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By Alan J. Heavens

RISMEDIA, July 2, 2008-Rising gasoline prices will probably mean fewer escapes to the Shore or the mountains. And for those on fixed incomes, the cost of keeping cool may stretch finances to the limit.

With that in mind, and with assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy and the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, here are some tips for being more efficient as the heat waves roll in.

Chill out. On days when air-conditioning isn’t crucial, open the windows and use portable or ceiling fans. When air-condition you must, use a fan with your window unit, to push the cool air farther.

Keep TVs and lamps away from your thermostat-the heat they generate can make central air-conditioning run longer.

If your air conditioner is old, upgrade to a newer model-it could save you up to 50% on your electric bills. Look for a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) of 14 or higher on central systems and the Energy Star label on room units.

Consider installing a whole-house fan or evaporative cooler, if appropriate for your climate. Ceiling and other fans provide additional cooling and better circulation, so you can raise the thermostat and cut down on air-conditioning costs. Energy Star-rated ceiling fans do even better, moving air up to 20% more efficiently than other models.

Why get warmer? Air-dry your dishes instead of using the dishwasher’s drying cycle. Use the microwave or barbecue grill instead of the range or oven.

Lower the thermostat on your water heater to 115 degrees, and take showers instead of baths to reduce hot-water use. Wash full loads of dishes and clothes; use cold water to wash clothes, and do it at non-peak hours.

Back to nature. Trees and shrubs should shade air-conditioning units-a shaded unit uses less electricity-but be sure they don’t block airflow.

Avoid using lots of unshaded rock, cement or asphalt as landscaping on the south or west sides of your house. It will raise the temperature around the house and radiate heat to it after sunset.

Plant leafy trees on the house’s south and west sides. They’ll help keep things cool in the summer and, after the leaves drop in the fall, let the sun’s warmth shine in.

Prescription: Sunblock. Sunny rooms mean harder-working air conditioners. Put up white window shades, drapes or blinds to reflect heat away from the house. Close south- and west-facing window curtains during the day.

Think ahead. A well-maintained cooling system will run more efficiently and use less energy. So be sure to clean or replace AC filters monthly, or as needed. Also, keep both outdoor and indoor air-conditioning coils clean. Dirt buildup on the indoor coil is a major cause of poor operating efficiency.

During the cooling season, keep your house closed tightly in the daytime to keep heat and humidity out. Don’t run a dehumidifier at the same time as the air conditioner-it will increase the cooling load and force the air conditioner to work harder.

Proper insulation can increase your comfort and reduce your cooling costs up to 30%. Start up in the attic, where temperatures can reach 115 degrees, followed by exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces. Insulate and seal attic air ducts, too.

For more information, go to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association’s website,

© 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.