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Money-Saving Ways to Stay Cool This Summer

There’s a perfect summer storm brewing, and it’s going to dramatically increase the cost of keeping your home cool. First, many parts of the country have already experienced crazy-high temperatures, and it’s not even officially summer yet; months of the hottest weather are still to come.

(Today, the daytime high temperature ranged between 85 and 90 degrees in more than a dozen states stretching from the southern tip of Texas, through the Gulf Coast, and as far north as Boston. And it's only May 4!)

Second, as electricity rates continue their upward spiral, it’s going cost more to run air conditioners.

Finally, skyrocketing gas prices threaten to reduce vacation travel, meaning more families will be staying home this summer.

Ok, now some good news. A government study found as much as one-third of a home’s annual cooling costs comes from heat generated inside the house. That’s good news because there are definitely steps you can take to cool down your home. Here are the top five money-saving ways to stay cool this summer:

1 Reduce A/C Usage—Be very judicious when using air conditioners. Run them only when absolutely necessary, and never when you’re not home. If possible, don’t turn on the A/C until the late afternoon or early evening hours, when the house starts radiating heat absorbed from earlier in the day.

When you must turn on the A/C during the heat of the day, keep the thermostat set between 75 and 78 degrees. If your home has central AC, be sure the ducts are well insulated. According to United Power, a Colorado electric cooperative, well-insulated ductwork can save 20 to 30 percent on cooling expenses. Also, clean or change the filter monthly throughout the cooling season to help the A/C unit run more efficiently.

2 Be a Fan Favorite—Ceiling fans are surprisingly effective in keeping rooms cool. According to a study conducted by the Long Island Power Authority, ceiling fans use only about one tenth of the electricity of a typical home air conditioner.

And a breeze of just one mph will make you feel three to four degrees cooler and here’s why: unlike air conditioners, fans cool people not air. Just check to be sure the fan is blowing air down; some models have a “winter” setting that reverses the blades to blow upward.

Window or box fans can also keep rooms cooler, and are great at helping to circulate air-conditioned air throughout the house. They’re also useful for exhausting hot air out of rooms through open windows.

3 Use Windows Wisely—By knowing exactly when to open and close certain windows, you can greatly reduce heat buildup inside your home. For example, in the morning draw closed drapes and shut windows on the south- and east-facing sides of the house. Open windows and drapes that face north and west. That will help block out solar heat gain from the rising sun, yet let in cool, fresh air.

Then, as the afternoon sun makes its way around to the opposite side of the house, close west-facing windows and open the ones facing east. It’s usually best to keep the south windows closed until late evening, and the north windows open all the time.

4 Say Goodbye to Incandescent Bulbs—If you’re still using old incandescent light bulbs, switch them out with energy-efficient LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) or CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights). These newer bulbs burn much cooler, last much longer, and consume 75 percent less electricity than the same size incandescent.

Florida Power and Light studies have shown that replacing just one 60-watt incandescent bulb with an energy-saving CFL saves about $55 over the lifespan of that bulb.

5 Forego the Oven—There’s no surer way to make a kitchen unbearably hot than by a turning on the oven. So, when the dogs days of summer come, cook meals outdoors on the grill, use a microwave or crock pot, or even a toaster oven, which produces much less heat—and uses less electricity—than a full-size oven.

If you must use the oven, wait until the late evening or very early morning, when the house is coolest. And if you have a range hood that's ducted to the outside, use it to exhaust heat rising from the oven.

Finally note that most municipal electric companies will perform a free in-depth energy audit of your home, which can help you discover ways to conserve energy, keep cool, and save more than a little money.

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