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.