You want to do everything you can to go green, but what about the days when the thermometer hits 105 F in the shade? How can you stay cool without cranking up the air conditioning or otherwise wasting energy? Here are some easy ways to save energy (and your budget) while giving the planet a boost.

1. Be AC smart. When you’re out of the house, turn off the air conditioning or turn up your thermostat to 85 F or so, advises the Department of Energy (DOE). Don’t believe the myth that it takes more energy to cool down a warm house than to keep a house cool all day. If you don’t want to walk into a warm house, you can program your AC to kick in before you return.

2. Filter out the heat. Simply swapping out a dirty AC filter for a clean one can reduce energy costs by 5 percent to 15 percent, according to

3. Use ceiling fans (or electric fans) to keep air moving. Fans don’t actually make a room cooler, but they can make you feel more comfortable. When the fan is on, you can turn up the thermostat about 4 degrees without feeling any warmer, according to the DOE. And each degree you turn up your thermostat can save you 1 to 3 percent on your energy bill, according to the state of California’s Consumer Energy Center. Some days you may not even need the AC at all.

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4. Treat your windows to sunblock. Anything that can shield your windows from direct sunlight can go a long way towards keeping your house cool, so start by drawing the shades on a scorching day. The DOE notes that reflective blinds on the inside of a window can cut heat gains by nearly half. Similarly, light-colored curtains with white plastic backing can stop more than 30 percent of incoming heat.

If you want to go all out, the DOE estimates that an awning can reduce incoming heat by about 65 percent on south-facing windows and nearly 80 percent on west-facing windows.

5. Get your ducts in order. Did you know 95 percent of old houses have leaky ducts? A typical homeowner can save 25 percent on cooling costs simply by sealing the leaks in the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) ductwork, according to the Consumer Energy Center.

6. Vacation closer to home. Family road trips across the country may be a summer tradition, but all of those miles add up to a lot of stops at the gas station (not to mention a lot of greasy meals and diplomatic breakdowns in the backseat).

All the while, your car tailpipe is spewing nearly a pound of carbon dioxide into the environment for each mile you drive, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since the average car’s contribution to greenhouse gases is 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, anything you can do to cut down on that will help — even if that means shorter car trips or more staycations.

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7. Cut less grass. If you have a lawn, set the mower blade higher. By keeping grass trimmed but higher, it will shade roots so you don’t have to water as much. The grass will look greener too. When you mow, leave the clippings on the ground. They’ll serve as mulch as well as an extra layer of shade on the lawn. You can eliminate gas pollution by using a mechanical push hand mower.

8. Replace your lawn entirely. If you live in a drought-ridden state and it makes sense for your yard, consider replacing the lawn (or a significant percentage of it), with eco-friendly and drought-resistant plants, bark and other landscaping elements that don’t need mowing.

9. Wash in cold water. Did you know the federal energy efficiency program Energy Star found that 90 percent of the energy consumed by a washing machine goes to heating water? You can save all that energy by simply switching to cold water washes. Households that make the switch get rid of an estimated 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year, according to the Sierra Club.

10. Dry your clothes the old-fashioned way. Clothes hanging on a line will dry remarkably quickly on a hot summer day, and they’ll take on a sunshine-y scent that no dryer sheet can match. Plus, you won’t be using electricity or adding heat to your house by using the clothes dryer.

That said, when you do use the dryer, run full loads and keep the lint trap clean.

11. Lighten up on summer cooking. You don’t have to overwork your stove — or overheat your house — to enjoy a great summer meal. This is the season for fresh, cool salads, quick stir-fries and throwing just about anything on the grill.

Put your microwave to use more as well: Zapping food uses two-thirds less energy than cooking on the stove or in the oven, the CEC says, and it won’t add much heat to the house.

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Chris Woolston, M.S. is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in science, health and travel. A reformed biologist, Woolston says, he studied algae and nitrogen dynamics in Antarctic lakes before the Science Writing Program propelled him out of the lab. He is a contributing editor at, a former staff writer for Time Inc.’s Hippocrates magazine, and co-author of Generation Extra Large (Perseus). He lives in Billings, Mt., with his wife – novelist Blythe Woolston – and their two children.