By Alicia Lacy
Killeen Daily Herald
Temperatures in Central Texas are already in the 90s with today's heat index pushing temperatures near 104 degrees. Area residents can protect themselves from heat related injuries and their pockets from high energy costs when trying to cool their homes.
Keeping homes cool with temperatures reaching 100 degrees without breaking the bank can prove to be a difficult task.
However, James Schindler, Bartlett Electric Cooperative's customer service supervisor, said doing the little things can make a big difference in energy savings.
"The No. 1 thing you do during the summer is use the air conditioner," he said.
According to the Alliance to Save Energy's website, www.energyhog.org, a large portion of energy bills are attributed to the use of the air conditioner in the summer months.
Schindler recommends residents set the thermostat at 78 degrees and changing the air filter every two weeks. The idea that turning off the air conditioner while not at home is actually not a good idea, he said, because the unit will have to work harder to cool the home. "When not at home, turn it up to about 83 or 84 degrees."
A misconception is the use of ceiling fans to cool the home. Because the fans only blow air, it's best to run the fans while in the room.
Replacing insulation in the attic also can increase cost savings. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends homes have between R-22 and R-49 insulation in the attic, which can increase cost savings up to 20 percent. R-38 to R-49 insulation is recommended for the Central Texas area.
Other ways to reduce energy costs include changing out incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents because they use 75 percent less energy and emit 90 percent less heat; sealing ducts and cracks; using a power strip for all electronic equipment and turning it off when not in use; and installing a programmable thermostat.
Schindler advises residents to check with their energy companies for rebates for energy efficiency.
"If you upgrade your insulation, (Barlett customers will) receive a $275 rebate," he said.
Sun's harmful rays
Whether outside for work or play, the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation that can have harmful short-term and long-term affects.
Scott McAninch, Metroplex Hospital's Emergency Department medical director, said sunscreen and sun block with a sun protection factor of at least 15 for protection against UV rays and should be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure.
UV rays can cause premature skin aging, wrinkles, cataracts and types of skin cancer.
According to information from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, skin cancers detected early can be cured, the OSHA website states.
McAninch said wearing hats and using umbrellas can decrease exposure to UV rays and darker, thicker clothes can block rays, but can retain heat.
"Sunglasses with ability to block at least 99 percent of UV rays are helpful to decrease chances of eyelid cancers," he added.
UV rays are rated on an index from 1 to 11. The UV index in Killeen reach 10 last week.
UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If tanning, McAninch said sunless tanning lotion or spray is a safe alternative to UV ray exposure.
The most important precaution against heat-related injuries is hydration.
McAninch said thirst is not always an indication of dehydration, so ensuring an adequate amount of water is consumed can prevent heat-related injuries.
McAninch advises people to pace themselves when working or playing outside, use a buddy system to monitor symptoms of heat illness and drink plenty of water and replenish sodium in the body by eating meals with recommended levels of sodium or drinking electrolyte solutions.
Children should drink half a glass to one glass of cool water before activity and half a glass to one glass of water per hour while in the heat and two to three cups within two hours after activity.
Children and adults older than 65, obese people and those taking heart and blood pressure medications are more prone to heat-related injures.
Heat injuries include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
A heat rash is a small, pimple-like rash on the face, neck, chest, crease of elbows and groin.
Keeping the skin cool and dry and applying baby powder can treat a heat rash.
Heat cramps are the cramping of muscles in the arms, legs and abdomen.
Resting in a cool area and drinking an electrolyte solution can treat heat cramps.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, headache and lightheadedness.
When experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, rest in a cool place with air conditioning and fans, drink cool fluids, place cool water on skin and loosen clothing.
Medical attention should be sought if symptoms are severe or last longer than an hour.
"Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening emergency," McAninch said.
Symptoms of a heat stroke are similar to heat exhaustion, but include confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness and unconsciousness.
Those with symptoms should go to a cool, shaded area and sit in a tub of cool water.
"While having fun or working in the heat, individuals need to be mindful about keeping themselves hydrated and having a balanced salt intake," he said. "The buddy system is highly encouraged to monitor for development of heat illness in others."
"If in doubt, seek medical attention."
Contact Alicia Lacy at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.