Summer's heat is less welcome inside the home than out. Air conditioning is the first way many people think of to cool off, but there are other steps homeowners can take to help keep cool without the high energy consumption associated with air conditioning.
Close the window coverings on south- and west-facing sides of the home early in the morning and keep them closed until dusk. If the outside-facing sides of the window coverings are white, they'll reflect the heat and reduce temperature buildup even more. Use ceiling fans to move air around, which will make the room seem several degrees cooler. Be sure to adjust the rotation of the fan to its summer setting, so that the air blows down into the room. Portable fans are effective, inexpensive, and convenient, and can be placed almost anywhere additional air circulation is desired.
In the kitchen, give the stove a rest and use the microwave or outdoor grill whenever possible. Run the dishwasher at night and set it for non-heated drying. Similarly, laundry can be done early in the morning or in the evening instead of at the height of the day's heat. For both dishes and laundry, wash full loads. You'll save on energy and the house will stay cooler, too, since the appliances will run less often.
Turn off unnecessary lights, even CFLs, everywhere in the house. Use power strips for computers, televisions, etc. and switch them off when those items aren't being used. "Smart" power strips have a combination of always-on outlets and switchable outlets, allowing some items plugged into the strip to stay on while others are shut off.
If air conditioning is warranted, there are ways to maximize cooling without lowering the temperature setting unnecessarily. Positioning a fan near a window air conditioner will help distribute the cool air over a larger area. Providing shade can help an outside central air conditioner compressor use less energy. Also, be sure to clean or change filters according to the manufacturer's instructions to help ensure your unit is running at its best. If you're considering a new air conditioner, look for models with the Energy Star label. Newer air conditioners are far more efficient than units just 8-10 years old. Using an inexpensive programmable thermostat with your air conditioning system is another good way to regulate the temperature throughout the day, especially while no one is at home.
These simple ideas will help homeowners save money, prevent wasted energy, and stay cool and comfortable all summer long.