Four Ways To Lower Cooling Costs

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Cooling costs can chill your budget in the peak summer months. Here are four tips for chilling out without going broke:

Invest in an electronic thermostat.
Most people are comfortable when temperatures range from 78 to 80 degrees in the home. Try to avoid going any cooler by installing a programmable thermostat that automatically shuts off when it reaches a specified temperature. A few degrees can make a big difference. For every degree you shave off, you save roughly 3% on your energy bill, according to the experts at Progress Energy.com.

Get your filters checked.
Dirty air filters can make your air-conditioning unit less cost effective and shorten the equipment's life span. In most parts of the country, you can hire a heating and cooling technician to service your machine for $50 to $75. A thorough cleaning may significantly lower your energy bills.

Weatherproof your home.
Hire a contractor to find and fix any air leaks and add extra insulation to basements, attics and crawl spaces.

Block out the sun.
Using shades and blinds to block sunlight minimizes the amount of energy needed to cool your house. It's also worth noting that dark-colored exterior walls and roof tops can absorb up to 90% of the sun's radiant energy. To keep things cool, try painting your house a brighter color.

If you've tried everything to keep cooling costs down and still find yourself saddled with a sky-high electric bill, contact your energy provider. Most companies will allow you to spread your payments out evenly over the course of the year.

By Marshall Loeb