beat the heat this summerNo, it's not your imagination-it definitely is getting hotter. The eight warmest years on record occurred over the past decade. And it's only going to get more brutal; all sources say that Summer 2012 is going to be a real scorcher. But staying cool this summer doesn't necessarily mean you have to pay a fortune to keep the air-conditioning running day and night. Here are a few tweaks-most costing less than $25 to complete-that will keep you comfortable and cut the typical $1,000 cooling bill by as much as half. What's needed to get the temperature to drop? Only a little time and a few changes in your routine. Keep reading to learn more.
SEE ALL: Top 10 Ways to Beat the Heat
Tip 1: Install a Programmable Thermostat
A programmable thermostat lets you preset temperatures for different times of the day, so air-conditioning is working only when you are home. The least expensive thermostat models ($30) let you set four cycles that, unless manually overridden, repeat every day. Higher-priced models ($50 and up) allow you to create settings for each weekday and for each weekend day.
These thermostats come with complete directions and are easy to install. Just remove the old thermostat, unscrewing the wire leads attached to the terminals on the back. Reattach those wires to the terminals on the new model (in a system with separate A/C and heating units there may be four leads on the back, two for each unit). AA batteries maintain the settings if the power ever goes off.
Cost: $30 to $50
Benefit: Up to 20 percent off your cooling bill
A fan, which costs two to five cents per hour to operate, will make a room feel 4 to 6 degrees cooler. Also, a fan works well in tandem with an air conditioner because the dehumidifying action of the air conditioner provides drier air that the fan can then move around.
In frequently used rooms, install a ceiling fan (set it to spin counterclockwise in summer). You'll save the most money by running the fan only when you're in the room. A motion-detector switch (around $20), which turns the fan on when you enter a room and off when the room is empty, is a good addition. However, if you have pets that move in and out of the room, make sure the switch can be turned off manually. Otherwise, your pets can cause the fan to run while you're away.
If nighttime temperatures drop into the 70s where you live, you might want to purchase a whole-house fan, which runs $300 to $600 installed. This type of unit goes in an upstairs ceiling, ideally in a central hall. When run at night with the windows open, the fan will pull cool air into the house as it vents hot air out through the attic. Most models are designed to slip in between joists for easy installation. Whole-house fans, which draw only as much power as a couple of lightbulbs, are usually outfitted with a variable-speed switch and/or timer. If you install one, be sure to get an insulated box to cover the portal in winter.
Cost: Ceiling fans range from $40 to $300 or more. Floor fans cost around $20, and whole-house fans run from $300 to $600.
Benefit: Ceiling fans can decrease your cooling bill by up to 15 percent, while a whole-house fan can slash it by 50 percent.
Incandescent bulbs don't contribute as much heat as unshaded windows, but they do add heat to a house and can raise the perceived temperature, sending you to the thermostat to seek relief. To reduce this hot-light effect and save lighting costs year-round, replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. They use about 75 percent less energy and emit 90 percent less heat.
Cost: $12 to $25 per bulb
Benefit: Up to 5 percent off your cooling bill plus electricity savings
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