Eight steps to take now to save air-conditioning dollars this summer

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Why wait until the middle of sweaty August to despair about the size of your electric bill? Take steps now to knock down the cost of chillin' in the crib.

1. Install ceiling fans. A good ceiling fan can help you delay the need to flip on the a/c, and allows you to stay comfortable at higher temperatures. The cost difference between maintaining my a/c at our usual 72 degrees and raising it to 76 degrees is around 3% per degree, so on our $237 bill from last August, I could have saved almost $30. Best of all, a good ceiling fan lasts for years and years.

2. Check your ceiling insulation. The cool spring is a great time to beef up your attic blanket. Wait until summer and you'll find out what a turkey experiences on Thanksgiving morning.

3. Plant deciduous trees to shade the western/southern side of your house.

4. Check your windows and doors for insulation leaks, using a stick of incense or a smoke stick. Turn off the furnace and all fans, close all windows and doors, then suss out those money-squandering leaks.

5. Clean your outside a/c condenser unit. The last time I had to call the HVAC guy to our house, I learned, to my embarrassment, that the new venting location for our dryer was blowing fuffa directly onto the a/c unit. Duh!

6. Replace your furnace filter. Buy a dozen so that you're set to replace them monthly during the summer. Otherwise, your a/c unit will be trying to breathe through a straw.

7. Consider installing a house exhaust fan. These units, usually installed in the top floor ceiling, are designed to exhaust the hot air from your house and pull cool night air in through open windows to cool the place down.

8. Make sure window treatments will block sunlight. The newer style of cellular blinds are reasonably priced and give a great deal of insulation.

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