Keep cool and save cash with these summer energy-saving tips

Many homeowners experience higher utility costs during the summer, as they switch their cooling systems into overdrive to fight off 90-degree temperatures and high humidity. Unfortunately, most fail to realize that this annual price hike is preventable.

If you regularly pay more for your utilities during warmer months, consider making a few energy-saving home improvements. With some simple tweaks, you can improve your home's energy efficiency and dramatically lower your summertime utility costs. To get started, follow these guidelines:

Seal windows and doors
Often, cool air sneaks out of improperly sealed windows and doors, the National Resources Defense Council reported. Luckily, fixing this problem is easy. Start with the windows. First, visit your local home improvement store and purchase some caulk and a caulk gun. Make sure to select a more viscous blend, as watery caulk is hard to apply and, in most cases, effective for only short periods of time. Before you start applying the liquid sealant to your window frames, practice on some scrap wood or paper – even individuals with the steadiest of hands have trouble applying clean beads of caulk.

Sealing up doors is a bit easier and certainly requires less manual labor. Weatherstripping is the best solution for movable features, the Department of Energy found. Prior to application, clean the dust and other debris from the edges of your doors – weatherstripping, which uses gel adhesive, only works if applied to clean surfaces. When it comes to selecting the appropriate solution, you want to look for weatherstripping that can withstand constant friction and regular temperature changes. Additionally, there are a variety of materials to choose from, including felt, foam and vinyl.

If you aren't comfortable permanently affixing weatherstripping to your thresholds, you can always go with magnetic door sweeps.

Programmable thermostats improve home energy efficiency.Programmable thermostats improve home energy efficiency.

Stock up on energy-efficient accessories
Most homeowners believe air conditioning is the key to staying comfortable during hot, humid summers. This simply isn't true. Facilitating air circulation is actually more important than maintaining low indoor temperatures. As a result, experts advise homeowners to install ceiling fans in key common areas and bedrooms. These low-cost, wind-generating accessories can sometimes take the place of central cooling systems. Plus, they use 90 percent less energy than most air conditioning units. And, on top of all that, installing them is a breeze.

Once you've installed your ceiling fan, make sure to put it on the counterclockwise setting. This allows the fan to pull cool air from the floor and move it around the room.

Of course, if you absolutely must use your air conditioner, install a programmable thermostat to make it more energy efficient, U.S. News and World Report suggested. With these devices, you can configure automated shut off times to correspond with periods when you or your family are out of the house. Most programmable thermostats will save you almost $200 per year.

Mind lighting fixtures and appliances
Indoor lighting fixtures equipped with traditional light bulbs give off an immense amount of heat. In the summertime, when temperatures are already cracking the 90-degree mark, this extra energy release can make already uncomfortable indoor conditions unbearable. To prevent this situation from occurring, switch off interior lights at dawn. If you want to take it a step further, try replacing stock bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives like light-emitting diodes or compact fluorescent lamps. These use 25 to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer. Plus, they give off less heat.

"Try replacing stock bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives."

Exercise similar restraint when working with heat-emitting kitchen appliance such as ovens. When dinner time rolls around, try grilling outside – you can help save the world and keep your home cool.

Contact your utility company
If you're serious about improving your home's energy efficiency and want to make large-scale improvements, contact your local utility for help. Most offer rebates or incentives to homeowners with such objectives in mind and offer reimbursement for a wide range of services, including energy auditing and insulation installation. For instance, Maryland partnered with local utilities in 2008 to start the EmPOWER Maryland program, which provides financial incentives to local home and business owners interested in implementing energy-efficient property improvements.

Stay cool and save money this summer by adopting these energy-efficient strategies.