During hot weather months, it doesn’t take much of a thermostat tweak to send your energy bills soaring. The question is: how can you best manage cooling costs without sacrificing comfort?

“We will be tempted to crank the air conditioner, but it’s a drain on the power grid, an inefficient use of energy, and a huge expense,” says Suzanne Jones, vice president of the Association of Energy Services Professionals. “There are smart ways to stay cool and remain energy efficient.”

You might think your thermostat can handle the task all by itself, but the truth is, it needs a little help to get the job done. So, here are some of the best ways to save energy and beat the heat, based on suggestions from Jones, government sources, and OUC:

1. Use a smart thermostat

“Using a smart thermostat will save up to one-third of all your heating and cooling costs if used properly,” Jones says. “You can adjust the temperature in your home from your phone or mobile device if you are on vacation, at work, or spending the day away.”

You can also pre-program different temperature settings throughout the day if you tend to forget to adjust the thermostat manually when you leave.

While smart thermostats can cost anywhere from $150 to $300, Jones notes that they more than pay for themselves over time.

2. Install ceiling fans

Jones highly recommends ceiling fans, although many consumers don’t fully understand how they work. The fan cools you down by triggering evaporation from your skin and forcing warm air away from you. The thing to remember is: fans cool people, not rooms, so it’s best to turn them off when you leave.

Using a ceiling fan can make you feel anywhere from three to eight degrees cooler.

Be sure to factor in the cost of installation, especially if you need an electrician. And, shop around for bargains. Sales on fans are plentiful at certain times of year — some models cost as little as $50.

3. Adjust temperatures gradually

When you crank your air conditioner, that sudden blast of cold air may feel nice, but it’s wasteful.

“It’s a much more efficient use of energy to use air conditioning to maintain a stable temperature throughout the day,” Jones says. “This saves energy because the house doesn’t have to be completely cooled all at once.”

4. Schedule an energy audit from OUC

“Utilities are excellent partners in making your home more energy efficient and they will have a number of incentive and rebate programs for you to take advantage of,” Jones says. “These include home energy audits, which are often free or very inexpensive and will show you how to save energy in your home.”

Indeed, OUC offers such a program. Learn three ways OUC can provide you an energy audit.

5. Convert to LED bulbs

Some people shy away from using LED bulbs because they are more expensive. But Jones says you’ll come out ahead financially.

“An LED bulb may cost you about $20, but it will save you as much as $140 over the 20-year life of the bulb,” she says.

6. Keep direct sunlight out

Window treatments play a big role in allowing you to set your thermostat at a higher temperature and stay cool.

“By using blinds, shades, and drapes, you will reduce the amount of radiant (solar) heat coming into your home,” explains David Mayer, OUC Sustainability Supervisor. “This translates into a cooler, more comfortable home and allows you to potentially raise your air conditioner temperature setting.”

Mayer says every degree that you’re able to raise the A/C temperature setting will help you save between 6% and 8% on your cooling costs. So, a small tweak can add up to big savings on your electric bill.

What kind of window treatments should you use? According to Energy.gov, medium-colored drapes with white-plastic backings can reduce heat gains by 33 percent. With interior blinds, that number jumps to 45 percent.

And, if you’re up for installing an awning, that’s the best solution of all. Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain in the summer by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on windows that face the setting sun in the west.

To prevent an even larger portion of solar heat from entering your home, Mayer recommends installing window film or solar screens, for which OUC offers a rebate.

“One additional benefit that solar screens offer is the ability to remove them during the winter to naturally heat your home with sunlight,” Mayer says. Another alternative, he notes, is to plant trees on the east and west sides of your home to provide natural shading during the warmer months.

7. Eliminate drafty areas in your home

“Seal drafts to ensure that cold air is not escaping,” Jones advises. Here’s why: When cold air escapes, your air conditioner has to work harder and you have to set your thermostat lower to achieve the same cooling effect.

Do-it-yourself weather stripping for doors and caulk for windows is cheap and easy to install. Also, make sure to caulk around the holes where pipes go into the wall under sinks — a less obvious source of air leaks.

energy_star_promo_markFinally, make sure that your central A/C unit bears the ENERGY STAR® seal. Government statistics show units that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating have higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) and energy efficiency ratio (EER) ratings, making them more than 15% more efficient than conventional models.