According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, residential air conditioning is responsible for nearly 5% of electricity consumption in the United States. That comes out to an annual cost of $15 billion. That level of usage also has a significant toll on the environment when you consider how much coal is burned to produce that much electricity. But rising annual temperatures make it hard to keep your hand off that chilly dial. For homeowners who want to stay comfortable when the mercury rises, we’ve compiled a handy guide with the help of our home improvement experts.
One of the most effective ways to keep your home cool, and definitely the cheapest, is to adopt simple behavioral and usage changes. Start by making sure all windows and shades are shut when you get up in the morning. Sunlight through windows can create radiant heat that will drastically increase the temperature inside your home.
Designer Jill Banks points out,
“By closing the curtains, drawing blinds, or lowering shades during the day, you can block a lot of the radiant heat caused by sunlight. It may not seem like much, but if you can turn your AC down a few degrees by adjusting the amount of light coming into your home, you will save money throughout the summer while keeping your home comfortable.”
Switch hot incandescent bulbs with energy efficient fluorescent ones for a house that’s cooler and cheaper to light. Turn off all electronics that aren’t in use as well. Even in standby mode, most machines will continue to produce small amounts of heat. When the sun goes down, open windows and shades to encourage cool night air inside. If you have high and low windows, open both. Cool air will come in the lower windows while hot air is released above.
Jason Todd from Green Homes America recommends homeowners think of their home like a cooler. When they are insulated well, they are very effective at keeping hot things hot and cool things cool.
“First, insulation resists the transfer of heat, in this case into the cooler. This illustrates the need for insulation in our walls, our attics, and maybe our floors too—likely more than you think. The other benefit of a cooler for keeping drinks cold is the option to keep the lid closed: that controls airflow. Every time you open that lid, warm air washes through the cooler. The same goes for our houses. We need to go in and out of our houses, but we don’t need all the air exchanges from the many small leaks in the attic, the floors, and in the walls.”
If you’re on top of drawing cool night air in during the evening, you can store that cool air inside during the day,provided that your home is well insulated. Start by making sure that all caulking and sealants around windows and doors are in good condition and create air tight seals. Consider replacing single pane windows with double-pane versions. Often, these energy-efficient upgrades will earn you tax credits at the end of the year as well. If you’re considering a new roof, think about the benefits of a radiant barrier and metal roofing. Radiant barriers and metal roofs help reflect solar energy away from your home, rather than absorbing it as traditional shingles do.
Fans help keep us cool in both direct and indirect ways. Portable floor fans and ceiling fans are perfect for creating a draft in your house. When this air passes over your skin it leads to faster evaporation of sweat off your skin and helps cool you down faster. Other types of fans cool you down by controlling the flow of hot and cool air in and out of the house. Window fans can help pull cool air in at night while attic fans can help blow out hot air during the day.
Sam Lazarus of ServiceMaster by Best recommends,
“Install a roof vent fan. This will increase the flow of air from the attic through the roof and keep the attic cooler; thus the whole house is cooler.”
Just as window shades can help keep a house cooler by blocking sunlight, outside design and landscape elements can help cool down your entire house. The less direct sunlight your home receives, the cooler it will be. Planting deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the winter can mean pleasant shade in hot weather and warming sunshine when outside temperatures dip for the season. While your new trees are growing, consider adding a trellis next to your home. A trellis with vines or other climbing plants can add a nice design feature and a great way to block sunlight. Keep in mind that physical sun barriers are most effective when they are placed on the south and west sides of the home, where direct sunlight is most powerful.
Steve Sparhawk of DeckTec Designs shares,
“Our favorite way to keep a home cooler in the heat of summer has always been to add a patio or deck cover. When installed on a west or south facing deck, this cover will reduce energy costs by providing shade.”
If you can’t seem to make it without the added oomph of a cooling machine, take a few things into consideration. For those who only need a cool room to sleep in, go for a window A/C unit rather than a central cooling system. Window units use far less energy and are usually very effective. You may also consider getting an evaporative cooling system for individual rooms. Evaporative coolers use 10-20% of the energy of a regular air conditioning unit. Evaporative coolers blow air past water cooled coils to lower the temperature and are most effective for bedrooms. If you do require a central cooling system, make sure yours is up to date. A/C units that are more than 10 years old use far more energy than modern systems. The key is to stay cool, but if you can do it at a fraction of your normal cost, then everybody wins.