Summer is generally a time to let loose and relax, but it’s also a time when energy bills heat up.

The average household spends about 20% of its utility bill on keeping cool, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – and for residents in the U.S. who have experienced record-high temperatures this summer, that can add up to a hefty sum.

While cutting your energy costs may be tough, especially for those glued to their A/C units, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your bills that won’t reduce your comfort.

1.  Take a Good Look at Your A/C Unit

Experts say the first step to cutting your summer electricity bill is making sure your air-conditioning unit is in good shape.

“The No. 1 way to save on your energy bill is to make sure your A/C is functioning properly,” says Mark MaGrann, CEO of MaGrann Associates, an energy consulting firm in Mount Laurel, N.J.

Dirt and neglect are the top causes of system failure, according to the EPA. Air filters should be checked every month and changed when they are dirty or at a minimum of every three months to keep your system operating at its best..

MaGrann recommends servicing your air conditioning equipment prior to or during the summer season.

2.  Use Your Thermostat the Right Way

Don't waste money and energy cooling an empty home. The EPA and Department of Energy (DOE) recommend using a programmable thermostat that turns off your cooling system while you aren’t home and turns it on for when you return, which can save you up to $180 a year.

Keeping your thermostat between 76 and 78 degrees can save you at least 10% on your bill, according to MaGrann.

If comfort is your biggest priority, raising your thermostat by only 2 degrees while using your ceiling fan can cut your cooling bill by up to 14%, the EPA reports.  

For those who put savings ahead of comfort, the DOE says that setting your thermostat as high as possible, and thus reducing the difference between the inside and outside temperatures, will also trim your cooling bill.

Finally, MaGrann recommends taking advantage of programs offered by state or local utility companies. Some companies offer A/C cycling programs that recycle your electrical load during peak times, which helps with energy efficiency and could result in a rebate between $5 and $30, he says.                                

3.  Unplug Phantom Energy Suckers

Even when turned off, many plugged-in electronic devices like computers, TVs, video games and phone chargers continue drawing small amounts of power. 

Energy Star estimates that of the electricity that goes toward powering electronics and appliances, three-quarters is consumed while the products are turned off.

MaGrann advises to plug these devices into a power strip and turning the strip off when not in use. 

While looking for ways to save this summer, be sure to gauge your need for extra appliances. MaGrann says homeowners often make the mistake of using a second refrigerator to store extra cool drinks for the summer – and if it’s an older and less efficient model, which it often is, it can add up.

“The cost can be surprising,” he says.

4.  Lighten Up

Simply turning the lights off when you leave a room is an easy way to cut electricity cost, but there are other simple steps to save more.

Replacing five of your most used bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can save $70 a year on your utility bill, according to the EPA. CFLs are believed to last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use 75% less energy.

Traditional incandescent bulbs actually make your rooms hotter. The DOE reports that only 10 to 15% of the electricity incandescent bulbs use results in light while the remaining 85% to 90% is given off as heat.

5. Check Your Windows, Doors and Vents

Energy Star reports that while cool air is being pumped into your house, as much as 20% can be leaking out due to poor insulation. Energy Star recommends sealing leaky windows, doors and air ducts with caulk, spray foam or weather stripping. Replacing your windows could result in savings of anywhere from $20 to $95 a year in energy costs, Energy Star says.

The direction your windows face also matters. MaGrann says that since windows on the south and west sides of your home take a high sun load, homeowners should close blinds, shades and draperies on those windows.

Finally, take a look at those vents. New Jersey-based energy services provider PSE&G recommends closing vents in unoccupied rooms to prevent unnecessary A/C use and save you money.