It’s Heating Up — 17 Ways to Bring Down the Cost of Keeping Cool

Using an air conditioner to stay cool can take a big bite out of 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 up to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Here are 17 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. Generally installed on the outside of windows, they look like insect screens but are made of a mesh material that blocks out some heat and light.

Buy adjustable versions of these screens that fit into window frames, have screens custom-made or make them yourself.

Since the mesh comes in varying densities, shop around at hardware stores to decide which you need before buying.

Another type of mesh, often called shade cloth, also comes in varying densities and can be used outdoors to shade decks, playgrounds, patios and outdoor living areas.

2. Put up window awnings

Install awnings outside above your warmest windows to shade them from the sun’s rays.

3. Hang shutters or roll-up shades

Inexpensive outdoor roll-up shades, often made of bamboo or vinyl, block heat. Hang them outside windows on the sunny side of the house. They are generally rolled up and down manually. 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.

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.

For more tips, check out “Stay Chill and Save Money by Getting Your Air Conditioner Summer-Ready.”

5. Use a programmable thermostat

Set the temperature higher during hours when you don’t need it, such as when you’re at work, or when you don’t need it to be as cool, such as at night. This will save energy and thus money.

Programmable thermostats can be installed yourself. You can get written and video instructions on Lowe’s website.

6. Seal ducts

In homes with forced-air central cooling, the duct system can lose 20 to 30 percent of cooled air to holes and leaks, according to the EPA. Hire a contractor to check for and seal leaks or seal any you find yourself.

7. Seal windows and doors

Expensively cooled indoor air can leak from windows and doors. The U.S. Department of Energy website, Energy.gov, has articles about caulking and weatherstripping that tell how to tighten the seals around your doors and windows.

8. Insulate the attic

Check out the Department of Energy’s site 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

Firing up your barbecue grill and cooking outside instead of in the kitchen on hot days will help keep your home cool.

10. Run appliances at night

Dishwashers and clothes dryers generally emit heat as they run, and that can make your air conditioner run 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 the dishes air dry.

A time-honored laundry-drying method that costs next to nothing is installing an old-fashioned clothesline and letting your laundry air dry.

11. Close the drapes

In the heat of the day, keep drapes and blinds closed on windows that face the sun. Once the temperature outside drops below the indoor temperature, open window coverings and throw open windows.

Consider lining draperies with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun’s heat, the National Association of Realtors says.

Two sets of drapes hung together, sometimes called “double-hung” drapes, reduces heat as well “Studies demonstrate that medium-colored draperies with white-plastic backings can reduce heat gains by 33 percent,” says the Department of Energy.

Hang draperies close to windows to keep heat from escaping.

12. Plant trees

Plant leafy deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the fall, on the east and west sides of your home to shade it from the rising and setting sun. In winter, the bare branches will let the sunshine through to help warm the home.

Also consider locating trees or shrubs in other spots where their shade can help, such as near air-conditioning units, patios, driveways and walkways.

13. Use big potted plants and vines

While you’re waiting for trees planted in the ground to grow, put large pots with trees or vines on trellises in front of sunny windows or hot exterior walls to help shade those areas.

14. Use ceiling fans correctly

Switch ceiling fan blades so they’re rotating counter-clockwise in summer and clockwise in winter. These fans have a toggle switch on the fan body that changes the rotation of the blades.

Fans cool your body, not the room air, so turn all fans off when you leave a room.

If you buy a new fan, look for Energy Star-certified ceiling fans. They are 60 percent more efficient than conventional fan/light units, saving you upwards of $20 per year on electricity, according to the EPA’s Energy Star program.

15. Stay cool with free-standing fans

Air blowing across the skin cools the body by evaporating moisture. When using a fan, direct the breeze at yourself and keep a spritz bottle close, misting yourself occasionally.

16. Use an attic fan

Attic fans help pull in cooler outside air and push out warm air through attic vents, taking a load off your air conditioner.

17. Close doors and registers

Don’t waste energy or money cooling the entire house if you’re using just a few rooms. Close registers or vents in any rooms you don’t use, keeping cool air from flowing freely into those rooms through air ducts.

For more tips on keeping cool, read:

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