Regina Lewis, Special for USA TODAY
Those sizzling, sultry days of summer are upon us, causing many of us to crank up the AC and, unfortunately, our energy bill as well. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and air conditioning your home takes almost a whopping 45% bite out of your monthly utility bill.
So, how can you cool down air-conditioning costs and stay comfortable all summer long? We've got eight key tips:
1. Go green - and get planting.While trees can add to your home's curb appeal, they also provide an eco-friendly way to cool your home. By planting quick-growing trees such as a weeping willow or hybrid poplar around your home, you'll stop the sun from reaching inside your home. And if the trees or shrubs you plant shade your air conditioner, you can increase your AC's efficiency by up to 10%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
2. Keep it clean. It's a good idea to clean or replace your air conditioner filter once a month when it's in use. When a filter is dirty, your system will have to work harder to keep you cool, and that wastes energy. Plus, cleaner air filters improve indoor air quality, so you and your family can breathe a little easier.
3. Program some savings. If your dog is the only one home all day, he probably won't mind if the house is a little warm. Programmable thermostats allow the temperature to automatically rise during the day when no one is home. The possible savings: up to $180 a year. For information on programming your thermostat, go to www.energystar.gov, where you'll find step-by-step videos.
4. Circulate and save. Depending on where in the country you live, you may be able to keep your home cool with some simple, inexpensive fans. The key is to circulate air inside the house. When possible, place fans on your home's upper level and open windows on a lower level. And if you use a ceiling fan, you may be comfortable enough to raise the temperature on your AC. A 2-degree increase can lower cooling costs by up to 14%, according to the EPA.
5. Dress those windows. Dressing windows or shading them with solar screens can intercept up to 70% of solar energy before it gets into the house. Window screens are particularly effective on East- and West-facing windows. Window films - transparent, metalized sheets that reflect heat before it can be transmitted through glass - are another option.
6. Slash your energy costs with a newer unit. By replacing your older air conditioner with a newer unit, you could cut your energy costs in half, according to the Department of Energy. Be sure to look for a high energy-efficiency ratio, or EER, or an Energy Star qualified unit.
7. Get Out of the kitchen. At least step away from the stove. Turning your oven on can really heat up your house. Consider other cooking options: toaster oven, crock pot, outdoor grill or try take-out.
8. Hit the always-a-bit cooler, basement.