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Beat the Heat, Without Battering Your Budget

Summer is here and with it comes lots of sun and relentless heat. It's only natural to want to stay as cool as possible, but unfortunately, one of the most expensive systems to run in a home is air-conditioning. With a little bit of planning, you can reduce your dependence on air conditioning or at least limit how much you use it and in turn limit the amount you pay for electricity. To help you get started, we've put together some inexpensive ways to keep cool when the temperature rises.

No Cost

The first thing to try to fight the summer heat is ideas that won't cost a cent. Here are some things you can try to stay cool naturally.

  • During the day, keep shades and blinds closed to keep out the sun's heat.
  • At night, open the upper part of double-hung sash windows (since heat rises) to let cool air in and hot air out.
  • Dress in loose fitting open weave fabrics that let heat escape. Light colored clothing helps reflect sunlight and keep you cooler.
  • Conserve your own energy �avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day, and eat lightly.
  • Drink plenty of water and remember that perspiration is your body's natural way of keeping cool.
  • Leaving lights, computers, TVs or other unused electric appliances on adds heat needlessly. Turning them off when not in use reduces heat and saves electricity.

Low Cost

Not all strategies for keeping cool come without cost. Sometimes a modest investment can pay big dividends when it comes to preventing big energy bills. Air circulation is important to maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature without depending on air conditioning.

  • Fans use far less energy than air conditioners. Use them during the day to circulate air and at night to draw cooler air into the house.
  • Window fans that blow hot air out of the house should be placed on the warmest side of the house for maximum effect.
  • Ceiling fans should be set to rotate counterclockwise in warmer months to blow air down and create a "wind chill" effect.
  • Make sure attic vents are open and clear, because a cooler attic helps prevent heat build-up in the rooms below. If you have an attic fan make sure it is operating properly before the season heats up because it can pull hot air out, and cool air in.
  • Solar screens are an inexpensive, do-it-yourself treatment that can block up to 70% of the solar heat while maintaining your view. Solar window-tint films can also reduce heat and be applied to windows easily.
  • For the cost of a couple of tubes of caulk and/or weather-stripping you can seal up holes that can allow cool air out and hot air in. Look for areas where pipes enter the house, around chimneys, and gaps behind unfinished areas like cabinets.
  • One low tech way of checking for window drafts is to hold a candle on one side of a window and have a second person point a blow dryer on high at the window edges and observe to see if the candle flickers or goes out. If so, caulk!

Containing Cost

If you use air conditioning and can't imagine getting by without it, you are going to pay dearly for electricity, but there are still ways to keep your costs from sky-rocketing.

  • Try raising the temperature at which you set your thermostat a couple of degrees. A 2 or 3 degree increase, could cut your bill up to 5%.
  • Regular maintenance is essential to cost-effective operation of any type of cooling system. Check filters on a regular basis.
  • If you are using a window air conditioner, place it on the shaded side of the house and close doors leading out of the room you are trying to cool.
  • Keep furniture and draperies away from window units, vents and returns for optimal performance of your cooling system and so air can flow freely.
  • Turn off kitchen and bath exhaust fans when you are done cooking or bathing. These exhaust fans can quickly pull a whole house full of cold air outside.
  • Don't place lamps, televisions or other appliances near your air conditioning thermostat. The heat from these appliances will cause the air conditioner to run longer.

Wise Investments

One sensible purchase you can make to help cut down on your cooling costs is a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to automatically adjust the temperature of your home while you are out of the house and adjust to a cooler temperature before you arrive home. It can also be set to a higher temperature while you are asleep and lower when you wake up.

If you are purchasing a cooling system, whether it is whole house or a window unit, look for one that is "Energy Star" rated (get more information at http://www.energystar.gov/) Look for a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The current minimum is 13 SEER for central air conditioners. ENERGY STAR models are 13 SEER or more.

Purchasing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can save you money in several ways. They are more expensive initially, but use about one-third the electricity, produce one-third the heat and last about 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs- so you save money during the life of the lamp and stay cooler.

Try some of these ideas the next time you find yourself breaking a sweat and hopefully you'll be able to keep your cool the next time your utility bill arrives in the mailbox.

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