GIMME SHELTER- Cool it: Tips to keep the temperature down

Q: Yikes! I just got my electric bill, and it was through the roof! In these dog days of summer, is there anything that can be done?

A: Don't sweat your electric bill– it's usually highest in July and August. That's when "brownouts" occur and officials ask people to conserve energy. In the winter, many alternative heating options exist, but during the summer, electricity is about the only way to power air conditioning. Luckily, there are many things that can be done to keep both the temperature and electric bills low.

First, turn lights off if you're not in a room. Not only will that save the electricity required to power the light, but a light bulb can generate a lot of heat. Replace standard incandescent bulbs with either florescent or LED models. They're probably 50-75 percent more energy efficient. 

Regulate the temperature on your AC unit with a programable thermostat. When you know you're going to be gone for an extended period of time, turn the thermostat up three or four degrees. You probably don't want to turn your AC completely off when you go on vacation because it not only works to dehumidify the house, but also to dehumidify things in the house. When it's off for a long time, things like carpet, upholstery, and even wooden furniture soak up some of that moisture. When you turn your AC back on, it will have to work over-time to get it out.

Turn off anything that generates heat. This includes your printer. It takes a while for a printer to be ready once it's turned on because it has to warm up. As long as it's on, it's warm. You don't leave your toaster on while you're not there, and you shouldn't leave your printer on, either. 

Chargers for phones or cameras also produce a small amount of heat and use a noticeable amount of electricity as long as they're plugged in. A good way to take care of your chargers and printer in one fell swoop is by plugging them into a power strip. This way, you can simply flip the switch off instead of having to unplug everything.

An easy way to keep cool air in and hot air out is with attic and under-floor insulation, and making sure it's intact and complete. Building codes have recently increased thickness requirements by almost 20 percent.

 If your house is 10 or more years old, your insulation probably isn't thick enough. Insulation also compacts over time, so it's always a good idea to replace it if you feel it has worn thin. Replacing insulation in a very old house is very economical. What you save on bills can recoup the cost in a few years.