Save energy. Use exterior shading.

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Keeping cool isn’t just about comfort; in the worst of recent heat waves, whether Chicago's in 1995 or New York's in 2006, hundreds have died. And climate change will only make this worse. But every time you crank up the AC, power plants pump out more heat-trapping gases, intensifying the problem. Is there a way out of this lose-lose cycle? Actually, yes. Recall the wise ways of your parents or grandparents, and try out some passive cooling techniques. They will cut your AC use—and your energy bills and carbon footprint, too.

For starters, try some inventive gardening and decoration. Use plantings to filter the light that reaches your house. Full summer canopies of deciduous trees and shrubs will cool your home when you need it but let in warm light when the leaves have fallen. You can reduce the light entering west- and east-facing windows with vertical shading from screens or trellises. And paint your house's exterior in a lighter, more reflective color to reduce solar gain.