Spring cleaning for improved energy efficiency


By Tim King

Now that warm, gentle breezes have finally settled in to replace those long-forgotten, icy, nose-numbing winds of winter, it’s time to open up our homes to the wonders of the season. Here are a few helpful cleaning tips that can also help you use less energy - and stay more comfortable – inside your home this summer.


Open windows, especially during cool mornings and evenings, to help flush warm, stagnant air up and out of the house. Open and inspect all windows, frames and sashes for broken seals, moisture and rot. Clean sills of leaves and other small debris that could prevent windows from draining properly. Wipe off rubberized gaskets, weather stripping.

How-to tip: A DIY cleaning solution made with 2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon dish detergent works great. Use old newspaper for a streak-free shine. Wear disposable gloves to keep the newspaper ink off your hands.


Block the thermal heat energy of the sun from entering through a window to keep your home comfortable this summer. Install light blocking window treatments such as blinds and shades to reduce the amount of solar heat energy entering your living space. The more heat energy that you can prevent from entering your home in the summer, the less energy you will need to cool it back down.


Get all the benefits of allowing naturally cooler outside air into the house without inviting those annoying insects and debris in, too.

A clean window screen can dramatically improve the amount of cool, fresh air that can travel through it. Make a habit of cleaning window screens each season to remove the dust, dirt and pollen that have accumulated over time.

How-to tip: Remove screens then stack and soak them outside in a soapy solution of water. A small plastic kiddie pool works great for this.


Keeping a refrigerator’s fan/coils clean can improve its energy efficiency by 9 kWh a month. Over the life of the appliance (10-15 yrs) that could add up to $500 or more. Located either behind or beneath most refrigerators, condenser coils often become magnets for household dust, dirt and pet hair. A clogged coil creates a double whammy when it comes to energy use. It not only reduces the efficiency of the appliance itself, requiring it to run for longer periods, the increased operation of the motor also sends more heat into the room.

How-to tip: Always unplug or shut off the power before working on any electrical appliance. Remove the narrow front grate at the bottom of the front and back of the refrigerator and use a long, stiff brush and your vacuum’s crevice tool to clean out the coils.


If you are considering purchasing a new air conditioner, compare the energy use of many different models at www.energystar.gov. Keep in mind that bigger is not always better when selecting an air conditioner. Oversized ACs will consume more energy and may end up being less effective at cooling too.

Cleaning or replacing the filter on a window-mounted air conditioner will prevent the unit from having to work harder and use more energy than it was designed to. It can also help the unit last longer.

Some Mainers may be surprised to learn that air source (mini-split) heat pumps, primarily thought of as an efficient, cost effective way to heat homes, can also provide cooling comfort during the summer by circulating air and by removing much of the heat and humidity from inside the house.

How-to tip: Remove and clean the fi lter several times during the cooling season by washing it in warm soapy water. Cleaning the condenser coils (outside, before the unit is installed) with a product such as the AC-Safe Air Conditioning Coil Foaming Cleaner will also help the unit work more efficiently.


Although fans do not lower the air temperature, constant air movement can make people feel (up to 4°) cooler by accelerating how quickly perspiration evaporates off our bodies.

Before switching the rotation of your ceiling fan back from its clockwise (winter) setting to increase the air circulation in the room for the summer, clean the edges and tops of each blade with warm soapy water and a rag.

How-to tip: After cleaning the blades, wipe each fan blade with a clean cloth sprayed with furniture polish to reduce future dust buildup.

While these may not be the most glamorous of tasks, each one will help you reduce the amount of energy you’ll need this summer. Then you can use the money you save to take one more walk to the neighborhood ice cream stand. 

Tim King is a sustainability-minded, freelance writer from Scarborough, Maine.