Keep coolBoth the calendar and the thermometer tell the same story.  Summer is back and temperatures are climbing!  To deal with heat, many homes are equipped with air conditioning.  Unfortunately, heavy use of air conditioning is likely to send your electricity bill soaring, creating a nasty dent in your wallet!   Worse yet, in sustained heat, heavy use of air conditioners by you and your neighbors can send electrical demand out of control and lead to local, or even regional, brownouts.  If the power fails, we are not only all in the dark, but of course also without our air conditioning,  fans, internet or even the TV for distraction!  With so much of our electricity created by burning fossil fuels, increased electrical demand sadly also means increased air pollution coupled with higher greenhouse gas emissions neither of which are good for us or our planet.

Luckily, there are a number of simple things you can do to keep cool while saving money and protecting the environment.  These techniques are most effective in well-insulated houses.  Having a well-insulated house will raise the comfort level of your home, and save you money year round.  Insulation is a topic closely tied to achieving the benefits outlined in this article and  is a topic worth careful consideration   Click here for a great InfoBarrel article on the subject.

The following ideas are likely to be helpful to most everyone.  Following just these tips, we have managed to significantly reduce our electric bill, and in fact, hardly run the air conditioner, even with daily temperature highs in the 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit range!

1.       Open windows when it is cooler outside than inside and close when it is warmer outside than in.  This simple tip can be very effective if done carefully, though it is not as straight-forward as you might think. The problem is that the air outside often feels cooler, even when it is several degrees warmer, due to movement of the air and the evaporation caused by air currents.   I strongly recommend investing a few dollars in an indoor/outdoor thermometer  which will remove the guess work about when to open up and when to close the windows. Be sure to put both the indoor and outside temperature sensors in the shade, ideally about 3-4 feet above ground.

When the temperatures are right, try to open windows on several sides of the house so that a slight draft can be created.  Also, in multi-level houses, be sure you have an upstairs window open.  Heat rises and the warm upstairs air is exactly what you want to vent to the outside.

If you are using  air conditioning, be sure to switch it off while windows are open, although you can leave the air condition’s  fan running to more effectively circulate the air and vent the heat.

2.       Close drapes, shades or shutters during the heat of the day to stop sunlight shining in the house.  Sunlight shining in a window can heat a room significantly, especially during the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky.    Indirect light, for example from north facing windows, is usually fine, however on really hot days, if you don’t have double window panes, shades and drapes, if kept closed, will give improved insulation over just a single pane of glass.

 3.       Use  fans to encourage air circulation.  As already mentioned, moving air generally feels cooler than still air and will help your perspiration to cool you effectively.  Overhead fans are very good as are the large rotating fans.  Avoid using the personal mini-fans that plug into your computer.  They circulate very little air and cause your PC to run significantly hotter which really defeats the purpose!

4.       Replace regularly used incandescent bulbs with LEDs.  Traditional bulbs heat a thin filament white hot and are really more heaters than lights. Each releases the vast majority of whatever power they pull as heat.  Replace light bulbs used regularly with new LED bulbs.  Although LED bulbs seem expensive, they will pay for themselves quite quickly.  Click here for an InfoBarrel article explaining why LEDs make good sense year-round, but are especially cost effective in summer. In particular, if you are using air conditioning, keep in mind that for every watt you burn to make light, your air conditioner will have to use more than one additional watt to remove the heat generated by the bulb!  With LEDs using one sixth the power of traditional lamps, this can amount to a huge saving when lighting costs and air conditioning costs are added together.

5.       Avoid using electrical appliances that generate significant heat during the day when the house is closed up.  If you need to use washers, ovens, irons, and other such appliances, try to run them during the late evening or early morning hours when the house can be open. Switch off items that are not currently needed, especially if you can tell they are generating heat.  Computers, VCRs, satellites receivers, etc.  should be completely switched off, or at least put in standby mode, when not in use.

6.       Avoid washing, showering  and bathing  during the day when the house is sealed up.  All these activities raise the humidity in the house and higher humidity means that you will feel the heat even more. When you do shower, avoid using very hot water as this will not only heat the house, but raise your body temperature as well! 

7.       Avoid opening the freezer or refrigerator more than necessary.  While it may feel nice and cool standing in front of the open refrigerator door, replacing the coolness that escapes, requires the appliance to consume more power, generating considerably more heat than the coolness released.

Following these simple seven tips will help keep the whole family cooler while saving money and protecting the environment.  Give them a try and enjoy a cool, green summer!