How to save on your A/C this summer

While it's undoubtedly refreshing to step into an air-conditioned house after being outside on a hot, muggy day, the price you might pay to keep your home cool as a cucumber might make your blood boil.

But help is on the way just as the mercury starts to soar. An ABC News affiliate in Philadelphia interviewed an expert from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers to crib their tips for keeping your cool without spiking your budget.

Some of the tips are surprisingly simple, while others require a bit of effort or a small investment. Try one or try them all. (If you're already doing any of these things, tell us in the comments if you've seen a drop in your utility bill!)

When it comes to air-conditioning, here's a Consumer Reports article that offers all sorts of advice on what to look for whether you're rigging up your house with central air or plan to buy window a/c units. Many of the newer air-conditioning units available for sale today use energy much more efficiently than their older counterparts, so take a look even if you don't think you're in the market for a new one.
Among the simpler tips from the ABC News article: Draw blinds or curtains when the sun is streaming through your windows, and don't leave lights on when you don't need them. Not only does it waste energy (and cash!) but incandescent bulbs also give off heat -- the last thing you want when you can practically cook an egg on your driveway.

Be sparing with your use of exhaust fans. Yes, we know you need to get that broiled-salmon smell out of the kitchen and you want to unfog the bathroom mirror, but those fans can vacuum out all your cool air in a flash. In fact, leaving exhaust fans running for only an hour can draw out all the cold air in your entire house.

Keep the thermostat set at 74 or so when you're at home, but bump it up to 78 or 80 when the house is empty. Consider investing in a programmable thermostat if you usually leave the house in such a rush that you forget to turn it up. They start at around $20 and can save you the trouble of having one more thing to remember. (Set it to the lower temperature about half an hour before you come home so it's already cool by the time you arrive.)

Clean or replace air-conditioner filters once a month to maximize the unit's efficiency. In the case of central air, make sure nothing's blocking the vents and keeping the cool air from circulating.

If you don't have a neighborhood or homeowner's association that prohibits it, and if your roof is made of a material that can be painted, paint it white. The light color will reflect the sun's heat back rather than absorbing it and heating your house.
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