The 4th of July is almost here, and that means fireworks and festivities. It's also the perfect opportunity to get outside and give your house a much-needed reprieve from energy use.

Cooling off can be a lot more fun the natural way. Take the kids out for a swim in a nearby lake, and give the air conditioner [1] in your home a much-needed break. When you get back home, close those curtains to prevent the sun from heating up your home and competing with your cooling system.

As for keeping your home cool, there's nothing like a hot stove to steal the work the air conditioner has done. Grilling outside is probably something you'd considered for the 4th of July anyway, but saving the energy from cooking in the oven, and from adding the extra heat to your house, it's a no-brainer. Try adding a couple nights of meals on the grill this week instead of just the big day.

Many have a day off work on the 4th, so allow yourself to really unplug, and give computers [2], printers, and other electronic devices a rest. Be sure to unplug the cords so they don't become energy vampires.

And if you're not heading outside to take in the fireworks, go ahead and hit the light switch, it will make watching them out your window, or even on television, that much more exciting.

Amanda McAlpin works for New West Technologies supporting the Vehicle Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy.