(Family Features) - The dog days of summer can really put the heat on electricity bills and put even the best air conditioning systems to the test. "The Department of Energy says that almost 45 percent of a homeowner's utility costs come from heating and cooling the house. Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to help lower those costs, keep your system working as it should, and beat the summer heat," says Dave Quandt, Senior VP of Field Services for American Home Shield, one of the nation's leading providers of home warranty services.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when summer temperatures start to sizzle:
•An air conditioner set at 70°F can cost twice as much to operate as one set at 78°F. Raise the thermostat by 2 degrees above its normal setting. You'll still be comfortable, and your pocketbook will thank you.
•Set the thermostat to 80°F when you'll be out of the house for several hours and lower it when you return. But don't shut the air conditioner off; it's less efficient to cool the house back down than to leave it set at a higher temperature.
•A ceiling fan uses about as much energy as a 100-watt bulb, but it can make a room feel up to eight degrees cooler. In summer, blades should turn counterclockwise, pushing air downward to create a cool breeze.
•Keeping windows closed and curtains drawn during the day can reduce cooling costs by 30 percent.
•Lights, computers and televisions all generate heat. Turn them off when they're not in use.
Quandt believes your best protection, however, lies in preventative maintenance.
"It's important to have your air conditioning system professionally inspected and cleaned a least a month before you'll need to start using it," he says. "At a minimum, turn it on and make sure it's still running like it should.
"Last summer, we responded to more than 550,000 requests for air conditioning repairs during the record-breaking heat wave. You don't want to find out that your air conditioner needs repair or replacing just when you need it most. Now's the time to be sure everything's in good working order."
Find out the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance on your type of unit. You can usually find it online and in your owner's manual. In addition:
•Create shade for the unit, but keep the area around the exterior condensing unit clear of leaves, bushes and other obstructions to ensure adequate airflow.
•Clean or replace the air filter. Clean or replace the air conditioner filter monthly. Clogged, dirty filters block air flow and make a unit work much harder. A clean filter can save up to 10 percent on your bill.
If your air conditioning system and/or components break down, a home warranty can help protect you from unexpected repair costs. "A home warranty," said Quandt, "is a service contract that covers the repair or replacement of many of the most common home system breakdowns. It also covers appliances not usually covered by homeowner's insurance." Quandt says that American Home Shield offers home warranty coverage regardless of the age of the home, and it can be purchased at any time, not just when a home is bought or sold.
To get more summer home care tips, and to learn more about home warranties, visit www.ahs.com.
American Home Shield