August 3, 2014

Keeping Cool - with less AC

Before I Crank Up the AC, we…
  1. Switch to t-shirts, shorts and bare feet. In the winter, we pull on wool sweaters and socks. Once it hits the 80s and 90s, our philosophy is "less is best." I also wear a lot of sleeveless dresses that flow rather than cling. The swooshing fabric actually seems to create a small but welcome breeze when I walk.
  2. Draw the curtains and pull the shades. Keeping direct sunlight out of the house can help keep it 10 degrees cooler inside. I have double-honeycomb shades on most of my windows and thermal insulated window quilts on my French doors. They make a difference summer or winter.
  3. Shade windows from outside. The most sunlight comes through south and west facing windows, so these should be your priorities for exterior awnings or overhangs. A wide variety are available, including those that can retract in winter to let the sun in.
  4. Insulate. Most of us tend to seal up cracks around leaky doors and windows, attics, and crawl spaces to keep our houses warmer in winter. But the principle works just as well in summer. Once we cool the air in our house, we try to keep it inside! We don't have a fireplace, but if you do, make sure to close the damper to prevent cooled air from sneaking out the chimney. If you're not sure where you should insulate first, get an energy audit. The audit will tell you where your home is losing air that's been heated or cooled. It will also analyze the amount of energy your appliances use. After the audit, you'll receive a comprehensive home performance report that includes recommendations for energy saving improvements. The cost of the audit depends on where you live; many utilities subsidize the cost of an audit.
  5. Maintain the HVAC system (or Upgrade your air conditioner). We don't have window air conditioners, but if you do, it's a good idea to do some basic maintenance on them before you really need them. Also, shade your unit from the hot sun if possible; just don't obstruct air flow. If you've been using the same window unit for a while, consider replacing it with a more energy-efficient model. I have a whole-house HVAC system, which I get checked annually to keep it working at maximum energy efficiency.
  6. Shift to LEDs. Regular incandescent light bulbs mostly give off heat. LEDs are called light emitting diodes because they mostly release light (which is a lot cooler than heat!). Though LEDs are somewhat more expensive than CFLs, another smart lighting option, their price is dropping all the time as consumer demand goes up. In addition to saving energy and money, I love the fact that, once installed, many of these bulbs last for a decade or more. I'm too busy to keep changing light bulbs, aren't you? Likewise, run appliances like clothes dryers, dishwashers and ovens in the cooler evening or morning hours when the heat they emit won't be quite so noticeable–and send you scampering to crank up the AC even more.
Use Fans Along With the AC…
We've found that using room fans lets us reduce the AC while still keeping our house comfortable. Here's what we do:
Cool our home to 78 or 80 degrees, then use fans. The hotter it gets outside, the colder we usually want it inside. But our mantra is "No igloos! "Instead, we set the thermostat to 78 or 80 degrees, which will keep the temperature– and the humidity level — under control (along with our electricity bills). Then we use strategically placed fans to cool the rooms we are in at the moment.
Reduce AC use when we're not home. In our house, we actually turn off the AC during the day and keep the blinds closed on the south-facing windows that get the most solar gain. In the evening, when everyone gets home, we turn fans on in the rooms we're in while the AC cools down the house and removes some of the humidity that's built up. We also have a fan in each bedroom. That way, we can keep the AC at a reasonable temperature without overcooling the entire house. Generally, as long as the air is moving, we feel cooler and comfortable.
We also…
Eat cold food. Summer is a great time to get out of a hot kitchen. We keep baking and broiling to a minimum, favoring salads, quickly steamed vegetables, yogurt and cereal, cold soups made in a blender or food processor, fruit salads and ice cream over roasts, casseroles, and homemade desserts like pies and cookies. We use a microwave, toaster or toaster oven if we need to heat something up, and an electric tea kettle to boil water quickly and without much emitted heat.
Use big appliances at night or in early morning. Plus, we use a drying rack instead of the clothes dryer for everything except sheets and towels. Summer is not the time to sweat through labor-intensive chores like washing walls and baseboards. We happily save those for cooler days in fall or winter.
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