Trying to be Cool

This summer don’t get beat by the heat– or the energy bills

By Liz Scanlon, Marketing Intern


Photo by Matt Hobbs

Photo by Matt Hobbs

We all know the feeling of entering an air-conditioned building after being outside in the middle of August. The instant gratification of cold air is enough to make anyone praise modern technology (as if we didn’t already). Eventually, however, the sweet, sweet relief from the oppressive outdoor heat catches up with us in the form of our monthly utility bills.

Air conditioning and heating can account for as much as 45% of a home energy bill, which is pretty hefty considering that they’re largely seasonal appliances. Fortunately there are ways to cool off without ever touching the thermostat. To do this, we turn to the laws of physics and chemistry.

Humidity is one major contributor to summer heat. Hot air is able to hold more water molecules, and muggy summer conditions make it much harder for us to sweat, which is our natural cooling method. Along with blowing cold air, your air conditioner also regulates the humidity in your home so that both your home and you are cool. To do this naturally, reduce sources of water vapor in your home. Turn on bathroom fans when you shower and stove fans when you cook to avoid excess moisture. If possible, avoid boiling water on the hottest and most humid days. Additionally, cover any exposed ground in crawl spaces with a waterproof tarp to keep out moisture from the ground. All of these simple steps will make the air in your house drier, which will make your home feel cooler and more comfortable.

Another way to keep cool is to regulate air flow. Keeping windows closed is one way to keep heat out, but if you want a natural breeze on nicer days, it is possible to maintain cooler temperatures by opening windows on both the lower and upper levels (this is called a thermal siphon). In this way, cooler air is allowed to flow in and cool the home, and then naturally rise as it heats up and becomes less dense. The hot air will escape out of the upper windows (An advanced version of this method has actually been used as the main cooling system for a large apartment building in Zimbabwe). If the day is too hot, try opening windows in the evening and closing them in the morning to take advantage of the colder night air. If the air is still too stagnant, fans can help by creating a stronger air flow through the home. Speaking of fans, make sure your ceiling fan is spinning counterclockwise. Depending on which direction it turns, a ceiling fan can be made to either make an updraft or a down draft. Counterclockwise downdrafts are ideal in the summer; they push cool air down, which helps moisture evaporate off skin, thereby reducing body temperature.

A third natural solution is to eliminate possible sources of heat. Reduce usage of both your oven and your dryer to stop undesired hot air from pumping into your house. Instead, try using your more energy efficient microwave and drying your clothes on a line outside. Another way to cut off the heat is to switch your lightbulbs. An incandescent bulb only uses about 5-10% of it’s energy to produce light; the rest is converted to heat. On the other hand, LED bulbs use all of their energy for emitting light, meaning cooler and much more energy efficient illumination (not to mention you won’t have to change a lightbulb for years). Finally, make sure you cover up your windows. The sunlight that comes in through windows can turn your home into a greenhouse and make rooms quite stuffy. To prevent that, use light-colored shades and drapes to block the sun. The light coloring will also reduce heat absorption.

If you’d like to go a step beyond free solutions, there are several products and services you can purchase to keep cool as well. Many come at a low cost, and eventually save you money on your energy bill in the long term. Products like caulk and weatherizing tape prevent outside heat from seeping in through windows, doorways and other points of access. Insulation can also help to keep outside air from coming in through attics, a notorious household air sink. Additionally, homeowners can pay for services such as home energy audits (like the ones we offer). Audits give homeowners an extensive look at how effectively their heating and cooling systems work and where air leakages are happening. After analysis, auditors provide reports on what the best and most cost effective solutions are.

So this summer, before you crank up your A/C, remember that there are some effective ways to beat the heat and save energy– and that’s pretty cool.