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6 ways to keep your home cool and your bills low this summer

These smart summer tech tips can help you save money and energy

Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller Credit: Rachio

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Summer is the season of spending. Even if you aren’t planning beach vacations, road trips, and new bathing suits, you probably can’t go too long without blasting pricey air conditioning directly into your face.

Energy, water, and other utility bills can really soak up a summer budget. Looking for a few smart ways to curb some of that spending this season? Here are a few cool tips, tricks, and gadgets that can get you through the sweatiest, spendiest months.

1. Install a smart thermostat and start saving

A shot of the Nest Learning Thermostat on the wall of a homey hallway.
Credit: Nest

This thermostat can help reduce your utility bill by only using your home's cooling system when it's needed.

Smart thermostats have been heating up the smart-home category for quite some time. These gadgets can connect to any home network, allowing users to tweak comfort levels from across the house or across the world. It’s the ultimate convenience, and it can save you money.

The makers of the popular Nest Learning Thermostat claim the product can shave as much as $145 a year off electric and heating bills. That means the product can pay for itself in less than two years. If your utility company is one of the many that offers rebates and discounts just for installing a smart thermostat, you can save even more.

The Nest is particularly popular because it saves energy through remote control, Home and Away modes that save power while you're gone, Amazon Alexa voice control, and learning features that will automatically adjust temperatures based on your behavior.

If you want to monitor temperatures in more than one room, we recommend the Ecobee3 ($219.99). This smart thermostat comes packaged with one remote sensor, which can monitor temperature and motion in a separate room, and adjust heating or cooling accordingly. With the ability to support up to 32 sensors, the company says this method can save customers an average of 23 percent on utility costs.

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Tip: Enable your smart thermostat’s Away feature, so it will automatically go into an energy-saving mode when you leave the house. No programming is needed!

2. Tell your A/C to chill out

A ceiling fan hangs suspended over two twin beds in a bedroom.
Credit: Big Ass Fans

This fan can move a lot of air around—and it's much cheaper than a window A/C unit.

Air conditioners use about 6 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States. It may be hard to cut cooling during those sweltering months, but there are ways to keep costs and usage down.

First, think about using a fan, which can not only supplement air conditioning, but also keep that cool air circulating. The Haiku Home L Series from Big Ass Fans (starts at $799) has built-in sensors that adjust fan speeds based on the room's temperature, humidity, and occupancy. Users can also make manual tweaks remotely using an app, as well as voice commands via Amazon Alexa.

Get the Haiku Home L Series on Amazon for $799

3. Make your plugs smart, too

A red fan sits atop a stool.
Credit: Belkin

Fans are a significantly cheaper cooling option than air conditioners for temperatures under 90°—anything over that and it's time to bust out the A/C.

If you already have an A/C unit or fan you like, it’s easy to add new features with a smart plug. These devices plug into any outlet, adding remote control and scheduling options from smartphones and tablets paired with an app.

For instance, if you plug your window A/C unit into the Belkin Wemo Mini, you can turn the unit on and off from iOS and Android devices. You can also pair this model with the Nest Learning Thermostat, so the Wemo will shut down fans when the house goes into Away mode.

Tip: If you opt to pair a smart plug with an air-conditioning unit, make sure that A/C has a mechanical switch versus a digital one, which defaults to the off position when power is cut.

Buy a Belkin Wemo Mini smart plug for $26 at Amazon.com

4. Close the shades when it's bright out

A hand holds a remote up to a set of blinds, holding a remote.
Credit: Getty Images / U. J. Alexander

There's all kinds of smart blinds out there but most options aren't budget-friendly.

The sun is a great source of free heat in the winter. However, it can make a room unbearable in those summer months. Motorized shades and blinds can help with that.

These products allow you to open and close window coverings at the touch of a button. Some motorized shades have smart features, so you can actually program the system to open and close at set times as the sun moves across the sky, or to adapt to real-time weather conditions. There's a lot of excellent solutions out there, but they're also expensive.

If you want to go the DIY route, the Airtek Electric Roller Blind allows you to remotely control your curtains and is compatible with Alexa.

Tip: Motorized window shades can save you money on more than just electricity; this solution can actually save furniture from sun damage.

A close-up of the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller.
Credit: Rachio

This smart sprinkler will keep your lawn watered and your water bills low.

No one likes a brown lawn, but getting up early to turn on the sprinkler is also no fun. That's why you may want to look into a smart watering system that can water the lawn at predetermined times.

Smart sprinklers can also adjust based on weather conditions, seasons, water bans, and even your specific soil. The Rachio, the RainMachine Touch HD-12, and the Orbit 57950 B-hyve provide remote control watering, as well as updates based on local conditions. If you want to tie the system into other areas of the home, the Orbit works with Amazon Alexa and the RainMachine can integrate with Alexa, Nest, Wink, and SmartThings through IFTTT (“If This Then That”). The Rachio also offers support for Alexa, Nest, and IFTTT, as well as Google Assistant.

Tip: Don’t set your system to water while you sleep; nighttime watering can promote mildew and fungus.

6. Get sensors to turn the lights off when you're not home

A man stands outside, operating his home's lights from his smartphone.
Credit: Philips Hue

Smart lights give you enhanced control and are much more energy efficient.

Smart lighting is one of the best ways to keep costs down—all year round. Installing something as simple as Lutron Maestro Room Occupancy Sensors can save energy (and money), ensuring that lights aren't left on in rooms that aren’t occupied.

For something slightly more high-tech, the Philips Hue starter kit lets you turn lights on and off remotely. You can even set schedules so you never have to enter a dark house, or tell the lights to turn on and off while you’re away. As an added bonus, the system also works with Amazon Alexa, so you can bark out commands to douse the lights from under the covers.

Tip: Only 10 to 15 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in actual light—the rest is turned into heat. Seek out energy-efficient options, such as LED.

Get the Lutron Maestro Motion Sensor Switch at Amazon for $19.53
Buy a Philips Hue Starter Kit at Amazon for $119.95

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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