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9 ways to cool down air-conditioning costs

Chill air-conditioning costs
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Chill air-conditioning costs | Mark Horton / EyeEm/GettyImages

Chill air-conditioning costs

A heat wave assaults the senses. There's the feel of extreme warmth, the smell of perspiration and the sight of air almost seeming to bend in sizzling temperatures.

And what's that you're hearing? It's your air conditioner running and the sound of your bank account drying up.

Heating and air conditioning your home account for almost half of your home's energy use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Here's how to cut those costs during the summer.

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Improve plantings around your house | Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/GettyImages

Improve plantings around your house

"Most heat that accumulates inside a house comes directly from the sun shining on to the roof or through windows, and heating the house directly," says John Krigger, owner of Saturn Resource Management, which offers energy conservation training in Helena, Montana.

Planting leafy trees around the building's exterior will stop the sun from shining inside your home. "Even for the cost of going to the nursery and buying a 15- to 20-foot-tall tree, trees are still the best value," Krigger says.

If the trees or shrubs shade your air conditioner, you could increase your AC's efficiency by up to 10%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Clothe your windows | Ken Brown/E+/Getty Images

Clothe your windows

Solar screens, or mesh-like window screens, intercept up to 70% of solar energy before it gets into the house, Krigger says. Window screens are particularly effective on east- and west-facing windows, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Window films are another option. They are transparent, metalized sheets that reflect heat before it can be transmitted through glass.

However, windows must be shut for window films to work, while solar screens do double duty, keeping sun and insects out -- even with windows open.

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Flip a switch | Tetra Images/Getty Images

Flip a switch

Go ahead, get comfortable. Lower your air conditioner's thermostat setting to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you're at home. But let that number rise to a higher temperature at night or when you're not at home. You can save 5% to 15% on your air-conditioning bills by raising the temperature setting on your thermostat when you're away and don't need cooling, according to the Department of Energy.

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Fan it

No need to invest in fancy fans. Krigger says the key is to circulate air inside the house. If possible, operate fans on your home's upper level and open the windows on a lower level. If you live in a one-story house or apartment, you should close windows near the fan and open windows in rooms far from the fan, preferably on your home's windward side, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Moving air also helps evaporate the sweat from your skin, says Paul Scheckel, an energy-efficiency consultant in Calais, Vermont, and author of "The Home Energy Diet."

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"Evaporational cooling is an incredibly efficient process for removing heat, and our bodies do it all by themselves. A little help can increase the cooling effect," Scheckel says.


Chill in the basement | Perry Mastrovito / DesignPics/Getty Images

Chill in the basement

Camp out in your basement, says Stan Cox, author of "Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer)." In your eco-cooled basement, a TV, couch or futon, and a cold drink may be all you need.

However, Scheckel says don't open basement windows when outdoor air is heavy with humidity. "Warm, moist air will cause condensation on cool surfaces such as basement walls, ultimately increasing the humidity in your home," he says.

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Don't bake or cook on the stove | GabrieleTamborrelli/E+/Getty Images

Don't bake or cook on the stove

Skip the stove-top boiling and oven baking during hot spells, Cox says. Reduce indoor heat by making microwave nachos or eating a cool salad. If you must boil pasta for tomorrow's potluck, cook in the evening.

After cooking, turn on the kitchen exhaust, and turn on the bathroom exhaust fan after a hot shower. "Remove heat and moisture at the source," Scheckel says. "Reducing humidity can help increase comfort."

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Maintain or replace your AC | Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

Maintain or replace your AC

"AC efficiency is mostly a function of the technology," Scheckel says. "Keep the filter clean to allow for good air movement and keep the unit level so the condensation drains properly."

If you swap your older air conditioner for a newer unit, you could reduce your energy costs by half, according to the Department of Energy. Look for a high-energy-efficiency ratio, or EER, or an Energy Star-qualified unit. Higher EER ratings mean a more efficient air conditioner. Energy Star refers to a system adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy to identify energy-efficient products.

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Let humidity set your AC pace | Tetra Images/Getty Images

Let humidity set your AC pace

Put the AC fan speed on high, except on especially humid days, says the U.S. Department of Energy. On humid days, place the speed on low. The slower air movement through the air-conditioning equipment removes more moisture from the air, improving comfort in your home.

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Splash in the bath | Fernando Acuña / EyeEm/GettyImages

Splash in the bath

Step in the shower, spray yourself with a water bottle or use a cool cloth on the back of your neck. And if you don't chill out right away, don't give up, says Cox, the environmental writer and scientist. "Our comfort range depends on the temperatures we have experienced in recent days and weeks," he says. "The body and mind adjust to rising temperatures."

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