Money-Saving Tips to Keep Your Home Cool

Temperatures in Chicago are starting to creep up again. And, so are those energy bills. . . unless you use these 9 easy ways to help lower home cooling costs this summer.

Tip 1: Keep the shades drawn during the day
Especially in rooms that get direct sunlight, pulling the drapes is the first line of defense against the summer heat. Shades help prevent sunshine from coming through windows and warming up interior spaces, which then have to be cooled with air conditioning or fans. In Chicago, it is particularly important to pull the curtains or blinds in rooms with eastern and southern exposures. These get the most sunlight during daytime hours and can cause your AC to work extra hard in order to cool those areas of the house.

Tip 2: Refrain from using the oven
The oven puts out heat that, in turn, makes your air conditioning work harder to maintain the set temperature in your home. Opt for cold meals during the hot summer months and you’ll also save on utilities used to run the microwave and gas stove burners.

Tip 3: Switch to low heat-emitting light bulbs
Unlike the new compact florescent bulbs that are energy efficient and longer lasting, incandescent light bulbs put out a lot of heat. In small enclosed spaces like bathrooms, this can make it very warm with prolonged use and can cause your AC to run overtime to cool it off. CFL bulbs are said to produce 75% less heat than incandescent bulbs and, by some accounts, can save up to $70 a year when used in a home’s five most frequently-used fixtures.

Tip 4: Ensure your home is properly insulated
Proper insulation not only helps keep heat inside in the winter, it also helps keep heat outside in the summer. The better the insulation, the better your home is at maintaining its interior temperature, and the less your air conditioning has to run.

Tip 5: Use weather-stripping and caulk on doors and windows
Make sure there are no cracks around your doorways and windows where air conditioned air can escape your house. Did you know the same amount of air is lost through a 1/8″ crack as a 6″ square hole? Prevent air loss of any type by caulking or weather-stripping suspect areas in your home.

Tip 6: Get an annual AC tune-up
It’s a good idea have your air conditioning unit serviced once a year to keep it running efficiently and to check for issues that need to be addressed before it breaks down on the hottest day of the summer. Schedule your tune-up for the off season (spring or fall) when the HVAC business is generally slower and service fees are typically a little lower than in the summer and winter months.

Tip 7: Check/replace AC air filters regularly
Check the air filter in your HVAC system every month. If it looks dirty, replace it or clean it, and never go longer than three months without changing the air filter if you want to keep your unit running at maximum efficiency.

Tip 8: Program the thermostat
One rule of thumb is to set the thermostat for 78 degrees when you are not at home. That way, your AC isn’t working too hard to cool the house while you’re not around and it doesn’t have to overexert itself to cool the place off when you do come home. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, install one. It’s fairly easy to do and makes it much easier for your AC system to regulate the temperature of your Chicago home, which saves you money on cooling expenses over time.

Tip 9: Replace old systems with new energy-efficient models
If your air conditioning system is over 15 years old you may want to think about replacing it with something more energy efficient. This will cut cooling bills right off the bat and you may be eligible for a government tax credit that’s available through EnergyStar through the end of 2011.