Is your home equipped to handle the heat this summer? Even though you can't control the weather outside, there are simple steps you can take to keep your home cool and comfortable and reduce your utility bills at the same time. If your circumstances won't allow you to tackle some of these tips on the home front right this minute, then Tip No. 10 is just for you. It features ideas for seeking out a variety of air-conditioned havens that could give you and your family a much-needed break from the heat.
1Use your air conditioning wisely. Don't put lamps, televisions or other heat-generating appliances next to your thermostat. They'll prevent the air conditioner from operating as efficiently as it should. If you have a window unit, be sure to use it in concert with a fan that moves the cool air throughout your home.
2Adapt to different circumstances. Use a programmable thermostat that adjusts your air conditioner's setting at night or when nobody's home. You can program the thermostat to increase the comfort level in your home shortly before you wake up or return home from work.
3Prevent cool air from escaping. Effective caulking and weather stripping will keep it from seeping out. Check for holes or separated joints in your air-conditioning ducts, and add insulation around ducts in attics, crawl spaces and garages.
4Perform a quick service check. To make sure your air conditioner doesn't have leaks or other problems, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the discharge air from the register and the temperature of the return air at the return-air grill. Place the thermometer at both spots for five minutes. The temperature difference should be between 14 and 20 degrees.
5Invest in ceiling fans. Even the most power-hungry fan costs about $5 a month to use if you keep it on for 12 hours a day — not bad for an appliance that can make a room feel 6 or 7 degrees cooler. Good fans can allow you to raise your thermostat and save on air-conditioning costs.
6Pay attention to your windows. Choose white window shades, blinds or drapes to reflect heat away from the house, and be sure to close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day. Use sun-control or other reflective films on south-facing windows and mount awnings over them.
7Landscape your yard with care. Position trees or shrubs so they shade air-conditioning units without blocking the airflow. Avoid landscaping with unshaded rock, asphalt or cement on the south or west sides of the house; it will raise temperatures and radiate heat to the house.
8Rely on a trellis for shade. Vines grown on trellises can shade the entire side of a house. It's a particularly good way to shade west-facing windows. Trees or a fence could work well, too.
9Give trees a try. Three trees situated properly on the south and west sides of your house can reduce your utility bill by $100 to $250 a year. Tree-shaded yards and neighborhoods have daytime air temperatures 3 to 6 degrees cooler than comparable areas that don't have trees.
10Find cool ways to escape. You may be in a situation where the above-mentioned fixes are beyond your control. You still can dream up inexpensive ways to escape the heat this summer. Some ideas:
• Catch a reduced-price matinee in an icy-cold movie theater.
• Kick back at the library and read — and while you're there, check out all sorts of movies, books and music for free.
• Check the newspaper for listings of inexpensive or free art exhibits, theatrical productions, concerts and home tours in air-conditioned venues.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Savers program; MSN Money