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Effective Ways to Save on AC Costs During Heat Waves and Sweltering Temps

Learning how to be savvy with your air conditioner can help you stay cool in the brutal heat -- without breaking the bank.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
4 min read
dog in front of a rotating fan

Here's how to keep cool when it's hot outside.

Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment/Getty Images

If you've felt like this summer -- and this past month in particular -- has been exceptionally hot, you're not wrong. According to newly released data from the European Union-funded Copernicus Climate Change Service, July is set to be the hottest month ever recorded. With heatwaves and sweltering temps, you may find yourself running to turn down the temperature on your thermostat more often. But when you lower the temp, you'll also experience a higher electric bill -- especially as energy costs remain high.

We've compiled some tips to keep your home as comfortably cool as possible while minimizing the amount of electricity you use. Something as simple as turning on a fan or closing the blinds during the day can make a big difference. Here are six tricks to keep your home cool and use your thermostat more economically when it's warmer outside. (For more, we also recommend investing in a smart plug or a smart thermostat, adjusting the temperature of your thermostat and weatherstripping to save extra cash.)

1. Sign up for an energy audit

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If your home isn't brand-new, the cold air inside is probably seeping out through doors and windows with spotty seals, a poorly insulated attic and other locations of sneaky cracks. 

To see how well your home is holding the cold in, sign up for a home energy audit with your utility provider or a local contractor. A certified home energy rater or auditor will check your home for leaks and recommend the best way to make your home more energy-efficient.

Don't want to spring for an audit? Do your own audit. Stand outside your home and run your hand around the windows and doors. Can you feel the cold air escaping? If you do, caulk around leaky windows and add insulation around doors.

2. Get a smart thermostat

If you haven't upgraded to a smart thermostat -- such as one by Ecobee or Nest -- it might be time to make a change. Smart thermostats can regulate heating and cooling when you're not home to save money. Plus, you can adjust the settings remotely using an app on your phone or via voice commands. Here's our list of the best smart thermostats to help you make the best decision for your home.

3. Check the placement of your thermostat

Thermostat placement can play a big part in how well your air conditioner works. If you put the thermostat on a wall right next to a hot window, for instance, your air conditioner will kick on much more often than it needs to because it will think the room is hotter than it actually is. Here's how to pick the perfect wall for your thermostat and the ideal temperature you should set it to

4. Close the blinds

A window letting in the hot sun won't just heat up your thermostat, it'll heat you up too. During the warmest part of the day, close your blinds to keep out the sun. It can also help insulate your windows, which stops the cold air from escaping.

Haiku smart ceiling fan with three wooden blades

A fan can help save on cooling costs.

Chris Monroe/CNET

5. Try a ceiling fan

You don't always need to amp up the AC to feel cooler. Using a ceiling fan can make a room feel cooler, enough that you can increase the thermostat temperature by 4 degrees "with no reduction in comfort." If you want to get high-tech, you can install a smart ceiling fan that connects to an app and automatically adjusts based on schedules you create. Just make sure your fan is rotating counterclockwise in the summer to get the most benefit. 

Here Are 23 Ways to Save On Your Electric Bills Right Now

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6. Increase the temperature

To save the most money, always set your thermostat to the highest temperature you can comfortably stand. A programmable thermostat makes it easy to keep your AC at the right temperature. You can program the unit to hold at higher temperatures while you're at work and cool down right before you get home.

You can save 10% a year on your cooling bills by setting your thermostat just 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit higher for 8 hours each day, according to the Nebraska Energy Office. The US Department of Energy recommends aiming for an indoor temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you're at home. But it's fine if 78 F isn't doable for you; even a small change in temperature can save you big bucks.

For more energy savings, explore our home sustainability cheat sheet full of eco-friendly tips and read about how you can save money by unplugging certain appliances when not using them. 

More money-saving hacks for your home