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Making Your Home Greener and CoolerAs the temperature climbs, so does the use of energy-sucking air conditioners, producing higher bills for your family.

“The average home puts out twice the greenhouse gases of the average car,” says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program. “Because heating and cooling are such a big part of that output, improving your home’s energy efficiency is a tremendous way to reduce greenhouse gases.”

To reduce pollution while lowering your utility bills, follow these easy tips:

Seal up cracks and insulate

Cost: $5-$25. Average annual energy savings: $200.

Vargas points to one of the easiest and most effective tactics for energy efficiency: Find and seal cracks around doors, windows, outlets, and other susceptible areas. Failing to caulk and weather-strip gaps “can cause the energy-loss equivalent of leaving a window open for a full year,” says Vargas. The EPA also suggests adding insulation to attic and exterior walls to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. According to the EPA, sealing and insulating your home can save you up to 10% on your annual energy bill.

Get an AC checkup

Cost: $50-$60 for inspection, $20-$150 for service. Average annual energy savings: $300.

A pre-season checkup for your air-conditioning system is a low-cost, easy way to save energy. “It’s like an oil change for your car—it helps keep your AC at its peak performance level,” says Vargas. Changing your air filter as often as indicated (monthly during heavy-use periods, and a minimum of four times per year) can make a big difference, too. “Having your air-conditioning unit serviced can cut 15% of cooling costs,” says Megan Toth, of Flex Your Power, a California energy-efficiency awareness organization.

Get a programmable thermostat

Cost: $50-$125. Average annual energy savings: $160.

Once you purchase a programmable thermostat, you need to make sure you’re using it correctly, says Vargas. “You must program it to fit the needs of your home,” she says. “Programmable thermostats put you in control of your energy use and your own environmental impact.” For summer cooling, keep your thermostat at 78 degrees or above for maximum efficiency. Set the program up to 85 degrees for periods when no one will be home for hours or days. You can also use this setting after bedtime for additional savings. Avoid using the override or hold options, since changing the temperature makes your system work harder. For more helpful tips to correct thermostat use, check out energystar.gov/pts.

Use ceiling fans

Cost: $40-$150. Average annual energy savings: $15 per fan.

“Fans make indoor temperatures feel cooler,” Toth says. “And most ceiling fans use less energy than a lightbulb.” To be sure you’re making good use of the energy needed to run the fans, turn them off whenever you leave the room, suggests Vargas. “Keep in mind that ceiling and portable fans cool you, not the room.”

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