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Nine Money-Saving Tactics and Tools to Stay Cool

Amanda S. Creasey

In the heat of the summer months, many of us feel tempted to turn that thermostat down just two or three more degrees to achieve a sense of cooling relief. What we may not be aware of, however, is that those two or three little degrees may be adding hundreds of dollars to our summertime electric bill.

While you may be willing to pay that price to stay cool, you don’t have to. Below are nine ways you can get cooler this summer without breaking the bank.

1. Strategically Open Your Windows

As a rule of thumb, if your air conditioner is on, you’ll want to keep your windows closed. A popular myth advises that opening windows while running your air conditioning will help cool a room faster, because the open windows let the hot air out, allowing the cool air to replace it.

What actually happens, though, is that the cool air generated by your air conditioner escapes through the open windows. Your best option would be to open your windows only when the air temperature outside your home is cooler than the air temperature inside, and while your air conditioner is turned off.

If you are going to open windows to cool your home, being strategic about it can maximize the cooling effect and financial savings. For example:

  • Open the downstairs windows on the shaded side of your house and the upstairs windows on the sunny side. Because heat rises, doing so will pull air up through the house, creating a draft to maximize air flow, pulling the cool air throughout the house.
  • You can achieve a similar effect if you open the downstairs windows on the side of your house facing into the wind, and the upstairs windows on the side facing away from the wind. Doing this changes the air pressure, pulling cool air in through one side of house.

If you do opt to open windows to cool your home, be sure to close them as soon as the temperature outside becomes higher than the temperature inside.

2. Turn up the Temperature When You’re Away

You may have heard that maintaining a constant temperature in your home is an efficient and money-saving tactic when it comes to your cooling system. Many people believe that allowing their homes to warm up will unnecessarily tax their air conditioners, causing the units to work harder to re-cool a space than to maintain a consistently cool temperature.

This, however, is a myth. Experts actually recommend turning your thermostat up at least a few degrees when you are away from home on a warm day, and turning it back down to the desired temperature when you return.

3. Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat can allow you to adjust the temperature of your home without the hassle of having to remember to do so, or having to sit and sweat while you wait for your home to return to a comfortable temperature.

These thermostats allow you to create a schedule for your home cooling, dictating to your thermostat when it should turn the temperature up or down at various points during the day. Once you’ve plugged in the settings, you don’t have to worry about remembering to turn the temperature up when you leave or back down again when you return, and the thermostat will have your house at the desired temperature when you arrive.

Plus, you’re likely to save up to 10% on your annual heating and cooling costs if you simply set your thermostat seven to 10 degrees warmer eight hours out of the day. A programmable thermostat can remember to do that for you.

4. Install a Whole-House Fan

Installed in your attic, whole-house fans run at night, when temperatures cool down, replacing the warmer air inside with the cooler air from outside.

Whether or not a whole-house fan would be effective for your home depends on where you live. Best suited to dry climates that feature cooler nighttime temperatures, they are most effective when the temperature outside is below 70 degrees, and are recommended if your home does not have—or if you do not use—central air conditioning.

These fans can cool a space in under an hour, and use 85-90% less energy than a central air conditioning system. In the right climate, they can save you a significant amount of money, and pay for themselves quickly.

5. Landscape for Maximum Cool

Taking your particular climate into consideration is important when planning landscape designs to reduce your summer cooling costs, but here are landscaping recommendations that apply in most areas:

  • Planting tall trees with wide canopies on the south side of your home can help shade your roof from summer sun during the peak daylight hours, thus reducing solar heat gain.
  • On the west side of your home, consider planting shorter trees or tall bushes to shade the walls from late afternoon sun.
  • Evergreen trees to the northeast can help direct warm southerly winds away from your home and create southwesterly winds.
  • Planting low-lying shrubbery anywhere around the foundation of your home can keep the ground surrounding your home cool, but be sure to leave enough space between your home and the bushes for air to flow.

While many people view climbing vines such as ivy as damaging, these vines can actually be very beneficial on brick or stone houses. Allowing vines to grow on the south and west walls of your home can help shade them. Provided you keep all air intakes clear, shading your air conditioner by planting bushes around it can increase its efficiency by 10% and can decrease your bills by up to 50%.

Finally, planting ground cover in areas that are currently bare or that feature pavement can decrease the temperature around your house by 10 degrees. Since the energy consumption of your air conditioner directly relates to the temperature difference inside your house versus outside, keeping the air around your house cooler reduces the load on your air conditioner.

6. Cover Your Windows

While any drawn window treatments can help prevent solar heat gain in your home, drapes with blackout lining are designed specifically to prevent it—though when closed, they will keep your house dark.

If you want to let in the sun’s light without the sun’s heat, you can pair blackout curtains with translucent window coverings or window film. Simply close the blackout curtains for maximum protection from summer heat when you leave home, and open them only when you are home.

Even when blackout curtains are open while you are home, the translucent drapes or window film will let in light while still helping decrease solar heat gain, thus reducing the burden on your cooling system, and saving you money. In fact, window film alone can reduce solar heat gain by up to 70%, as well as reducing UV exposure that can fade interiors.

7. Use Ceiling Fans

Even though ceiling fans do not cool the air, they do move it, which creates a cooling effect that can allow you to set your thermostat four degrees higher without feeling warmer, thus cutting down your cooling bill. To reap the maximum money-saving benefits of a ceiling fan, make sure to install it wisely.

First, ceiling fans are most efficient when hung seven to nine feet above the floor and 10 to 12 inches from the ceiling. Second, make sure you choose a fan of an appropriate size for your space. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends fans 36 to 44 inches in diameter for rooms of 225 square feet or smaller. For larger rooms, opt for a 52-inch or larger diameter and, if your space is longer than 18 feet, you may want to consider installing multiple fans.

You can save even more energy and money by turning ceiling fans off when you leave the room. As fans cool people, rather than spaces, a running fan is a waste of energy in an empty room where no one is present to enjoy the breeze.

8. Change Your Air Filters

Regularly replacing your system’s dirty air filter with a clean one can reduce its energy use by 5-15%, saving you money. In fact, this simple maintenance task is the most important factor in your system’s energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which recommends you clean or replace filters every four to eight weeks during the summer months to maintain your system’s efficiency.

9. Be Energy Savvy

We’ve talked a lot about things you can do to help keep your cooling costs down this summer, but there are also a few things you should avoid doing, such as using your oven, which can increase the temperature of your home, forcing your air conditioner to work harder to keep the space cool. Instead, you may opt to use your outdoor grill.

You also want to avoid leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms. Incandescent bulbs give off 90% of their energy as heat, contributing to heat gain in a room and forcing your air conditioner to work that much harder.

Finally, don’t leave your air conditioner running while you’re away from home. When you leave, turn the thermostat up or turn the unit off altogether. Better yet, install one of those convenient programmable thermostats to do it for you. Doing so can save you $180 this year.

READ MORE: 11 Cool Tips for a Comfortable Summer Drive

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