If you've ever lived in an older home, you know that people somehow survived without air conditioning. Aside from the fact that their summers may have been a little cooler, our grandparents also knew some tricks for keeping cool that we seem to have forgotten. It might seem counterintuitive to close the windows on a sweltering summer day, but if you open them at night when the air is cooler, closing them in the morning will help to keep the cool air in and the hot air out in the midday heat. Close blinds and curtains on the south- and west-facing sides of the house to shade your rooms, and put up awnings and umbrellas over sunny decks and patios. Turn off anything you aren't using, including light bulbs, TVs, computers and gaming systems, since these appliances generate additional heat.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average household could save between $100 and $250 per year with just three strategically placed shade trees [source: Department of Energy]. And while you're waiting for your trees to grow, even shrubs and grasses planted next to the house will help to prevent heat gain by shading the lower portions of your walls [source: Walker].
Ceiling fans and window fans don't actually cool the air, but they do make you feel cooler by blowing air over you [source: Energy Star]. A ceiling fan runs on just 75 watts of power, as compared with the 3,500 watts needed to run an average central air conditioning unit [source: Bluejay]. Just be sure the fan is pushing air downward, not up (most are reversible), and be sure to turn it off when you leave the room, since fans only cool people, not spaces [source: Energy Star].
If you live in a humid climate, you know that the humidity is often what makes summer heat feel so unbearable. A typical dehumidifier uses about 785 watts of electricity and can make your living space feel comfortable for less than it costs you to run your central air [source: Energy Savers]. Energy Star rates dehumidifiers based on the liters of water removed from the air per kWh of energy consumed, making it easy to compare efficiency from one unit to the next.
Even if you do have air conditioning, the tips above can help you cut down on the amount of work your A/C unit needs to do. Just remember that reducing your energy consumption by even a little bit helps both your wallet and the environment, and rest assured that cutting back on your cooling costs doesn't have to mean suffering all summer long without A/C.