For most of us, the summer months provide a welcome respite from the short, frigid days of winter. However, as the summer wears on into its dog days, homeowners are often faced with the challenge of staying comfortable as the heat and humidity indices climb. Here are some tips for keeping your home cool and minimizing energy bills in the summer:

Draw blinds and shades
Heat from direct sunlight can turn your windows into lenses. Drawing blinds and shades will keep rooms cooler during the day. Consider investing in light-blocking shades or high-quality pleated shades to minimize the effect of sunlight, and prioritize east and west-facing windows, which see the sun's most intense rays in the morning and late afternoon. In addition to the cooling factor, quality window treatments will protect furnishings, like certain stained woods, which are susceptible to ultraviolet (UV) damage.

Cook in the evening
Plan your heat-producing activities, like cooking and using major appliances like dishwashers and clothes dryers, for the evening, when the temperature begins to drop. Kitchens in many older homes are typically small, and something as simple as boiling a pot of water can increase the temperature and humidity levels in the room to uncomfortable levels in a matter of minutes. Consider recipes that feature food that can be served cold for a couple of days, like a refreshing summer soup or pasta salad.

Use energy-efficient cooling appliances
Energy-efficient air conditioners (ACs), oscillating fans and ceiling fans can make a big difference. If your window-unit AC is out of date, consider investing in an upgrade. Newer AC units with good energy efficiency ratios (EERs) require less input wattage to produce an effective cooling output, so you'll get the results you want without the crippling spike in your electricity bill. Many ENERGY STAR qualified ACs have auto-shutoff settings that maintain a room at a preset temperature without overworking the compressor. Read appliance manuals and follow instructions for the most energy-efficient cooling. In many instances, leaving a unit off for most of the day and then cooling a room quickly at a very low temperature output will overwork a compressor, requiring more energy than if the unit were left on for a longer period of time at a low-energy setting.

No matter how hot it gets, following a few simple practices like these can keep your home cool.