Upgrading your high-end appliances (such as your dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer) to be more energy-efficient is a good way to drive down your summer energy costs. Your refrigerator, for example, consumes about 13.7 percent of household energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. However, you can reduce this amount significantly by correctly maintaining your current refrigerator, or by purchasing a new one. According to Energy Star, a 2009 model fridge will save 40 percent more energy than models produced as early as 2001.
"The refrigerator has come a long way," Hall-Crawford says. "Modern models are much better than they were in the 80s and 90s, and the standards are just getting better." Hall-Crawford also suggests looking for the Energy Star logo, which means the product meets or exceeds federal efficiency standards.
Solar panel installation is another large-scale project that can cut your energy bills. It's one of the costlier projects, but you'll see a dramatic cut to your energy expenditure, says Dean Hapshe, president of Majestic Son and Sons in Patchogue, N.Y., which specializes in solar heating and electric systems.
Hapshe, who has been in the solar energy business since 1980, says solar panels can eliminate most residential electric bills, and, with higher-efficiency panels, you'll recover your initial investment.
[See: 50 Smart Money Moves.]
On the other hand, Maslin believes the cost of solar panels outweigh the potential benefits. "Many houses are not being built with efficiency in mind," she says. "Consumers should look for the 'low-hanging fruit' and fix the small, affordable things in their house first. Then they can look at things like solar panels."
Hapshe says you should expect to spend between $7,000 and $25,000 for a solar system installation, but the price depends on the brand of panel and the amount of available roof space. Homeowners can expect to earn back at least a portion of that investment through savings within five or six years.
With these projects under your belt, you'll be ready to escape indoors from the heat without worrying about your next monthly bill.