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How to Keep Your House Cool (Without Cranking Up the A/C)

When temperatures tip into the triple digits and you start sweating just thinking about going outside, your home’s A/C unit can seem like a godsend. “Thank goodness for air conditioning!” you think, as you slide the thermostat down to 60.

Of course, after you get your first high summer electricity bill, you snap right out of that. And those high energy costs don’t just cut into your vacation funds. They’re also pretty rough on the environment. A/C units alone swallow up about five percent of all the electricity generated in the US each year—about two hundred billion kilowatt hours, to be exact. That’s pretty wasteful, especially when you consider that there are plenty of ways to cool off that don’t involve turning the dial. So next time you feel like pumping up the A/C, consider one of these tips to chill out the environmental way.

1. Install Ceiling Fans

Sounds obvious, right? But installing a ceiling fan in each room can give your home a serious boost in the cooling department. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, installing a fan reduces your interior temperatures by an average of four degrees. That lets you set your thermostat just a little bit higher, which can add up to a lot of dollars and cents off your energy bills, too! Fans may be even more efficient cooling systems than your home’s A/C because of the windchill effect on your skin, which helps you get cool fast. To maximize the effect, only install fans in rooms with ceilings that measure at least eight feet high, and hang them so that the fan extends about a foot down.

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2. Vanquish Air Leaks

You might think of air sealing as a winter improvement, but leaks can cause chilled air to escape just as easily as heat. In fact, leaky windows may be responsible for up to 30 percent of your home’s heating and cooling costs. To squash these energy squanderers, apply a layer of silicone caulk around window glass and joints, and foam weatherstripping tape on the moving parts. Also, get a flashlight and check out your HVAC unit’s ducts and connectors to make sure no air loss is occurring there, either. If you see damaged, twisted, bent, or otherwise malfunctioning pieces, it’s time to call in the pros for a system repair.

3. Close the Blinds

This tip is another no-brainer, but it’s still one that often goes overlooked. As nice as a little sunshine may feel, excess solar heat can raise interior temperatures—possibly by as much as 30 percent. Thermal blackout curtains, solar window film, or solar shades installed over a particularly sunny window will block out the solar radiation that leaves you sweating through summer highs. Even if you don’t feel like installing specialized window treatments, closing the curtains, blinds, or shades, particularly around three o’clock in the afternoon—the hottest part of the day—will keep your home more comfortable and liveable, even when it’s fry-an-egg hot outside.

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4. Bump Up Your HVAC

Not every HVAC system is a Tesla—some are more like Hummers, greedily gobbling up energy without offering much in return. But system efficiency ratings have come a long way in recent years, so if your unit is old, outdated, and in need of repairs, it can put a real hurt on your electricity bills—all unnecessarily. To figure out what you’d spend for a more efficient system, try running the numbers through an HVAC calculator. That can give you some idea of what you’d need to save up so you can get more cool for less green.

Chilling out on the cheap? Where do I sign up?

Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner.  She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize.com, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.

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