How to Lower Utility Bills When the Temperature Rises

Energy Star-certified smart thermostats can cut cooling costs by about $50 per year

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ceiling fan Photo: Getty Images

Thirteen percent of a typical home’s energy costs are for cooling, according to Energy Star. Here are three easy ways to rein in these expenses—even on hot summer days.

1. Turn your fan on. Instead of setting the air conditioner to 74° F or 76° F, set it to 78° F and let a ceiling fan do the rest. It costs little to run and can make the temperature feel as much as 4 degrees cooler, according to the Department of Energy.

2. Make simple changes that increase efficiency. Close curtains during the day to keep the sun from heating up the house, reduce oven use, repair leaky AC ductwork, and plug cracks around windows and doors.

More on Keeping Cool

3. Replace your thermostat. If you have central air condition­ing, one of the most effective ways to save money on cooling is to install a programmable or smart thermostat. (As a bonus, you’ll also save money on heating in the winter.)

Programmable thermostats can be set to a schedule, typically one for weekdays and another for weekends, that reduces the amount of cooling (or heating) when the house is empty or when you’re sound asleep. According to the DOE, you can save as much as 10 percent a year on your cooling and heating bills by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours a day from its usual setting, something a programmable thermostat can do automatically.

Smart thermostats connect to the internet via WiFi and allow you to control your central air and heat with your smartphone. Some smart thermostats keep track of your temperature preferences and use the data to optimize your cooling and heating schedule. Others have multiple sensors that monitor temperatures in various parts of the house for more balanced cooling or heating. Energy Star-certified smart thermostats save an average of approximately 8 percent—about $50—off cooling and heating costs a year.

Before investing in a smart or programmable model, check with your utility company to see whether it offers any incentives or even a free thermostat. Many offset the cost with rebates or discounts.

CR members can read on for ratings of three of the top smart and programmable thermostats from our tests.

Best Smart Thermostats

Best Programmable Thermostats

More on Keeping Your Cool

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.