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RISMEDIA, July 17, 2010—(MCT)—Depending on the climate where you live, cooling your home accounts for as much as 50% of the money you spend each month on utilities. As temperatures and humidity levels continue to rise, most of us are seeking relief from the heat this time of year. There are many ways to keep your cool while doing your part to waste less energy. And less energy wasted means more money in your wallet.

First, program your thermostat to work around your family’s summer schedule—set it a few degrees higher (such as 78 degrees) when no one is home, so you’re not cooling an empty house.

Contrary to popular belief, your system doesn’t struggle to make up the difference. One thing that will benefit your cooling system and help you feel cooler is to dehumidify the air. It’s true that a dehumidifier can put off a little heat, but you’ll still use less electricity making it feel cooler in your home.

A fan is another great way to make it feel cooler in your home. This one appliance alone can make a room feel as much as seven degrees cooler. If you raise your thermostat by two degrees and use a ceiling fan, you can lower cooling costs by up to 14%. Ceiling fan blades should spin counter-clockwise during the hotter months, generating a stronger breeze directly under the fan. Of course, you can waste less energy by turning the fan off when you leave the room.

Closing the blinds and curtains during the day can also make a difference. When you block the sunlight, you can reduce the heat coming into your home by as much as 40%. To maximize your benefit, make sure the side of the curtain facing the window is white and sun reflecting. You can also choose curtains with a thermal lining for additional insulation.

If you’re planning to cook, remember the kitchen is also a source of heat inside your home. Avoid running appliances such as the dishwasher during the day. Instead, run it at night and only when it is fully loaded. Instead of heating up the oven, fire up the grill to keep the temperature inside your home cooler. Using the microwave is another way to whip up a meal without creating more heat in the kitchen.

Finally, plant a tree or two near the southwest corner of your home. Choose a deciduous tree that will shade your home in the summer and shed its leaves in the fall to allow warm winter sunlight to warm your home.

Combined, these tips can dramatically reduce the amount of energy you use to keep your home cool—and you’ll hardly break a sweat to make them work for you.

(c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.