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Follow these tips to stay cool and safe in the heat

CenterPoint Energy's Home Service Plus (HSP) is providing recommendations to customers to help them take control of their energy use this summer while remaining comfortable and safe.

Customers should act now so they are able to address simple problems on their own and still have time to address more serious problems with the help of a qualified technician.

"Warm weather and humidity earlier this summer have affected our customer's energy bills and cooling equipment reliability this summer," said Joe Vortherms, director of Home Service Plus. "We believe providing solutions to our customers help them stay cool in the warm, summer months. Customers who address minor service and maintenance issues typically prevent air conditioning unit failure and other inconveniences in the middle of the summer, and save energy and money."

A furnace fan is essential to the air conditioning cooling process because it continually removes heat and humidity from the air. That same furnace fan is used to keep a home warm in the winter and it may not work as efficiently as it should without a tune-up.

"It's important to service your furnace in order to improve safety and efficiency all summer," said Tim Boettcher, master service technician for Home Service Plus. "A professional tune-up can save customers up to $100 in annual operating expenses and is far less expensive than the average repair job that has to be done because of not having a tune-up."

The best way to manage energy and maintenance bills is to prepare now by following these tips:

--Schedule an annual tune-up by a professional to ensure that your heating and cooling system is operating safely and efficiently, and to avoid costly and inconvenient repairs.

--Change your air filters regularly. A dirty filter restricts airflow and can increase the operating cost of your furnace by as much as 10 percent. A good reminder is to change the filter each time you receive your natural gas bill.

--Turn off and close the central humidifier damper. During the extreme heat and humidity of the summer, it takes longer to cool down your home. The air conditioners primary purpose is to remove humidity.

--Clear the area around the air conditioner condensing coil. The coil is located inside the condensing unit and can become obstructed with yard debris, preventing it from functioning properly. The coil can be regularly flushed clean with a garden hose sprayed at an angle. Always turn off the unit's power before starting any work.

--Check the age and condition of your unit. It may be time for service or replacement once the unit has been in service 15 years or more.

--Install a programmable thermostat. Avoid changing temperature settings too often or rapidly, which can cause the unit to work inefficiently. Raising the temperature when you're home and even higher to 78 degrees when you're not home for eight hours a day can save up to 10 percent a year on cooling costs.