) -- "Green" technology can turn the hot weather baking much of America this summer from a drag on your home's air-conditioning bill to a source of free solar energy -- if you know what improvements to make.
"[Green upgrades] can give you a good return on investment, a lifestyle that's more pleasant and let you feel good about what you're doing to help the environment," says Harvey Sachs, senior fellow at the
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Sachs estimates homeowners can recoup the costs of carefully chosen energy improvements over five years -- and enjoy a much more comfortable indoor climate in the meantime.
"By bringing your home's energy systems under control, you'll get rid of drafts, kill a lot of equipment noise and eliminate rooms that are too hot or too cold," he says. "That's worth a lot right there."
Here's a look at five high-tech moves the expert believes every homeowner should consider this summer to maximize their property's energy efficiency:
Cost figures are estimates for a typical four-bedroom home and were provided by
Complete Home Evaluation Services
, a Maine energy-efficiency consultancy.
Get a home energy audit
$200 to $750
Sachs recommends getting a "Home Energy Rating System" review or other comprehensive audit of your property's fuel efficiency before even thinking about installing a solar panel or new air conditioner.
"Instead of just blindly throwing money at energy efficiency, you want to invest in a consultant with the right tools and get the right 'road map' of what to do," he says.
Home-energy audits typically take around a half-day and involve checking your home's heating and cooling systems, as well as using high-tech infrared heat detectors and negative-air-pressure machines to find gaps in your property's insulation.
Audits typically cost a few hundred dollars, but your local utility or state energy commission will sometimes offer them for free or at a reduced cost.
Fix your home's "envelope"
$4,000 to $5,500
Once you've done an energy audit, you should fix any gaps the review has uncovered in your home's "envelope" -- the insulation that separates heated or cooled living spaces from unheated attics or the outdoors.