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Trim cooling costs

Lush shade trees offer a welcome break from the summer sun, but when positioned to shade a home, also typically yield a savings on utility bills, said Bruce Snead, a Kansas State University Research and Extension residential energy specialist.

While newer homes with trees that have not yet reached maturity will someday provide a savings, homeowners can take steps now to reduce summer cooling costs, said Snead, who offered these tips:

--Clean or replace a heating and cooling system filter every three months.

--Check periodically to see that the condensate drain is not clogged. The drain removes condensation water drawn from the air during the cooling process, and can become clogged by accumulated rust or other debris.

--Install a programmable thermostat, which allows heating and cooling systems to adjust the inside temperature to a homeowner's needs and lifestyle. If the family is away during the day, the home need not be heated or cooled to the same level during that time, yet can be set to begin cooling before they arrive home.

--Keep the home closed up to reduce solar gain during intense heat. Close shades and blinds during the hottest part.

--Install ceiling fans, which, although not cooling units, do circulate the air and minimize stuffiness.

--Supplement hard-to-cool spots with a box fan or by installing a window air conditioning unit. If installing a window unit, read manufacturer's instructions and place unit out of direct sunlight, preferably on the north or east side of the home.

--Look for and seal air leaks around windows, doors, ducts or construction (of the home) with appropriate materials, such as caulk, weather-stripping, aluminum foil tape and/or a fiberglass tape with mastic for ducts, or other durable products. Be sure to follow manufacturer's recommendations for safety and personal protection when installing or using these materials in and around the home.

--Evaluate your attic ventilation, and add soffit, ridge or gable end vents.

--Check insulation levels and add according to Department of Energy region and climate recommendations. R-value recommendations can be found at http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs%2bwalls/insulation/ins_16.html.

"Monitor utility bills to check for an unexpected change that may reflect a loss of efficiency in a cooling system," Snead said.

More information on choosing and maintaining energy efficient heating and cooling systems is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on the Extension engineering Web site: www.sustainable-energy.ksu.edu.

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