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Keep it chill on the cheap

You know it's going to be a hot one this year. Keep cool with these six easy (and cheap) ways to keep your AC bill down.

By Smart Spending Editor May 15, 2013 5:52PM
This post is by Kyle James of partner site U.S. News & World Report

MSN partner siteSummer is almost here and the pending warm weather will soon have us nervous to open our utility bills. But since we are in May, there is still time to position yourself for lower cooling bills during the hot months ahead. Consider these tips to stay cool without blowing your budget:

Man adjusting room temperature © Tetra Images, Tetra images, Getty Images1. Keep the sun out
Got curtains? Be diligent about keeping your curtains or blinds closed on windows when the sun is shining in, especially in the morning. If I don't do this in our family room and kitchen in the morning, the indoor temperature would spike to 85 degrees quickly and the kids would likely be left sweating at the breakfast table.

2. Plant trees
Trees not only look nice but the shade they provide is fantastic for your comfort and wallet. Several years ago, I planted two Crepe Myrtle trees outside and now the sun is completely blocked all summer long from entering those windows. Trees that drop leaves in the fall are ideal, as they'll let in sun during the winter and help warm up the rooms.

3. Use a programmable thermostat
Keep your home at a controlled temperature with a programmable thermostat. The most effective way to use it is to keep your home warmer when you are at work and have it automatically lower the temperature before you get home.

When it comes to energy efficiency, the worst thing you can do is leave the A/C off during the day and then turn it on when you get home, burdening it to lower the inside temperature by up to 10 degrees; you will end up using a lot more electricity cooling the home that way. Instead, keep your thermostat at about 80 degrees while you are at work, for example, and then program it to drop back to the mid-70s a half hour before you get home.

4. Install a whole house fan
If you live in a humid climate, it could be worth investing in a whole house fan (as low as $200), which can pull in the cool air at night as well as in the early morning. Simply open a few windows, turn it on and enjoy the free air conditioner.

5. Maintain your A/C unit
Your air conditioning will use less electricity if you keep your unit in good running order. Have it tuned up every spring or learn to do it yourself.

6. Keep the cool air in

Check the weather stripping around your doors and windows to make sure they are properly sealed. Weather stripping works by keeping conditioned air in your home and unconditioned air outside. Also, just because your doors and windows have weather stripping on them doesn’t mean your home is energy efficient.

Over time, stripping can get worn and damaged, and should be inspected every year. The most cost-effective way to test your stripping is by holding a lit candle next to the doors and windows; if the flame moves significantly, closely examine stripping for tears or worn edges and replace if necessary.

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