"We put up window awnings."
David and Nellie Aranowski, South Bend, Indiana

How They Work: These protruding exterior window shades prevent glare and solar heat gain, lightening an air conditioner's load. Made from weather-resistant fabric, they usually retract manually, via a cord system, or mechanically, with a remote, to protect them from wind damage and, in frost-prone areas, to allow sunlight to warm a home's interior in winter. They can reduce cooling costs by up to 24 percent, depending on the climate.

What These Homeowners Did: David and Nellie moved into their 1920s Dutch Colonial Revival three years ago, just in time to experience summer as a nonstop sauna. That's also when they noticed tree stumps near the house—and realized it would need some shade. They called on Custom Awning, a local shop in Osceola, Indiana, to install four large awnings made of durable acrylic fabric across nine windows on the house's sun-drenched south- and west-facing sides.

What They Learned: The awnings allowed the couple to raise the thermostat on their central AC by 5 degrees F while making a dramatic difference in their comfort level. The black-and-white striped awnings also added major curb appeal. "The house is so darn cute now," says Nellie.

Keep in Mind: Even top-of-the-line awnings only last about 10 years.

Payback Period: Here's one case where you may not recoup all your cost in energy savings, but you'll vastly improve your quality of life.
Their Cost: $1,920 for four large awnings, installed
Yearly Savings on Electricity for AC: $90
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