First, AuWerter suggests upgrading your thermostat. "Even on those hot summer days, there's no reason to have your air conditioner blasting away when your house is empty," she says. A programmable thermostat will adjust itself automatically throughout the day, keeping your house warmer during the day when you're not home, and cooler at night after work. Installing the thermostat will cost around $100, but you'll easily recoup the costs over the course of a year.
It's also important to clean your heating and cooling system every year. A dirty air conditioner or heater isn't as efficient as a clean one, which means the system works harder to heat and cool your home. "Check your filter once every month or so to see if it needs to be cleaned or replace," says AuWerter.
Sealing up leaks and drafts is another way to save some money. "If you have leaky windows and doors, it's basically like trying to air condition your home with the windows open," says AuWerter. "Get those leaks plugged up." Usually, the problem can be solved with some caulking or weather strip from your local hardware store. However, if you're afraid your duct system is leaking, it's best to call a professional.
Small changes can add up as well. Try replacing your regular lightbults with compact florescent lightbulbs. AuWerter says they use as much as 75% less energy and can last up to 10 times as long. Some people are reluctant to make the switch, though, because they're afraid florescent lightbulbs make buzzing noises or produce lesser quality light. Try making the change slowly. "Try a compact florescent bulb with just one light fixture," says Auwerter. "You're probably going to be pleasantly surprised."
Finally, try planting a few trees in your back yard and let Mother Nature do the rest. "By simply planting three leafy trees in your back yard, you could save anywhere from $100 - $250 dollars a year on your heating and cooling costs," says AuWerter. You can also try drawing your shades on days when it's especially hot outside. The shades will act like insulators, keeping the sun's warming rays out of your home.
For more information on keeping your heating and cooling bills down, as well as additional personal financial advice, click here to visit www.SmartMoney.com.
By Erin Petrun