 55% of electricity usage in the peak evening time frame (when power overloads are most common) could be shifted to other times during the day or reduced.

The analysis identified the appliances and devices that are typically in use during those hours. It found that 88% of consumption came from air conditioning systems. The remainder of energy use that could be rescheduled included water heaters, laundry machines (washers and dryers), pool pumps and EV chargers, all of which could be turned off or used at other times of the day or night.

Here are a few simple things you can do as temperatures rise this summer to reduce your energy usage and contribute to fewer rolling blackouts:

Maintain your HVAC system. Sense’s data shows that 20% of Americans have HVAC systems that cost the homeowner an extra $882 annually on average to keep their homes cool—almost four times as much as the most efficient similar homes. Regular maintenance and upgrades can reduce those costs. See our Ultimate Guide to Reducing AC Costs This Summer for more tips.

Schedule a home energy audit. During the audit, assess which of the following factors have the biggest impacts on cooling bills: the efficiency of the HVAC system itself, whether the home’s envelope is well insulated and tightly sealed, or your preferred thermostat settings.

Shift activities to off-peak hours. In the summer, energy demand peaks between 3 and 7 pm when air conditioners are humming and families are using more appliances. Don’t pile on with optional activities. Run your washer, dryer or dishwasher in the middle of the day, and schedule your EV to charge in the middle of the night. This approach helps reduce what are called peak loads, which can trigger rolling blackouts. And if you do have blackouts during peak hours, you’ll have clean clothes and clean dishes while you wait for the lights to come back on!

During heat waves, pre-cool your home. Set the thermostat to cooler temperatures in the morning and then nudge it up during peak hours to use less energy. If your home is well insulated, it will stay cool through those afternoon hours.

Upgrade your pool pump. Modern standards for variable speed pool pumps make them much more efficient. Since pool pumps are often running continuously, older models can be a big energy drain.