8 Ways to Lower Your Cooling Costs

These simple steps can help you save money on your electric bill this summer.

As the temperature outside rises so might your electric bill. You don't want to melt, but you also don't want to spend hundreds of dollars each month during the summer running the air conditioner to keep cool. “The energy used to cool a home in the summer can account for half of monthly electric bills,” said Duke Energy’s Smart Saver product manager Nathan Cranford. Fortunately, there are several simple ways to keep cooling costs under control. Here are tips from Duke Energy, the nation's largest electric company, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Don't set the thermostat too low. Both Duke Energy and the Energy Department recommend setting your thermostat at the highest comfortable setting -- ideally no lower than 78 degrees when you're at home. The closer you keep your indoor temperature to the outdoor temperature, the lower your cooling bill will be, according to the Energy Department. Use a programmable thermostat to increase your home's temperature during the day if you're away. You can shave 1% off your bill for each degree you increase the temperature. And, no, you won't have to use more energy to cool your house off when you get home if it's been warm during the day. That's a common misconception, according to the Energy Department.

Use fans. You can raise your thermostat by four degrees without feeling any hotter if you turn on ceiling fans while the air conditioning is running. And fans are less expensive to operate than air conditioners. See the Energy Department's tips for using fans effectively.

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Pull the shades down on hot, sunny days so the air conditioner doesn't have to work harder to keep your house cool.

Keep the windows closed, even at night. According to Duke Energy, it's better to keep the windows closed even on cool nights because the humidity that will build up will add a significant load to your air conditioner. Keeping the windows closed will keep drier, cooler air indoors.

Avoid heat buildup. Don't leave on lights during the day -- 90% of the energy incandescent lights use is given off as heat, according to the Energy Department. Air dry clothes and dishes to avoid the release of heat from dishwashers and clothes dryers. Use a microwave or an outdoor grill to cook so you don't warm the house with the oven.

Clean or replace air conditioning filters at least once a month, according to Duke Energy, so your air conditioning system doesn't have to work harder. And keep coils on the exterior unit free of dirt, leaves and grass clippings.

Have your HVAC system inspected. Duke Energy recommends having your HVAC system checked by a professional to maintain efficiency and performance. For about $75 to $200, a technician can tune up your cooling system to manufacturer-rated efficiency. Look for a heating and air conditioning contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. And check with your electric company to see if it offers incentives to have your unit checked.

Seal leaks. If you removed weatherstripping from your windows in the spring, it's time to put it back on to keep hot summer air out of your house. And seal leaks around door and window frames with caulk to reduce cooling costs. Have a professional check duct work in the attic or basement for leaks because properly sealed and insulated ducts can cut the cost of cooling a home by up to 20%, according to Duke Energy.

Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.