Using an air conditioner to stay cool can take a big bite out of household budgets.
Fortunately, there are many less expensive things you can do to cool your home. Here are 11 tips for lowering the cost of keeping cool.
1. Install solar screens
Put 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.
You can 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. Typically, you roll them 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 can 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 “8 Air Conditioner Parts You Can’t Afford to Neglect.”
5. Use a programmable thermostat
Set the temperature higher during hours when you don’t need it, such as when you’re at work. This will save energy and thus money.
6. Seal ducts, windows and doors
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 Environmental Protection Agency. Hire a contractor to check for and seal leaks or seal any you find yourself.
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 explain how to tighten the seals around your doors and windows.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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. Hanging two sets of drapes hung together — sometimes called “double-hung” drapes — reduces heat as well, says the Department of Energy:
Studies demonstrate that medium-colored draperies with white-plastic backings can reduce heat gains by 33 percent.
Hang draperies close to windows to keep heat from escaping.
11. Use fans correctly
Fans cool your body, not the room air. So, turn all fans off when you leave a room. 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.
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 upward of $20 per year on electricity, according to the EPA’s Energy Star program.
For more tips on keeping cool when the temperatures soar, read “5 Odd but Effective Ways to Keep Cool Without Air Conditioning.”
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