American summers are growing hotter, thanks to climate change and increased urbanization. Using an air conditioner to stay cool takes a big bite out of your household budgets. There’s plenty you can do, though, to cut the cost of cooling a home. For example, sealing air leaks and adding insulation can together boost a home’s heating and cooling efficiency by 15 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Here are 19 tips for lowering the cost of keeping cool:
1. Install solar screens
Cool your home by putting solar screens (also called sun-shade screens) on the windows that get the most sun. Installed on the outside of windows, they look like insect screens, but are made of a denser mesh that blocks heat and light.
Buy adjustable screens that fit into window frames, have screens custom-made or make them yourself for about $10 per screen.
Since the mesh comes in varying densities, shop around at hardware stores to decide which you need before buying.
Another type of mesh, called shade cloth, also comes in varying densities and can be used outdoors to shade decks, playgrounds, patios, eating areas and outdoor living areas.
2. Put up window awnings
Install awnings above outside your warmest windows to shade them from sun. Awnings cut solar heat gain by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows in summer and by 77 percent on west-facing windows, the EPA says.
3. Hang shutters or roll-up shades
Inexpensive roll-up shades — made of bamboo or vinyl strips — block heat. Hang them outside windows on the sunny side of the house. They are rolled up and down manually using a pull-cord. Keep them up in winter to invite the sun’s warmth indoors.
Shutters — in vinyl, composite, wood or natural-fiber woven material — also block the sun while adding a stylish architectural flourish.
4. Keep the air conditioner in tip-top shape
Keeping air-conditioner units at maximum efficiency by having them regularly serviced helps whittle energy bills.
Replace filters monthly when units are in use. Dirty filters block air flow, making the unit draw more power and work harder.
5. Use a programmable thermostat
Hold a family meeting and get everyone to agree on one temperature for day and one for night. Otherwise, fiddling with your home’s thermostat wreaks havoc on your air conditioner’s efficiency.
Save still more by setting temperatures inside the home to rise as much as 4 degrees while you’re away, allowing you to save energy.
6. Seal ducts
Homes with forced-air ducts for heating and cooling can lose 20 to 30 percent of heated or cooled air to holes, leaks and leaky duct joints. Some people seal these openings with duct tape, but the EPA says such seals don’t last well. Mastic sealant or metal tape works better.
Hire a contractor or do it yourself. The DIY approach saves about $350 per year on energy costs and requires investing about $100 to $350 in materials to seal air leaks around the house, according to the National Association of Realtors.
7. Seal windows and doors
Expensively cooled indoor air can leak from windows and doors. The U.S. Department of Energy website has articles about caulking and weatherstripping that tell how to tighten the seals around your doors and windows.
Spending about $1,000 on new caulking, insulation and sealing can shave 10 to 20 percent off your energy bill, estimates the NAR.
8. Insulate the attic
Check out the Department of Energy website to learn how to conduct an energy audit to locate air leaks throughout the house. Before you install new insulation, seal any leaks and holes in the attic.
9. Use the barbecue
Before electricity, homes in warm climates used separate outdoor summer kitchens to keep the main house cool. Firing up your barbecue instead of the kitchen on the hottest days has the same effect.
Other cooling tips include:
- Open the refrigerator only briefly and infrequently.
- Instead of the oven, use smaller appliances — a toaster oven, rice cooker, microwave or countertop convection oven, for instance. These smaller devices use less energy and radiate less heat.
10. Run appliances at night
Dishwashers and clothes dryers emit heat as they run, and that makes your air conditioner run even harder. Use such appliances after the day cools down.
Another way to save energy is to turn off the dishwasher before the dry cycle is complete; open it up and let dishes air dry.
A time-honored laundry method that costs nothing is installing an old-fashioned clothesline and letting laundry dry in the sunshine.
11. Use vent fans carefully
Use vents or vented appliances at night or in the early morning. Running bathroom and kitchen fans during the hottest hours pulls cooled air out of the house. The clothes dryer’s vent sends cooled air outside, too.