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5 ways to reduce summer cooling costs

While summer heat provides relief from winter's increased heating expenses, air conditioning still costs U.S. homeowners nearly $11 billion in energy expenses annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nearly five percent of all of the electricity produced in the United States is sapped by air-conditioning systems, which are used in 66 percent of U.S. homes, according to the department.

Depending on the climate and the building's structural design, there are several strategies to reduce the energy expenses of air-conditioning systems while keeping a home cool, AccuWeather Meteorologist Jim Andrews said.

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Use landscaping to block direct sunlight

With sunlight bombarding the Earth's surface in the daytime hours, any home without sufficient natural shade or insulation will be less equipped in the warmer months, Andrews said.

"The sun puts a load directly upon the structure, the roof and the walls. If you take the direct load of sunlight away, there is going to be less heat to deal with," he said, adding deciduous trees around a property are a great advantage in both the summer and winter months.

"Shading and evapotranspiration, the process by which a plant actively moves and releases water vapor, can reduce surrounding air temperatures as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit," the energy department reports.

Deciduous trees will gain foliage in the warmer months when shade is needed to reduce direct sunlight and shed their leaves in cooler months when more sunlight might be welcome upon the home.

Make home improvements to optimize cooling

If trees are not an option, reflective roofing materials, solar roofing systems and window awnings can also block solar energy on the structure, providing an effective method of reducing the heating and cooling load.

Cool roofing options include roofs painted with highly reflective paints, reflective sheets or tiles and panels that bounce back sunlight to prevent absorption of heat.

Green roof options are also a possibility for certain structures. Plants and vegetation cover not only absorb sunlight and heat but can also serve as a garden in urban areas where planting space is limited.

In addition, adding window awnings to a home can reduce solar heat in the summer up to 65 percent on south-facing windows and upwards of 77 percent on west-facing ones, according to the energy department. Reflective blinds and films can also drastically reduce the amount of solar heat in a home during the day.

Use fans in place of air conditioning

Even though electricity is needed to run a fan, exhaust fans in an attic, kitchen or bathroom as well as ceiling and window fans are good ventilation resources that help drive heat from the home and require less energy than air-conditioning.

Natural ventilation, which is greatly improved with the use of fans, is the least expensive and most energy-efficient way to cool buildings, according to the energy department. Window fans are advantageous and can be used to either pull in cool air at night or to help push out warm air.

For window fans to be effective, creating a chimney effect in the home can be achieved by leaving the lower and upper levels of a home open to allow cooler air in and hotter air to exit as it rises.

Reduce lighting and appliance usage

In place of using ovens and other appliances that cause heat buildup, the Department of Energy recommends homeowners take to grilling or microwaving food instead.

Another way to reduce heat and save energy is to switch to more energy-efficient light bulbs or cut the lights altogether. Traditional incandescent bulbs convert only a small percentage of the total electricity consumed into light while the rest is lost in the form of heat.

In addition, allowing dishes and clothing to dry by air rather than dishwashers and dryers can help keep homes cool while saving on summer energy expenses.

As with lighting, other appliances such as computers, televisions, stereos, curling irons and household electronics also generate small amounts of heat, according to the department.

Stay cool underground

Homes that have basements are more equipped to handle warmer weather because of the natural subterranean cooling.

For basements that contain enough space for comfort, taking to the basement during warm days instead of running the air conditioner is one option to reduce your cooling expenses, according to

However, humidity may pose problems and cause condensation on basement walls, according to Bankrate, which recommends keeping the windows shut.

Andrews cautioned that opening windows in a warm, humid climate can cause unwanted problems such as creating environments for mold and causing food to spoil.