10 Most Cost-Effective Ways to Cool a House and Reduce AC Expenses

Use these tips to keep your home comfortably cool this summer without a sky-high energy bill.

With summer days getting hotter and hotter amid climate change, air-conditioning can help you stay cool and comfortable. But it often comes at a steep price, particularly when temperatures outside hover between 108 and 116°F.

Running your home's air-conditioner on full blast for long periods can quickly cause your energy bill to skyrocket. And with many of us working remotely, we're home during the peak mid-day heat more than ever. So use these tips for the most effective ways to cool a house and lower cooling costs to beat the heat and keep your budget in check this summer.

10 Ways to Keep Your House Cool and Lower AC Costs

1. Bump up the temperature.

woman adjusting thermostat at home
Adobe Stock/Monkey Business

Setting your thermostat a few degrees higher means your air conditioner doesn't have to work as hard to maintain your desired temperature. As a general rule, a smaller difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures will provide the most cost-effective way to cool a house, explains Rob Munin, general manager of thermostats and sensors at Johnson Controls.

"A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn't need a sweater inside when it's hot outside," he says. Experiment with your thermostat to find the highest possible temperature that allows you to remain comfortable. If you typically keep your home at 72°F, for example, try bumping the temperature up to 75 for a few hours and see how you feel. According to Energy.gov, dialing the temperature back 7-10°F from its typical setting for 8 hours a day can reduce energy costs by 10% annually.

2. Install a smart thermostat.

To maximize your air conditioner's efficiency, consider installing a smart thermostat that lets your cooling system think for you. This programmable device connects to your home's Wi-Fi network and you can control it via a mobile app or voice assistant devices such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

A smart thermostat allows you to schedule temperature changes based on the time of day and adjust the thermostat even when you're away from home. Some devices also include geofencing technology, which can detect when you're not at home and adjust the thermostat accordingly, helping you save up to 30% more energy, Munin says.

As a bonus, many home insurance companies will give you a discount on premiums for installing a smart thermostat.

3. Put your thermostat in the right place.

Thermostat placement can have a significant impact on how your air conditioner functions throughout the day and thus, how much you're paying for monthly air conditioning bills. For instance, a thermostat on a wall that receives a lot of heat from a window will be triggered to go on more frequently. Placing your thermostat in a cooler place, on the other hand, will ensure your air conditioner is not operating more than necessary.

4. Limit heat-producing appliances during the day.

Kitchen with white stove and patterned rug
John Bessler

Many kitchen and laundry appliances produce heat that can cause your air conditioner to kick in more frequently throughout the day. To save energy, use your grill and microwave instead of the cooktop and oven as much as possible during the summer.

Plan your schedule so you can run the dryer, dishwasher, and oven in the early morning or evening rather than during the warmest hours of the day. Air conditioning also lowers humidity as it cools the air, so you shouldn't need to run a separate dehumidifier.

5. Adjust the temperature at night.

It can be challenging to fall asleep when you're uncomfortably warm, so you might prefer to lower your home's temperature at night. And because the temperatures outside usually dip as the sun goes down, setting your thermostat back a couple of degrees at night is generally not a problem, Munin says.

To make sure your AC isn't running all night, however, consider programming your thermostat to readjust the temperature after everyone in the household is asleep. "For nighttime temperatures, precool your bedroom before going to sleep, and then program your thermostat at 2-4 degrees higher for a while you're sleeping," Munin suggests.

6. Keep windows sealed.

sliding window over farmhouse sink
Kritsada Panichgul

Sealing off your home from the heat outside is key to keeping it cool. Keep windows closed on hot days, and lock them to create an airtight seal and eliminate cool-air leaks. Opt for light-colored window treatments that reflect the sun's rays, and draw the curtains or blinds to block the light. If outdoor temperatures are cool at night, cross-ventilate rooms by opening windows. Close them again in the morning to seal in the cool air.

7. Take advantage of shade.

Reduce the load on your air-conditioner by shading east-, south-and west-facing windows. Outside, consider extending roof eaves or adding a trellis or awning to shade windows. Add tinted window film ($30, The Home Depot) to minimize the effects of radiant heat and UV light while maintaining views. Planting trees on the south and west sides of your house can also pay off when they're full-grown, as they can block the sun's most intense rays.

8. Insulate your home against air leaks.

To prevent cool air from escaping, make sure your home is properly sealed and insulated. Check for air leaks around windows and doors, and use a caulk gun ($11, The Home Depot) to seal any gaps that could make your cooling system work overtime. Inspect the attic's insulation and head to your local home improvement store to get more if needed.

If you're planning a large-scale addition or a project that requires relocation of exterior walls, one of the most cost-effective ways to cool a house is to apply a high-quality house wrap to the outside of exterior walls before installing siding to help keep your home cool and reduce energy bills.

9. Keep your AC in good working condition.

Your air-conditioner requires regular maintenance to function at its best. One of the best ways to help your unit run most effectively is to replace the air filter regularly. "In general, air filters should be replaced every two to three months but may require more frequent attention if your air-conditioner is used consistently, in a dusty environment, or if you have pets in the home," Munin says.

A yearly maintenance checkup by a professional can also help keep your air-conditioner running smoothly. "Just like an oil change for your car, these tune-ups are essential to help your system run more efficiently and extend its life," Munin says. This process will likely include system tests, a filter check, and a thorough cleaning of the unit inside and out.

10. Install a ceiling fan.

Ceiling fans can help circulate air around the house more effectively. Bankrate recommends running ceiling fans on the upper level of your home (if you have a two-story home) and opening windows on the lower level. Moving air not only helps cool things down it can also help evaporate sweat, says the website.

Updated by
Mia Taylor
Mia Taylor

Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist who's passionate about making personal finance coverage accessible and engaging. News organizations she has worked for as a staff member or contributor include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, The Boston Globe, TheStreet, Bankrate, MSN, and Cheapism. In 2011, she was a member of a team of KPBS reporters who received a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Follow her coverage on Twitter and Instagram.

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