American summers are growing hotter, thanks to a combination of climate change and increased urbanization, according to research by Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists.
Meanwhile, the cost of using an air conditioner just keeps rising. Household energy bills are expected to grow 2 percent a year through 2040, says the National Association of Realtors’ HouseLogic site.
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 cooling efficiency by 10 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 are like insect screens, but made of a dense 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 your warmest windows to block 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. You can also hang them over the exterior of the home’s warmest side.
They roll up and down manually with a cord. Keep them rolled up in winter to invite the sun’s warmth indoors.
Shutters — in vinyl, composite, wood or natural-fiber woven material — also block the sun, and they add a stylish architectural flourish.
4. Keep the air conditioner in tip-top shape
Keeping AC units at maximum efficiency by having them regularly serviced helps whittle energy bills.
Replace air conditioner filters monthly while the units are in use. Dirty filters block air flow, making units draw more power and work harder.
5. Use a programmable thermostat
Fiddling with your home’s thermostat makes the AC run less efficiently. Hold a family meeting and get everyone to agree on one temperature for day, and one for night.
Save more by letting inside temperatures rise while you’re at work. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that air-conditioning systems run at peak efficiency when operating for extended periods. Cooling the house after the AC has been off for an extended period uses less electricity than having the AC unit cycle on and off for short periods during the day.
6. Seal ducts
Homes with forced-air ducts for heating and cooling can lose up to 20 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 are not long-lasting. Mastic sealant or metal tape is better.
Do it yourself or hire a contractor. If you do it yourself, you’ll save about $350 per year on energy costs by investing $100 to $350 in materials that will seal air leaks around your house, according to the NAR.
7. Seal windows and doors
Cool indoor air seeps out of leaks surrounding windows and doors. The Department of Energy’s Energy.gov website has articles on caulking and weatherstripping that explain how to tighten the seal around doors and windows.
Spending about $1,000 on new caulking, insulation and sealing can shave 10 percent to 20 percent off your energy bill, says the NAR.
8. Insulate the attic
Check out the Energy.gov website to learn how to conduct an energy audit to locate air leaks throughout the house. Before adding insulation, seal leaks and holes in the attic.