Tips for Keeping Cool Without Cranking Up the AC & the Best Budget Air Conditioners

Written By John Richards on Sunday, June 24, 2012 | 1:10 PM

The first day of summer ushered in record temperatures in the Northeast and sweltering weather throughout the country. In this kind of heat, keeping a lid on the air conditioning bill during the summer is a challenge. It's so tempting to just reach for the dial. But before you do, consider these beat-the-summer-heat alternatives.

Keep curtains and shutters closed. During the day this keeps the sun from streaming directly in. If it's still warm, invest in dark or heat-blocking curtains -- a cash outlay, yes, but surely cheaper than several months of steep AC bills.
Related: Cheap air conditioner reviews
Don't leave windows open. Except at night. That's right -- open your windows at night to let in cooler air and shut them first thing in the morning (preferably before the sun comes up) to lock in the cool air and beat the summer heat.
Hang wet sheets in front of windows. Some summer nights just don't cool down and the house still feels suffocating. Apartment Therapy puts forward a novel idea for beating the summer heat: wetting sheets and hanging them in front of open windows. The outside air blowing in through the wet sheets creates a cooling effect that's much cheaper than air conditioning.
Create cross ventilation. To do this you need several cheap fans. Experiment with their placement to generate the best cross breeze. If you have windows on opposite sides of a room, position one fan to pull air into the house and another to push hot air out. For an additional dose of coolness, Lifehacker suggests placing a bowl of ice in front of a fan; as the ice melts the fan disperses the cool evaporation into the room. It's not air conditioning, but it does provide some relief from the summer heat.
Turn off and unplug everything. Every appliance (big and small) puts out some heat when it's running. If you aren't using an appliance, turn it off and unplug it. Additionally, avoid using big appliances when it's really hot outside. Cook on the grill instead of the stove and hang laundry out to dry instead of running the dryer.
Hang out in the coolest parts of the house. If you're home during the day, beat the heat by staying out of it. A basement will undoubtedly be cooler than the upstairs, so park yourself (and the kids) down there. In the late afternoon, when the sun hits the west side of the house, move to a room on the east side.
Use plants to cool off. Plants certainly can't come close to replacing the AC, but they do produce slightly cooler air to help you beat the heat this summer. This goes for plants indoors and out. Yes magazine says placing trees and tall plants, such as grapevines and sunflowers, around the outside of the house helps block the heat, which in turn helps lower AC bills.
Finally, leave the air conditioning off when you aren't home. Cheapism's picks for the best inexpensive air conditioners come with 24-hour timers, so you can set them to turn off automatically at the time you usually leave for work. 
If the tips above aren't enough to beat the summer heat, here are our recommendations for the best budget room air conditioners:
  • For a small space of 150 square feet or so, the Kenmore 70051 (starting at $160) may be all you need. Reviewers say it's easy to install and use, and it outdoes bigger, pricier units in features and energy efficiency.
  • The Frigidaire LRA074AT7 (starting at $159) is exclusive to Lowe's and can cool up to 250 square feet. Both consumers and experts call it quiet and effective in online reviews.
  • An area up to 350 square feet can benefit from the LG LW8012ER (starting at $220). Consumers praised the performance of last year's model and have greeted this one with similar acclaim


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