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Editorial: Take it cool, save water in heat

It's summer time and the livin' is easy. That's the case except when unscrupulous parties try to take advantage of people whose judgment may be clouded by the season. For example, suspect air conditioning repair companies might see an opportunity in homeowners at the mercy of broken cooling equipment just as temperatures reach unbearable levels.

The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports receiving complaints alleging such contractors weren't on time and wouldn't respond to messages. Others claim problems persisted even after the repair or some companies wouldn't honor their warranties.

Those in need of air conditioner repair are advised to do the following:

--Research company background and licensing. To learn more about a firm's reputation and history of complaints, visit www.bbb.org

--Compare prices and service packages. Get at least three estimates for any air conditioning repair or maintenance work. All bids should be in writing, and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and materials used.

--Review warranty coverage. Find out if the company offers any type of warranty or guarantee and check the warranty on the current air conditioning unit to determine whether any repairs or replacements may be covered. Make sure to understand the terms and conditions of the coverage.

--Ask about energy efficiency. If an air conditioner is manufactured to be more energy efficient than others, it may qualify for a tax deduction. Get the necessary paperwork to cash in on those savings.

While on the subject of heat and energy, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) has some tips to stay cool and keep costs down. For home cooling, they are:

--Turn off lights when leaving a room.

--Check weather-stripping and caulking for leaks around doors and windows.

--Use a microwave oven or cook outside instead of using the stove or oven.

--Minimize the amount of time the refrigerator and freezer doors are open.

--Use natural lighting and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

--Close blinds and curtains on hot days.

--Install white window shades or blinds to reflect heat away from the house.

--For long-term cooling, plant trees or shrubs to shade the house.

--Place a room air conditioner on the north side of the house because a unit operating in the shade uses up to 10 percent less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

--Whole-house fans help cool the home by pulling cool air into the house and exhausting warm air through the attic. This is most effective when operated at night, as the air is cooler outside than inside.

Tips on appliance usage are:

--Use cold water for doing laundry and air dry clothes on clotheslines.

--Unplug electronics like computers, televisions and radios when not in use.

--Set the dishwasher to air-dry mode and use it only when it's fully loaded.

--Turn on ceiling fans only when in the room.

--Clean and maintain the air conditioner often. Make sure air filters, air intakes, grilles and radiators are unblocked and clean at all times. Clean dirt and leaves off coils on outdoor units.

--When buying new appliances, including air conditioners, look for those that are Energy Star rated, meaning they are more energy efficient than traditional appliances.

Meantime, Clean Wisconsin reminds heat spells dramatically drive up water use. But this precious resource can be conserved, even when the mercury's on the rise. Here are five easy water-saving tips:

--Watering outdoors early in the morning helps reduce the water lost from evaporation. And water deep, not often, to encourage deep root growth and drought resistance.

--When a vehicle is dirty, head to the car wash rather than washing it at home to save water.

--Replace old showerheads with newer low-flow ones to reduce water usage and, likewise, install low-flow toilets.

--Make sure the dishwasher and washing machine are full before running them. If doing dishes by hand, fill up the sink once instead of running water for each dish.

--Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator to avoid turning on a tap for each glass of water and waiting until the tap gets cold.

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