1. Use windows and window coverings to your advantage. If you’re not home during the day, close all windows, curtains, and blinds to keep your house cool for as long as possible. If you’re home during the day and don’t want all the windows covered, cover them when needed. Remember that south-facing windows get a lot of sun. East-facing windows get sun in the morning and west-facing ones get the hotter and stronger sun in the afternoon and evening. Dark-colored curtains, roman shades, and even dime-store roller shades can be very effective. “Roller shades can block up to 80% of solar heat,” Muffett says. If the air cools down enough in the evening, open the windows to promote as much air circulation as possible.

2. Don’t add to the heat inside. Use appliances such as irons, washers, and dryers at night or early morning -- or eliminate the dryer altogether and use a clothesline instead. (Not running your appliances between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. also helps avoid brownouts.“A big source of heat is your stove,” Pope says. “So if you can, cook outdoors or microwave meals.” Microwaves use two-thirds less energy than stoves. Another option is using a toaster oven for baking. Because toaster ovens are so much smaller, they don’t warm up a kitchen like a conventional oven. And, depending on the model, you’ll be cutting your energy use in half. Turn off computers and other appliances when not in use. Left running, these can also generate unnecessary heat. You can also unplug these appliances when not in use to ensure you reduce your electric bill as well, because the small amount of power these pull while plugged in can add up on your bill over time.

3. Consider changing your bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs are heat generators, so many experts suggest switching them for energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs or halogen infrareds. Fluorescent “corkscrew” bulbs contain mercury, so consider the safety risks before putting them in children’s bedrooms, playrooms, or other places where they may be likely to break.

4. Use fans. When it cools down outside, place inexpensive portable fans in front of open windows to bring the cool air inside. And consider installing a ceiling fan if you don’t already have one. Attic fans also circulate cool air from outside through the house. Use ceiling or room fans even if you have an air conditioner. You can then set your thermostat higher because the air movement from the fan will help the room feel cooler.

5. Keep your refrigerator well stocked. Refrigerators that are full of food don’t warm up as quickly when the door is opened, so they require less energy to stay cool.


Keeping a Cool House From the Outside In

Shading from the inside with curtains and blinds is a good first step, but shading from the outside can be even better.

One of the least expensive ways to do this is by installing awnings. The Department of Energy estimates that awnings can reduce solar heat gain – the amount the temperature rises – in your house by as much as 77%. Patio covers can also shade from the outside.

Other more costly exterior shade options include woven mesh solar screens that hang outside, solar control windows, and reflective film on windows. Window film, which is actually a microscopic layer of metal that repels solar radiation, can block anywhere from 50% to 70% of solar heat.


Tips for Your Air Conditioner

Try some of these strategies for cutting costs and energy consumption with your air conditioning system.

1. Keep the filter clean. Dirty filters limit airflow and make the unit run longer. Clean or replace the filter every month or so during the summer.

2. Make sure your air conditioner is in good working order. Air conditioners require professional maintenance to keep them working effectively.

3. Set your thermostat higher. Try it at 78 degrees when you’re home and 85 degrees when you’re out.

4. Install a programmable thermostat. “

5. Shade your air conditioner. Don’t locate central air conditioners in direct sunlight. Place window units on the north side of your house, which remains more shaded. A shaded air conditioner uses up to 10% less energy to operate.