The summer heat can have you running the AC all day long - and running your utility bill up in the process. Save energy and money with these tips.

Beating the summer heat could mean spending lazy afternoons lounging poolside or sipping lemonade under the shade of your favorite tree. For many people living in regions that experience extreme summer temperatures, it means shutting up the house and cranking the AC.

Unfortunately, this can result in some truly astronomical energy bills, especially if your house and your HVAC system aren’t particularly efficient or you have no concept of how to conserve energy. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to sweat it out all summer in order to cut your carbon footprint and your electric bill.

With just a few simple changes, you can compare energy prices from one month to the next and see major savings. Here are just a few of the best ways to conserve energy during the hot summer months, and in some cases, all year long.

Conduct a Home Energy Audit

If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to energy conservation efforts, a good place to start is with a home energy audit. Just call local energy or natural gas companies in Florida to get referrals for reputable vendors to perform an audit.

These professionals will come to your home to inspect and perform tests from top to bottom. You’ll receive a report detailing areas of energy waste in your structure, including leaks around doors, windows, vents, and pipes.  These leaks could be letting hot air in and bought air out.

This gives you the opportunity to install weather stripping, seal seams, and add or replace insulation as needed.  These efforts will make your home more airtight and energy efficient. Just make sure to upgrade ventilation if necessary to compensate and ensure safe interior air quality.

Maintain HVAC Equipment

Energy-efficiency is one of the first things to suffer when you fail to properly inspect, clean, and maintain your HVAC equipment, including machinery (furnace and AC unit), vents, and ducts. This maintenance should be scheduled at least annually with a qualified HVAC technician, and if you notice that efficiency is on the decline or equipment isn’t functioning properly, you should call for additional service.

Program Your Thermostat

If you’re still using an outdated, analog thermostat, it’s high time to upgrade to a digital, programmable model. Not only are old-school dials finicky, requiring frequent calibration, but they’re far from accurate. Even if you never program your digital thermostat, it’s going to prove more accurate and energy efficient than an analog model.

However, you can conserve a lot more energy by properly programming your thermostat. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you should set your thermostat no higher than 68 degrees (F) in the winter and no lower than 78 degrees in the summer, just in general.

When you also roll back the temperature by 10 degrees for eight hours each day (while your family is out of the house), you stand to cut your energy consumption significantly.  You could see savings of roughly 10% on your utility bill. Certainly you also have the option to adjust your thermostat manually or even use a smartphone app to do it remotely.  However, you’ll see the greatest convenience and savings by setting a regular program.

Cover Windows

The greatest ingress of heat by far is likely to come in through the windows in your home. If you already enjoy double-paned windows, you’ve taken a big step toward conserving energy.

However, the sun’s rays can still penetrate your home and heat the interior. The easiest solution is to keep windows closed and drapes drawn during daylight hours. However, this will stop you from enjoying the view.

Instead you might consider adding awnings to windows that get a lot of sun during the day. You could also strategically plant trees around your property to shade your home.

Another option is energy film. This cling-film substance is easy to size and apply to windows, and it’s also easy to remove and replace. It won’t obstruct your view and some products block up to 90% of heat-producing rays.

Install Solar Panels

There’s no denying that energy alternatives can be pricy. It is estimated that installing solar panels to provide energy for the average household will cost more than $25,000.

The upside, of course, is that you will no longer have to pay an electric bill, especially if you live in an area with abundant sunlight year-round. This will help you to recoup the initial expense over time. Clean, green energy is one of the best ways to conserve, if you can afford the up-front cost.