How to Keep Cool Without Breaking the Bank

When the mercury creeps higher it's natural to want to ratchet up the air conditioner. But with cooling costs accounting for up to 40% of the average summer energy bill, that's not the most economic or eco-sensitive solution. Believe it or not, making a few simple low-tech changes can pay off with a cooler house and a much lower bill.

Thermostat 101

  • An air conditioner set at 70°F costs twice as much to operate as one set at 78°F. It may seem counterintuitive, but raise the thermostat by 2 degrees above its normal setting. You won't feel a difference, but you will see one on your bill.
  • 74°F to 78°F is a comfortable range for most people. Set the thermostat to 80°F when you'll be out of the house for several hours and lower it when you return. But don't shut the air conditioner off; it's less efficient to cool the house back down than to leave it set at a higher temperature.
  • An automated, programmable thermostat takes care of these tasks and will quickly pay for itself in energy savings.
  • Clean or replace the air conditioner filter monthly. Clogged, dirty filters block air flow and make a unit work much harder. A clean filter can save 10% on your bill.

Cooling Trends

  • A ceiling fan only uses about as much energy as a 100-watt bulb, but it can make a room feel up to eight degrees cooler. In summer, blades should turn counterclockwise, pushing air downward to create a cool breeze. Reverse directions in winter, so the fan draws air up.
  • Box fans are only efficient if someone is in the room to enjoy them, so don't leave them running in empty rooms.
  • Keeping windows closed and curtains drawn during the day can reduce cooling costs by 30 percent. In the evening, if the outside temperature is below 77°F, open windows to release warm air from inside the house.
  • If there isn't enough roof overhang to shield windows from direct sun, awnings over west- and south-facing windows not only block solar heat but protect furnishings from UV damage.
  • Lights, computers and televisions all generate heat. Turn them off when they're not in use and you'll save twice on your energy bill.
  • Shut cooling vents to seldom-used rooms like basements or guest suites.

Longer Term Solutions

  • Strategic landscaping can cool your house. Deciduous trees-like Maple, Oak and Aspen-planted along the east and west sides of your home allow breezes to pass underneath while keeping the sun from windows. If they grow tall enough, they can also help shade the roof. In the winter when the trees are leafless, the sun will help to heat your home.
  • Low-emissivity film applied to older, less energy-efficient windows blocks the sun's rays and helps prevent cooled air from escaping.
  • Temperatures in an attic can reach 150°F on the hottest summer days. Consider a thermostat-controlled attic fan to release superheated air and keep your entire house cooler.

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