Keep your cool-inside your house, that is-while trimming your bill by trying one or more of the following easy tips. Photo credit: Getty
Tune up your a/c
If you have central air, hire a licensed HVAC contractor to do a preseason check ($85 and up). He'll do routine maintenance that can prevent costly problems later. Every two or three years, have the ducts checked: Proper sealing and insulation can cut energy use by 20%. Clean the filter monthly, and replace it at least every three months (about $15). For a room air conditioner, remove any winter cover you have on the condenser unit, hose down the coils and clear the area for full air flow; clean or replace the filter monthly.
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Set your thermostat
Installing a programmable thermostat ($50 and up) can pay you back in energy savings the first year. Hire a professional installer if you aren't a DIYer or if your system is more than 10 years old. For the most savings (about $180 a year), the EPA suggests setting the thermostat to 85°F when you're out, 78°F when you're home and 82°F while you sleep. You can adjust the numbers a bit, but if there's more than 10 degrees between the highest and lowest settings, you won't save any money.
Stop heating up the kitchen
Using your oven is the most energy-intensive way to cook a meal-and it pours heat into the kitchen as well. Instead, consider the microwave, toaster oven or slow cooker. A microwave, for example, uses 80% less energy than an oven and doesn't heat the kitchen at all. If you do bake, use the oven light to check on your food; opening the door can lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
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Put a ceiling fan to work
An EnergyStar-qualified fan costs a few cents per hour to operate but makes the air feel 6 to 8 degrees cooler on your skin, so you can set your air conditioner higher; for every 2 degrees you turn it up, you'll save $40 over the season. Set the fan's blades to run counterclockwise to push air down toward you (reverse them in winter to send warm air near the ceiling into the room). Run the fan only when you're there to enjoy it: It cools you, not the room.
Block incoming rays
For $20 and up per window, solar film can keep up to 70% of the sun's heat (and 99% of UV rays) out of the house without blocking the light. New technology means it's not the shiny stuff you may remember, and you can remove it come fall if you like. Focus on the windows that get the most sun, like those that face south. You'll save up to 30% on cooling costs-and keep your furniture from fading! Another option: Use insulating curtains or blinds, and close them during the day. For long-term savings, plant deciduous trees near south-facing windows. They will block the summer sun but let the rays in when the leaves are gone.
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SOURCES: Danny Lipford, host, Today's Homeowner. Jennifer Schwab, chief sustainability officer, Sierra Club Green Home. Duncan McCulloch, director of strategy, Sears Home Improvements. Sarah-Frances Wallace, public relations, Lowes. Denise Durrett, communication specialist, EnergyStar. Amanda Lowenberger, senior analyst, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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