New York — With energy prices rising, it's going to cost more to stay cool this summer.
The average homeowner can expect to spend $1,500 this year for energy bills, nearly half of it on heating and cooling, according to government estimates. That's up from $1,400 just a year ago.
There are many steps families can take to both conserve energy and keep cooling costs in check, experts say.
"We're not suggesting that people sit there and roast and sweat through the summer," said Rozanne Weissman of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C. "Some small adjustments can save you money with little impact on comfort."
There are many things families can do at little or no cost:
¢ Close the blinds or drapes on windows that get a lot of sun, especially those facing south or west.
¢ Turn off lights, televisions and computers when not in use.
¢ Plant leafy trees and vines around the home.
¢ Run the washer and dryer during off-peak electricity use hours at night or on weekends, and always do a full load.
Air conditioners are among the most energy-hungry appliances.
It's a good idea to get a professional tuneup for your air conditioner every year, Weissman said.
"But just cleaning or replacing the filter every month can keep an air conditioner running at peak performance," she said.
Weissman also recommends matching the size of the air conditioner to the space that's being cooled, since "units that are too large can inflate your energy costs and contribute to poor indoor air quality."
And, if your air conditioner is more than 12 years old, it's probably a good idea to consider trading it for a new, more energy efficient model, she said.
Families can boost the impact of their air conditioners by installing and running ceiling fans, Weissman added.
"With fans, you can raise the thermostat a few degrees, but you'll feel just as cool because of the circulating air," she said.
Wendy Reed, a spokeswoman for the Energy Star program, a joint project of the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is a big advocate of programmable thermostats as a way to reduce energy use.
Helpful Web sites
The Energy Star program's "Guide to Energy-Efficient Cooling and Heating" can be obtained on the Internet at www.energystar.gov/hvacguide or by calling (888) 782-7937.
The Alliance to Save Energy has tips on its site at www.ase.org/consumers as well as links to a variety of energy-saving programs.
"If you have a manual thermostat, you can set the temperature gauge up a notch or two when you're leaving the house and you know you'll be away for a while," Reed said. "If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set it and forget it."
The idea, of course, is to set the programmable thermostat so it coordinates home cooling with your daily routine. Set the thermostat to reduce cooling after you leave for work, then have it step up again an hour before you return home.
"You can save 10 percent a year on energy bills" with a programmable thermostat, she said. "And some programmable thermostats will even tell you when it's time to change the (air conditioner) filter."
Most people associate caulking windows as well as sealing and insulating ducts with winter heating. But Reed points out that these steps also keep cool air from escaping from a home.
"If you do it in summer, there's more energy savings when you're cooling, and you get the double whammy of energy saving and staying warmer in winter," she said.
And, when you're buying new appliances, it's good to look for products that have the Energy Star for efficiency, she said.
Energy Stars have been given for lighting, appliances, home office equipment, cooling and heating equipment, and consumer electronics. Many of the products are 15 percent to 30 percent more efficient than older models.
When all else fails, Reed advises, "take your family to the movies and let someone else pay for the air conditioning."