Of all the energy expenses we incur during the summer months, keeping our homes cool can definitely present the highest price tag. By ensuring your home's air conditioning system is working at its peak, you can help avoid spending more money than necessary while keeping your rooms at a comfortable temperature.

Many of these tips and tricks work for both whole-home and window units. No matter what your home's air conditioning setup is like, there are simple things you can do on your own that will help you reduce your resulting energy costs.

Clean up your air conditioner's act

When was the last time you cleaned your air conditioner? What about replacing the air filter or dusting the vents in your home? All sorts of things can obstruct the free flow of air to and from your air conditioner, and every time airflow is inhibited, your air conditioner is forced to work just a little bit harder.

Make the rounds in your home and check each vent. Take a vacuum to each on if you have an appropriate extension. Otherwise, a simple dusting will do. Remember to replace your air filter every few months – more frequently during periods of the year when you use your HVAC system every day.

Once you've taken care of the inside of the house, step out and give your A/C unit itself a onceover. Debris such as leaves, sticks and dirt can pile up around A/C units. As with obstructions to airflow in your home, this debris outside can make your air conditioner work a lot harder than it has to. Take out your broom and hose, and ensure that the system is turned off before getting in there and really cleaning things up.

Seal off your home

Anytime you're trying to regulate the temperature inside your home, it's important to make sure you're not hemorrhaging air anywhere. Go out and buy some caulk to create an airtight seal around your doors and windows. This tip works just as well during the summer months as it does in the winter. The only thing that has changed is the temperature of the air you're trying to trap indoors relative to the temperature outside.

Investing in better insulation for your attic and basement can also do a lot on this front. When less air escapes from your home, your air conditioning unit doesn't have to work as hard to maintain a steady temperature.

Be smart about your settings

Making sure your system is operating at its peak is just one portion of making your air conditioning as efficient as possible. The rest is in your hands. If you have the money to invest in a smart thermostat, you may want to consider doing so. Alternatively, you can purchase a less expensive programmable thermostat, or simply be vigilant about adjusting your manual thermostat's temperature several times a day.

Some people believe that leaving their home at the same temperature all day will help to reduce their energy costs during the summer. It's simply not true. There's no reason to leave your air conditioner set at room temperature all day when no one is home to enjoy it. You're just going to waste energy making your air conditioner run throughout the day to maintain that temperature.

By setting your thermostat just a few degrees higher during time periods when you know you're not going to be home, you can effectively lower your A/C usage and reduce your energy costs at the same time. When you return home, turn the system down to your normal desired temperature. Resist the temptation to set the temperature lower than what you're used to as soon as you get home, because no matter how low you set your thermostat, your system will cool the house at the same rate.

When you embrace all three of these suggestions, you should see a marked improvement in your air conditioner's performance.

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