Keep your home cool with these low-cost to no-cost tips

cheap ways to keep your house cool this summerAlong with summer temperatures, your utility bills are bound to start heating up unless you take steps to help your home create a more efficient cool. According to the EPA's Energy Star program, almost 20% of a typical household's utility bill goes toward home cooling costs. By taking a few simple steps this summer to improve energy efficiency, you can save energy, save money and help fight climate change.

Fortunately, there are lots of easy no-cost to low-cost ways to choose from to beat back the heat this summer.

Spin Up the Cool With Room Fans
  • Room fans provide that great "evaporative cooling" effect, moving air and thereby causing any moisture on your skin to evaporate so that you feel more cool and comfortable. Position them for maximum air circulation in living areas, and if you're using a window fan, make sure to open another window across the room to help with cross-ventilation.

  • Get ceiling fans spinning in the right direction to help cool your home faster. In summer, that direction is counterclockwise so the fan "pulls" colder air up and into circulation. If your fan isn't clued in to the right blade direction, turn it off and look for a small switch on the side of the fan motor to reverse the flow.
  • Whole-house fans are among the most effective, efficient and low-cost means of cooling your home. Unlike smaller attic fans, these large fans are installed in the ceiling of the uppermost floor of your home and cool living spaces by drawing air from open windows into the attic, where it flows out through enlarged vents. Fire up a whole-house fan for an hour or so in the early evening once temperatures drop, and you'll slumber in cooled-down comfort.
  • Attic fans are critical to reducing the temperature of warm air that gets trapped in attic spaces. Cool down your attic, and the temperature on the floors below will also drop. One caution though: If your home already has a central air conditioning system, attic fans can actually steal some of that cool air from your house. In that case, it's always better to rely on attic vents to handle the attic cooling duties.

Insulate and Ventilate
  • Adding attic insulation isn't something you might think to do in summer, but doing so can help keep hot attic air out of your house as well as save energy year-round. Well-insulated homes should have a minimum of 19-inches of batt insulation or 22-inches of blown-in insulation, so grab a tape measure and check your attic's status now. If you need to add more, tackle the job during cooler morning hours, and be sure to wear a dust mask, safety goggles and full-coverage work clothes that minimize skin exposure to insulation particles.
  • Seal all duct seams to keep that hard-earned cool air from escaping into dead ends. As much as 20% of circulating air is lost to leaks and faulty connections, but a bit of your time and some mastic sealant or metal (UL 181) tape is all it takes to seal ducts in attics, basements and crawlspaces. By the way, despite its name, "duct tape" is not to be used to seal ducts. Its adhesive will dry out quickly, leaving ducts as leaky as they were before it was applied. Also be sure to seal connections between cooling vents and registers and your ceilings, walls and floors.
  • Improving attic ventilation is also key to a cool summer indoors. A combination of ridge and soffit vents will work with your insulation efforts and attic fans to keep attic air cooler. Such a vent system moves air into the soffits, where it runs along the underside of the roof sheathing to exit your home at the roof's ridge.

Care for Your Air Conditioning
  • Now's the time to get your central air conditioning system serviced for optimum summertime efficiency. Even if it seems to cool well, low-refrigerant levels may mean it needs to run longer to do the same job cooling your house, which raises cooling costs significantly. After servicing, help your AC system keep up the cool by changing filters at least once a month.
  • If you rely on window air conditioners for home cooling, get the most out of them by making sure they're properly installed, sealed, cleaned and equipped with a new filter.
  • If your air conditioning equipment is getting old (and therefore less efficient), you may actually make money by trading up to Energy Star qualified AC units and systems. Installing a new system now can compound your summer energy savings with valuable tax credits and local utility rebates that are available until the end of this year.

Program a Cool Routine for Your Home
  • Use a programmable thermostat to sync home comfort with your household's summer routines. Set it for a higher temperature when you're away from the house, and program the cooling to begin about an hour before you're due to arrive home.
  • Keep blinds and curtains drawn during the day to screen out the sun's heat.
  • Strategic landscaping will have your home made in the shade, so add and maintain trees on the south and west sides to help shelter and shield the sunniest sides of the structure.
For more ways to save energy this summer, consult the Energy Star's Home Energy Yardstick tool to find out how your home compares to other across the country and get specific recommendations for improvements.

Tom Kraeutler delivers home cooling tips and more each week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. He is also AOL's Home Improvement Editor and author of "My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure."
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