Keep Your Home Cool This Summer with these 7 Tips
Yup – Summer has arrived, and with that comes higher temperatures, higher usage, and higher electricity bills. But much like our energy-saving post from last week, there are several ways that you can keep your home cool in the summer. Some of these tips might be a bit more involved than others, but a little short-term investment can easily lead to long-term cooling and savings.
1: Be a Fan of Fans
In the case of the humble ceiling fan in your house, it’s all about how your body’s own cooling system works. Fans don’t actually cool the ambient temperature of a room or reduce the cooling load. They make you feel cooler by evaporating your sweat. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
If you use air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 ̊F with no reduction in comfort. In temperate climates, or during moderately hot weather, ceiling fans may allow you to avoid using your air conditioner altogether.
A large ceiling fan with 52″ blades, meanwhile, helps circulate conditioned air through out your home during winter and summer. However, depending on the quality of the fan’s motor, it can produce waste heat that adds to your home’s cooling load.
So, if you want to save money, go with how comfortable you feel when there’s a fan blowing on you. A breeze from a good ceiling fan will make it feel like 72°F even though the air conditioning is set to 76°F. With that in mind, it also makes sense to turn them off when you leave the room.
2: Things in the Attic
The summer sun can trap heat in your attic that radiates into the occupied floors below and makes your air conditioning work harder. Attics are built using a series of vents under the eaves called soffits that pull cool air into the attic as heated air flows out of the gable vents at either end of the roof. Unfortunately, this method is inefficient so most homes now use ridge vents. These are vents that run along the peak of the roof to allow hot air escape.
Even if your roof already has ridge vents and it seems there’s plenty of ventilation built in, it’s handy to install gable fans or roof fans to help blow hot, humid air out from your attic. NREL says“Attic ventilation reduces attic temperature 10 to 25 degrees and slows the transfer of heat into the living space.” Gable fans fit into the gable vent of your home and can be set to operate within a preset temperature range. Many are solar powered and do not require additional wiring. Solar powered roof vents, meanwhile, are most effective when they are installed on the southern side of a roof. The drawback is that you must cut a hole in your roof to install them and you’ll probably need more than one. Both types of fans help reduce your home’s air conditioning usage.
3: Things in the Crawl Space
Most concrete foundations allow moisture from the earth to penetrate and enter the living space. This increases the humidity in the homes, adds to the cooling load, and during winter can increase chances for mold and mildew growth. If you have a crawlspace under your house, installing a vapor barrier is easy and takes little time to do. Spread 6 to 8 mils thick plastic sheeting inside the crawlspace to cover as much of the ground as possible. Crawlspace vents were once mandated by building code but over the years it’s been discovered they actually draw humid air into the living space. Sealing crawlspaces is known as “encapsulation” and the effect on lowering the humidity in your home is immediate.
4: Embrace the Suck
Home owners already know not to block air registers that blow cool air into a room. A few forget that the air return vents need attention, too. Keep furniture from blocking off your cold air returns to your central air conditioning and keep these vents free of dust. Check your air filters; if they’re dirty, replace them. And while you’re there checking around, keep a weather eye out for holes in the duct work that reduce it’s efficiency. Cover these with aluminum duct tape or even some silicon caulk.
5: It’s Not the Heat…
Basements have the problem of being humid or dank from both rain and from natural condensation penetrating the concrete. This makes your home more humid and can cause mildew and mold growth. Damp basements have a myriad of causes but there are a few things you can do to reduce the problem. First, make sure your rain gutters and downspouts are not blocked and that they effectively move rain water away from your home. Next, grade the soil outside so that it slopes away from your house to guide water away. If your basement is finished and you smell mildew, be sure that a vapor barrier was properly installed behind the wall framing— not just under the sheet rock.
6: Act Shady
During the day, keep curtains closed on south facing and west facing windows. This blocks out the hot sun’s rays and keeps your rooms cool. If you don’t have trees on the southeast, south, or southwest sides of your home, consider planting some fast growing hybrids. Trees and shrubs in other parts of your yard also shade the landscape and reduce the ambient air temperature by a few degrees. There’s plenty of time to get these green buddies in the ground and established before autumn.
7: Take a Load Off
Reduce your cooling load by not adding more heat to your home. Houses absorb heat under the summer sun becoming a load on your home’s cooling system and adding to your energy costs. Here’s a few activities you can avoid doing that add to your home’s cooling load.
- Don’t bake in the afternoon. Do it in the evening when it’s cooler outside.
- Set your dishwasher to run in the evenings. Dishwashers use lots of hot water and their motors also produce waste heat. Run your dishwasher at night after sunset when your home will be cooling down.
- Run the bathroom exhaust fan when when you take a shower (if you don’t have one, use a small fan to blow hot humid air out a window)
- Using halogen lights or incandescent flood lights? These things get hot because 90% of their energy is heat! Turn them off or replace them with energy efficient CFLs or LED bulbs that use 75% less electricity.