13 Ways to Lower Summer AC Costs

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  • An efficient AC is a happy AC. Service and clean your unit, ducts, vents, and filters for more efficient cooling.
  • Blocking sunlight can go a long way toward minimizing wasted cooling. Use blinds, curtains, and even strategic planting to keep summer sun exposure to minimum.
  • Use technology in your favor. Upgraded AC units and smart thermostats can help improve efficiency and lower bills over the long term.

Beating the heat doesn't always require running the AC.

Every summer we get more headlines about "the hottest summer on record." And thanks to climate change, it's probably only getting worse from here. 

Southerners who are used to fighting Mother Nature to stay cool all summer are having to work twice as hard. And even many northern areas are adding ACs -- or cranking them up -- to fight the ever-increasing summer heat. 

If your summer AC bills make you sweat more than the high temperatures, you may be looking for ways to cut costs. We've put together a list of some tips for cooling off without overheating your finances.

1. Service your AC and ducts

A clean AC is an efficient AC. The harder your air conditioner has to work to move air throughout your home, the more expensive it will be to run it. Have your AC regularly serviced by a professional to ensure it's running at its best. This also includes having your vents cleaned of dust and debris. Regulating servicing can also help your AC last longer and prevent costly repairs.

2. Clean vents and filters

Your AC and ducts aren't the only parts of your air conditioning system. You should also make sure to service and clean all of your vents, including changing out your AC's filter every few months. Regularly changing the filter will not only help your AC run more efficiently, it will also help cut down on irritants and pollutants in your air.

3. Upgrade your AC unit

Depending on the age of your AC unit, servicing and cleaning it may not be enough. If you have a truly ancient AC, your best bet may be to simply upgrade to a newer unit. Choose an energy efficient unit for the best results.

4. Add window or portable units

If you mostly hang out in one or two rooms, then why cool the whole house? A small window or portable AC unit used in your living room or bedroom can make you -- and your budget -- comfortable without running your larger AC unit to cool unused rooms.

5. Insulate, insulate, insulate

Even the most efficient AC in the world can't keep a poorly insulated house cool. Regularly inspect the seals around your doors and windows to make sure you're not letting the hot air leak in. You may also want to have your walls and attic inspected for any poorly-insulated areas.

6. Close the blinds and curtains

Another way to keep the heat out of your home is to ensure you're keeping the sunlight out, too. That sunny room may be cheerful -- but it's also hot. Keeping your blinds and curtains closed, or even upgrading to blackout curtains in rooms with lots of sunlight, can keep your house cooler and help your AC run less.

7. Cook/grill outside

Your oven and stove have literally one job: to make things hot. So it makes sense that the less you use them, the less heat you generate in your home. If you have access to outdoor space suitable for cooking, try grilling more and oven-ing less. You could also consider using a toaster oven or microwave instead of your oven whenever possible.

8. Use your fans (and use them right)

Although ceiling and room fans don't generate cold air, sometimes a good breeze can make a difference even in a warm room. Just make sure your ceiling fan is actually turning in the right direction. It should spin counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter.

9. Turn up the temperature

This is a simple solution, but an effective one nonetheless. The closer your inside temperature is to the outside temperature, the less your AC will have to work. This can be especially true during the day when temperatures are hottest. And don't forget to turn up the AC before you leave the house to ensure you're not cooling an empty space. 

10. Install a smart thermostat

If you don't want to babysit your thermostat for efficiency, consider upgrading to a smart thermostat to do it for you. Smart thermostats learn your patterns and can turn up or down the temperature settings automatically based on when you're home and away.

11. Overcool at night

If you have a well-insulated house, you could potentially save money by overcooling at night. This involves reducing the thermostat at night when outdoor temperatures are lower -- which means the AC doesn't work as hard. Energy costs are frequently lower at off-peak times as well. As long as your insulation is good, your home should stay cooler throughout the day.

12. Hang out in the basement

Basements tend to be cooler thanks to the insulating properties of the earth -- and the fact that hot air rises. For those who have a subterranean level in their homes, this may be the best place to spend the summer. 

13. Add some strategic plants

Nature may be part of the problem, but it can also be part of the solution. Any windows, doors, or even walls that are particularly sunny may be good places to consider planting some new trees and bushes. They're both attractive and shade-producing, a win-win for everyone. (For bonus points, plant native varieties.)

Things are hot, and they're only going to get hotter over the coming years and decades. Learning good habits for staying cool now can save you big over the long term.

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