Cooling Your Home for Less -- Savings Experiment

How to Save on Air Conditioning
How to Save on Air Conditioning

When summers get as hot as this one, it's difficult to imagine what people did before air conditioning existed. Swimming holes, hand-held fans and ice cubes down your back will only go so far when sooner or later, you have to return to the confines of some stifling domicile that badly needs frosty air.

And while we may take air conditioning for granted, it wasn't that long ago -- 1881, to be precise -- when a team of naval engineers built a cooling contraption to comfort a dying President James Garfield. While the device -- which blew hot air upwards and employed rags soaked in freezing water -- could lower room temperatures by 20 degrees, it also ate up a quarter-million pounds of ice a month. (Think of all the Pina Coladas they could've made instead.)

Modern air conditioners wouldn't become commonplace until the 1920s, yet one enigma remains: figuring out how to most efficiently cool a room or a home. Window units or central air? Do ceiling fans really help? Are there other novel ways to make sure my living space stays cool, so I can use air conditioners less? One thing's for sure: Savings are always chill, so let's crank up some righteous coolness with this latest installment of the Savings Experiment.