Summer means beach time, barbecues, and lazy afternoons in the sun, but it also means a surge in energy use. The more the temperature rises in our homes, the more we are forced to spend to keep our houses cool and comfortable, especially in places like where I live, where the temperatures hover in the 90s or even higher all summer long. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to spend a fortune on air conditioning: Try these ideas to help keep your electric bill in check.

Seal Air Leaks

The average home loses up to 30 percent of its cooling and heating energy through air leaks around doors and windows. Seal leaks up those leaks with caulk or weatherstripping to keep hot air out and prevent cool air from escaping. If your windows are 15 to 20 years old, think about replacing them with more energy-efficient options.

Block Out the Sun

The heat of the sun coming through the windows in your home can make the space feel a lot warmer. By blocking the sun’s rays, you can cut down on cooling costs in the summer. Close the blinds or shades during the day, especially on very sunny days. When the sun goes down, open the curtains and windows to let the cool breeze into your home.

Plant Trees

Trees strategically positioned around your home can provide shade in the summer. Opt for dense or large-leafed trees that will help create a barrier between the sun and your home. Also, avoid planting trees on the south side of your house, as they’ll block too much sunlight: During the winter months, you’ll want that energy coming in to help provide passive solar heating.

Use Fans

It can be tempting to turn on the air conditioner right away when the weather gets hot, but before you do, try cooling the space with a fan instead. During the morning and evening hours, put a box fan in front of an open window to pull cool air inside. Also, make sure your ceiling fan spins in the right direction: in the summer, the fan should turn counterclockwise to push air down toward the floor.

Use AC Efficiently

When you do use an air conditioner to cool your home, do it efficiently. Keep your thermostat at 78 degrees or higher at all times. Turn the air conditioner off at night before going to bed to save on energy as you sleep. And if you own an older air conditioning system, consider upgrading to a newer model. High-efficiency air conditioners are 10 to 15 percent more efficient then their older counterparts.

Know the Peak Hours

Did you know that power companies charge more for energy used during peak hours? To cut your costs this summer, aim to use the bulk of your electricity during off-peak hours. This means waiting until after 6 p.m. to cook dinner, use the washer and dryer, or turn on the dishwasher. Early morning is also a good time to run those power-hungry appliances.

Ask for Discounts

A quick phone call to the electric company could mean a reduction in your monthly bill. Utility companies may offer a variety of deals, such as discounts for low-income households or for individuals with disabilities. While not all companies will agree to lower your rate, there’s no harm in trying.