How to Save Money on Air Conditioning … and Fun Tips to Stay Cool This Summer

Summer is here! And we’re all looking for ways to stay cool, save money on air conditioning, and have some fun while doing it!

If your home has air conditioning, we’ve got a few tips to reduce your summertime energy costs and maybe even increase the life of your AC unit.

For those of you with no air conditioning, don’t fear … I’ve lived without AC for the last 8 years and pride myself on thinking outside the (window unit) box to beat the heat.

And just for fun, I’ve included some unconventional and less common ideas to stay cool this summer without air conditioning. 😎

How to save on air conditioning

Did you know that air conditioners use about 6% of all the energy produced in the United States!!? We pay billions of dollars each year to run our AC units. And this dumps ~120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Yuk!

Here’s a few tips to use less energy, lower your air conditioning bill, and help reduce your carbon footprint! It’s a true win/win/win!

Adjust the temperature just 1 degree higher. Next time you turn on your air conditioner, set the thermostat just a single degree higher than you usually would. There’s not a huge amount of discomfort in a 1 degree difference, but you’ll notice a 3% reduction in your energy bill!

Get your air conditioning unit serviced. It’s like a car — preventative maintenance will avoid large and expensive repairs and extend the life of your central air conditioning unit, so service is totally worth it. Just simply switching out a dirty and clogged air filter with a new one can reduce your AC’s energy consumption by 5% to 15%! Routine maintenance will keep your central air conditioner in tiptop shape.

In most metro areas, you can find a ton of local handymen 👩‍🔧👨‍🔧 who provide air conditioning service on NextDoor, Yelp, or Craigslist. Make sure they are familiar with HVAC system you have, and you could negotiate a good value service rate! 

Cover your windows with blinds or curtains to improve your energy efficiency. Glass windows let sunlight into your house and trap the heat inside like a greenhouse. Closing the blinds and covering your windows will stop most outside heat from coming in, so your AC system won’t have to run as hard to keep the house cool.

Seal your doors and windows. Cool air escapes through the tiniest cracks in your door frames and window sills. Usually for less than 10 bucks you can pick up some weather seal strips to control the air flow — keep the cool air in the and hot air out! Could be a fun project to tackle yourself, or you may know a friend who can help you glue on the strips. Easy!

Get a ceiling fan! According to the Department of Energy, a ceiling fan allows you to raise the temperature on your AC about 4 degrees without affecting your comfort level! Ventilation is the most-energy-efficient way to cool your place down, and it’s good for your electricity bill, too.

Keep the lights off, and/or change to LED bulbs.💡 LEDs still produce a tiny bit of heat, but it’s way less than regular incandescent light bulbs. LEDs also have less energy consumption in general, saving a bit more $ for lighting, too! (Residential LEDs — especially Energy Star rated products — use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting).

Repair or replace your thermostat! 🌡It might be a good idea to check if your thermostat is programmed correctly. If it’s off by even a few degrees, your A/C unit may be putting in unnecessary effort without you even knowing it. If you are planning to replace your thermostat, consider getting a programmable thermostat that automatically changes the inside temperature based on time of day and outside temps — a smart thermostat can save up to 10% on A/C energy! (Here’s a good review of the Nest.)

Turn your air conditioner off for a few days! This could be a fun frugal challenge or energy usage competition with an environmentally minded friend. Each day you don’t run the A/C could reduce your monthly bill by 3%. Do this for 1 day a week and you can save almost 15% on your bill. #sweatysundays

And now, just for fun … 

Fun tips to stay cool with no air conditioning

For those of you with no A/C, the good news is that your cooling bill is already $0! But this doesn’t solve your sweaty summertime problem. So here are a few funny and unconventional ideas and family activities to try.

*Fair warning: These tactics are extremely uncommon, so follow them at your own risk! Let us know if you use any of them. :-)

Grow trees to shade your house. On your next trip to the hardware store, nursery, or local park, pick up a handful of acorns or very tiny tree seedlings. Then, plant these in your front and back yard, wait about 20-30 years, and you will have beautiful large oak trees shading your entire house. A genius energy saver!

This tactic requires very long-term thinking. Just like building wealth, it might be the long and boring way, but you’ll be the one laughing later in life when you’re relaxing in the cooled air of your shady jungle property! 🌳🏡🌳

Cover your entire house with mirrors. Jump on Craigslist and find a bunch of mirrors in the free section. Then glue them all on the outside of your house, covering the entire exterior. Not only will the mirrors reflect the sun rays to keep heat out, they will give a “disco ball effect” that is perfect for the 80’s party you plan to host in August! 🕺💿🕺

Dig a basement. Not just any basement — keep digging until you get like 4-5 stories down into the earth where you hit the cold air. Make sure there’s no electricity, cellphone coverage, WiFi, or anything living down there. It might be a little scary sitting in a tiny dark hole all day, but at least the temperature will be comfortable. And your cooling costs will be nonexistent!

Make your kids fan you with palm fronds. This could be a punishment or an incentive activity for them. You get to decide! Just make sure to give them regular breaks if their arms get sore. Just send them on a quick trip to the kitchen to bring you another cool beverage – that should be enough time for your human air conditioning system to get a bit of rest.

Cook at your neighbor’s house. Using your own oven and stove can heat up your house even more. So try to cook all your meals using your neighbor’s kitchen instead of yours. Just tell them that your oven is broken and that you’re waiting on a rare replacement part shipping from overseas. This excuse can probably last up to 2 weeks before the neighbor gets fed up with you. Then just switch and pull the same trick with your neighbor on the other side.

Sleep in the nude. I’m probably preaching to the choir with this one … Nobody wants to wear pajamas when it’s 90 degrees at night. Just make sure your blinds are fully closed!

Drill holes in the ceiling to let the hot air out. This tip uses good ol’ fashioned science to cool down your home. We all know hot air rises, so drilling holes for vents through your roof will allow the warm air to escape, cooling your indoor temperature. If it happens to rain, just put large pots and salad bowls all over the house to collect the water. Free cooling AND free rainwater is a win/win that you can brag about at your next extreme frugality meet-up group.

Make friends with people who have pools. Kind of like being a “gold digger,” except you only care about whether the person has a pool. Go down to the nearest mall (also a good place to hang out that has free air conditioning) and make your way over to the pool store. Or if you are at a Walmart or Target, just hang out in the aisle with the pool toys. These are great places to meet new friends! :)

In all seriousness, what are your tips to stay cool?

Have a great weekend, everyone! Happy Fourth of July!!

Pic up top by Andrew Seaman

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  1. T'Pol July 3, 2020 at 7:16 AM

    I purchased my current apartment back in 2004. As I was looking for a place to buy, I kept telling the realtors, I did not want a sunny place so, I finally found this apartment. My back room gets a bit of sun may be 3-4 hours a day. I have two huge linden trees in the front which provide not only a nice shade but, also great natural fanning even when there is only a small breeze. During a few unusually hot summers between 2004 and now, I used a pedestal fan that I had purchased way back in 1997, may be for a maximum of 10 days. As for heating; it is central in this apartment complex. Thankfully, the whole complex is well insulated and what I need to pay during the winter is not bad at all. I would advise everyone on the hunt to buy property, to consider heating and cooling as one of the top ten things to look for.

    1. Joel July 6, 2020 at 1:06 PM

      These are such great points. I joked about the tree shade but in all seriousness that’s one of the most effective ways to keep a house cool! Good tip on looking for this when searching for a new place to live.

  2. Alana July 3, 2020 at 12:07 PM

    After 6 Toronto summers with no AC, I finally gave in. I bought a portable AC last night, it was 34 degrees at 8pm when I pulled the trigger. I don’t care that it uses more energy than a window unit, it’s easier to install and clean by myself. I did get a “top of the line” energy efficient model so that should help the environment. Cant wait till it gets here. Now maybe I can go back to sleeping in my pajamas!

    1. Joel July 6, 2020 at 1:08 PM

      haha nice! The newest technology ones are certainly more efficient than old clunker a/c units. Have a great (and cooool) summer!

  3. angie pannkuk July 3, 2020 at 12:52 PM

    Americans are waayyy to obsessed with air conditioning. I live in Vegas and keep my ac at 79 degrees. I also went two summers (in Vegas) without air conditioning in my car. Air conditioning isn’t even good for your health…google it.

    1. Joel July 6, 2020 at 1:09 PM

      I’m too scared to google it! :)

  4. Elizabeth July 5, 2020 at 3:11 PM

    It seems like businesses and offices keep the a/c cranked up so high all the time! I can’t wear summer clothes to work because it is freezing all summer long at the office. But I am 108 lbs. I think if everyone was not so fat they would not need all this excessive air conditioning!

    1. Joel July 6, 2020 at 1:13 PM

      Yeah, I was wondering how much of the US air conditioning statistics were taken up by offices and malls and such. I would guess more than 50% maybe? It will be interesting to see if the stats change much for 2020 being that many people are working from home and offices are closed for months at a time.

  5. Liz July 5, 2020 at 9:26 PM

    We keep our AC on 77 here in South Florida. I find it’s not so much the heat as it is the humidity. Can’t really go without AC or are house will get really muggy. There’s a rental house on my street and the tenant lived in it without electricity for sometime and the fans and stuff rusted! We keep a fan on in whatever room we are in to help us feel comfortable.

    1. Joel July 6, 2020 at 1:16 PM

      Wow I didn’t even think about the rust! That’s crazy and definitely a good reason to keep air flowing! Good work on the fan, they are lifesavers :)

  6. BC | FrugalWheels July 6, 2020 at 5:40 PM

    Some great tips! One thing I’ve been doing, that’s sort of unique to me, is that my air conditioner only works if I turn it on, go outside, and use a long screwdriver to nudge the fan to get it spinning. It would be a simple fix (though the risk of zapping myself into oblivion looms on my mind) but I’ve toyed with leaving it. It encourages me to hold off as long as possible in turning it on, and run it to a certain point and then turn it off. Even this weekend with temps in the 90s (very hot for us up ‘nort folks!) I ran it for a few hours in late afternoon/early evening. Doing a lot of the above helps a lot in reducing the use! Last year I just didn’t use it at all. I find if you don’t use it all the time, you get used to the warmer temperatures.

    1. Joel July 6, 2020 at 6:55 PM

      That’s so cool! The struggle is a constant reminder that A/C is actually a luxury in life – one you have to work for! I agree that you get used to being warm over time. Apart from the odd heatwave, I’ve always been able to acclimate to where I live, and enjoy the heat. Love your blog btw :)

  7. Dollartrak July 8, 2020 at 11:01 PM

    I did the math once i the ceiling fan trick and I don’t really think it actually saved you any money.

    1. Joel July 10, 2020 at 11:40 AM

      Really? Maybe it depends on the type of A/C unit you’re running? I’d like to see the real data they use.

  8. Mr. DS July 9, 2020 at 1:27 PM

    Nice tips! Here is one more to add to the stack:
    Get a box fan, and put it facing out in one of your open windows at night. Crank the fan up and open all your other windows. This will blow the hot air out and suck the cool night air in through your other open windows. In the morning, close all your windows and curtains to lock the cool air in.

    Even on 100+ degree days our house stays cool well into the afternoons with no AC! The key ingredient for this to work is a big swing between night and day temperatures. The bigger the swing, the better it works!

    Our first summer of doing this we saved a total of $120 off our electric bill without changing our thermostat setting . . . and the box fan only cost us $9 on craigslist! That’s a 1,333% annualized ROI . . . We beat the stock market AND sacrificed zero comfort!


    Mr. DS

    1. Joel July 10, 2020 at 11:46 AM

      At first I thought you were joking… But dude that’s so cool and what a fun and cheap trick! Love that you calculated the ROI haha!

  9. Tara@Sparkrental July 9, 2020 at 9:48 PM

    Great tips and hilarious ways to keep cool without AC lol. We try to limit the amount we use the ac as much as we possibly can. We also make sure to keep lights off and minimize electricity use.

    1. Joel July 10, 2020 at 11:50 AM

      I know a few people that try to do electricity-free days a couple times a month. Fun little way to cut back :)

  10. Tara/Sparkrental July 9, 2020 at 9:48 PM

    Great tips and hilarious ways to keep cool without AC lol. We try to limit the amount we use the ac as much as we possibly can. We also make sure to keep lights off and minimize electricity use.