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Spring is my favorite time of year. The snow (finally!) stops, the temperature is perfect, and everything is colorful again. We rarely need to turn on the heat or air conditioner to stay comfortable at home, and there's nothing better than a relaxing evening on the deck.

But that doesn't last long, and soon the hot days of summer will be upon us. At my house, we're already thinking about how to cut our cooling bills while still keeping our home comfortable.

We have a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains to the west that is gorgeous, no doubt, but the direct sunlight keeps our air conditioner working overtime when it's hot out. Plus, it gets so hot that we aren't able to use our back deck to enjoy that wonderful view during the summer months.

There's only one answer: shade.

Caption: Not our view, or our pergola, but it sure is pretty! Credit: ©

While I would love more than anything to plant some huge shade trees in our backyard (I'm a Wisconsin girl at heart, and I miss my trees!), we just don't have the right space for it. If you have the space and need some shade, definitely consider planting trees; they can cool the surrounding air temperatures by as much as 9°F! Learn more about planning your landscaping for effective shading.

Since we can't plant trees, we're going to build a pergola over the deck. In the summer, we'd like to grow vines over it so we'll have a nice cool area to relax and barbecue; in the winter, the open slats will still allow some light and heat through so we don't lose all of our natural heating benefits.

Between the pergola and the new patio door we installed last year, we'll really be cutting down on the excess heat gain from the west.

The pergola will be our biggest project this spring, but we'll also be doing a bit of landscaping lower to the ground to keep things cool. Groundcover can shade the ground and reduce heat radiation to the house, while shrubs can shade walls and even some windows. And don't forget about your air conditioner unit; shading the outside unit can increase its efficiency by up to 10%.

You may also want to check out ways to keep your windows shaded; indoor window coverings are a good start, but awnings and overhangs are an option for outside.

Finally, also check out our Stay Cool, Save Money Web site for more ways to save energy this spring and summer.