The U.S. Energy Department estimates that half the energy used by a household is for heating and cooling. Here are some ways to help lower your energy usage and reduce your monthly bills.
1. Clean filters regularly. Once a month, running water through your air conditioning filters and let them air-dry.
2. Unplug when not in use. Even when TVs, DVD players and computers are turned off, they can still suck "vampire power" out of outlets. Unplug your electronics or use a Smart Strip, which cuts power when it's not needed.
3. Turn it up. In summer, turn your thermostat up to 78 degrees when you’re home and 85 degrees when you’re out. You can save about 2-3% on your cooling bill for every degree warmer you set your thermostat to. Programmable thermostats allow the temperature to automatically rise during the day when no one is home.
4. Use a fan. Overhead fans, especially at night, can cool air more cheaply than turning down the thermostat. A ceiling fan doesn’t use any more energy than a light bulb, and a breeze makes you feel 3-4 degrees cooler.
5. Preserve cool air by plugging holes. If you have to run an air conditioner, make sure you change the filter on a regular basis and check the ducts for leaks. Leaking ducts account for 20 to 40% of cooling costs in an average home, so inspect your ducts at the beginning of summer and repair any leaks.
Inexpensive plastic film available at hardware stores can boost insulation around older windows.
6. Cut back on activities that heat up the house. Instead of using the dry cycle on your dishwasher, open the door a crack and let your dishes air dry. Air-dry clothes rather than putting them in the dryer. Bonus: garments last longer when air dried. Outdoor cooking helps reduce the heat you release into your kitchen.
7. Create shade. Beautify your property and reduce summer’s heat by strategically planting trees, vines and shrubs to shade your house during the hottest hours of the day. Alternatively, install awnings, shades, shutters or solar window films. These cost more, but are an effective way to reduce your reliance on air conditioning.