PhotoSummer is closing in fast, and with it summer heat in most parts of the country. Consumers can usually count on higher electric bills during the summer months because the air conditioner stays busy.

To save on summertime bills, the Department of Energy suggests taking advantage of natural ventilation whenever possible. In particularly hot climates, this may be hard to do, but if you live in an area where temperatures drop at night, consider giving the A/C a break and opening a few windows.

The first thing in the morning, close the windows and lower the shades to keep as much of the cool air inside before you have to start up the air conditioner again.

DOE also has helpful information about window treatments to block the sun from heating up your home, another way to save on air conditioning costs.

Cut bills by up to 20%

Utility companies are also encouraging their customers to try to cool their homes more efficiently, to reduce peak electricity demands on very hot days. Consumers Energy says following a summertime energy conservation program can lower bills by 20%.

For starters, make sure your air conditioner is running at peak performance. Clean leaves and other yard debris away from the compressor unit so that it can easily draw in air. Clean or change the filter regularly so the unit doesn't have to work as hard to keep the living space cool.

Consider setting the thermostat a few degrees higher -- maybe 78 degrees when you're at home and perhaps 80 degrees when you leave. If you have a programmable thermostat, you can program the air conditioner to lower the temperature again before you get home.

Become a fan of fans

Fans use electricity but not nearly as much as an air conditioner. Having air moving through the house creates a wind chill effect. If might not lower the temperature but it makes people in the house more comfortable. Ceiling fans are an efficient way to keep the air circulating.

If your air conditioner is old and requires frequent service and repair, consider replacing it with a new one. Yes, it's a big upfront expense but newer units are much more efficient and will cost less to operate. If you are going to have to replace it eventually, it might be better to do it sooner, rather than later.


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