The scorching days are already here. Some of us are succumbing and switching our air conditioners into full gear. But installing air conditioners and paying for the energy to run them can be costly.

With residential energy consumption expected to rise 22 percent by 2020, finding ways to keep energy use, not to mention your utility bills, down is vital.

The U.S. Department of Energy says steady growth in the hot southern states, the rise in consumer electronics, home office equipment, and security systems will contribute to the mounting consumption level.

Newly built homes are, on average, 14 percent larger than the existing stock, so more heating, cooling, and lighting resources are required. However, under existing building codes and appliance standards, energy use per square foot is typically lower for new construction than for existing homes.

For example, California's energy-efficiency standards, implemented last year, require that all new homes be 15 percent more efficient than they were previously - 30 percent above national standards.

But for those who don't have a new home with stricter energy standards, the DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network has some suggestions and to help keep your house cool - and save you money:

  • Reflect off your roof. Dark exteriors absorb 70 to 90 percent of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces, resulting in heat gain. Light-colored surfaces reflect most of the heat away from your home. You can apply a reflective coating to your roof or install a radiant barrier - a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing that can reduce heat gains by 25 percent - on the underside of your roof.
  • Lighten your walls. White or light-colored exteriors absorb less heat than dark walls.
  • Improve your window efficiency. Some 40 percent of unwanted heat comes through windows. Reflective window coatings - plastic sheets treated with dyes or thin layers of metal - can reflect heat away from your home. There are two types of coatings - sun-control films and combination films. Sun-control films reflect as much as 80 percent of incoming sunlight, so they're good for warmer climates. Combination films allow some light into the room and are good for climates that have hot and cold seasons.
  • Insulate. In addition to protecting your house during the winter, insulating, weather-stripping and caulking help protect your home against summer heat. One of the most important places to insulate is the attic, because it attracts so much heat.
  • Shade your house with trees. Shading your house can reduce indoor temperatures by as much as 20 degrees.
  • Landscape with shade in mind. Landscape with plants native to your area that can survive with little care. Deciduous trees that lose leaves in the fall cut cooling energy costs the most. When planted in the best locations, they protect during the summer and allow winter sunlight to reach the house. Vines can provide shading and cooling. They can shade windows or the whole side of a house.
  • Think about exterior shading devices. Exterior shades are usually more effective than interior shades because they block sunlight before it enters the windows. A properly installed awning, for example, can reduce heat gain up to 65 percent on southern windows and 77 percent on eastern windows. And, a light-colored awning will reflect sunlight. Louvers, shutters, and rolling shutters are also options for outdoors.
  • Indoor devices help, too. Although interior shading isn't as effective as outdoor shading, if you have no alternative, you should consider curtains, Venetian blinds, shades or roller shades.
  • Reduce heat-generating sources. Ovens, dishwashers, dryers, and other appliances generate a lot of heat. Try to use them in the morning or late evening. Try to cook outdoors rather than inside. When it comes time to replace your appliances, make sure your new ones are energy-efficient. All refrigerators, dishwashers and dryers display an EnergyGuide label indicating the annual estimated cost of operating it or a standardized energy efficiency ratio.
  • Install fans. Ceiling fans can make a room feel 4 degrees cooler.

    You'll also want to contact your utility company to see if it offers any rebates or incentives for purchasing energy-saving products, like insulation, energy-efficient lighting, or appliances.

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