Keep Cool This Summer Without Turning on the A/C

The summer heat is coming on fast, and it can be hard to resist turning to the air conditioning for relief, even for people with the greenest of lifestyles. But the A/C is one of the most energy-intensive appliances around and the more we can stay away from it, the better off our planet will be. The Refresh Blog has some handy tips for keeping cool this summer without the A/C.

As the temperatures climb throughout the country to the inevitable summertime highs, many of us will be tempted to pull the AC from the closet and crank it. Which is troublesome: air conditioners use a whole lot of electricity, which in turns costs you a bundle, particularly because all the cooling devices turned on around a city create a massive demand that raises electricity rates and strains the grid.

In New York City, the grid’s sketchy reliability in July and August can be attributed almost entirely to all the air conditioners churning away. While there are plenty of places out there to find tips about saving energy in the Summer, we thought it’d be useful to look at how you can keep your home cool and comfortable during even the scorching Summer months.

We found Peter Troast, founder and CEO of Energy Circle, a comprehensive source of information, tips and great products for making your home more energy efficient, comfortable, and affordable. Troast has thought a lot about surviving summer without an AC, and shared a bunch of great ideas falling into a three-prong strategic attack.

Eliminate heat sources: “A significant slice of your summer discomfort can be attributed to heat sources within your house,” Troast told us. “These are generally things we don’t think about when cursing the summer sun, because they’re mostly small things, but they do add up.”

1) Fix your Lighting. Those incandescent bulbs that have become the symbol of household inefficiency actually use so much energy because they burn most of it off as heat. Troast has actually tested the temperatures of some bulbs. “A dimmable CFL reflector bulb in our kitchen was measured at 167 degrees Fahrenheit, while a very cool LED retrofit burned at a cool 107. The halogen reflector bulb we tested was cranking the heat at 327 degrees. Imagine ten of those above your kitchen table.”

2) Insulate your pipes. If you own your home or control your hot water system, you can also find some gains there. Wrap your water heater in a blanket and expose hot water pipes with insulation. You’ll save energy and money, and lower the ambient temps in your home.

3) Rethink appliances. Appliances and electronics produce more heat collectively than you ever would imagine. The most obvious is the dryer. Use a clothesline or drying rack in the summer. The oven is another obvious one. There’s a clear alternative that’s already a celebrated American summer activity: grilling. Finally, unplug electronic equipment when you’re not using it. It might seem like a no-brainer, but few people actually do it.

Minimize solar heat gain. Of course, the sun is the biggest factor in turning your home into a broiler.

4) Cool the roof. White or light-colored roofs collect a lot less heat than the typical dark shaded shingles and tar that covers most buildings. If you’re in a city and really ambitious, a green roof is second to none.

5) Block your windows. Close your curtains and window shades during the day to better block out the sun. Special “blackout curtains” do an even better job than run-of-the-mill shades. Also use exterior shutters or awnings wherever you can. “Exterior shades keep the sun off your windows,” says Troast. “Which cuts back on radiant heat gain.”

6) Put your landscape to work. Troast encourages everyone to think long term (”often a good way to think”), and to consider strategic landscaping to help block the summer sun. Deciduous trees shade your home during the summer, but they also let sun through in the leafless winter when you actually want the light and heat to reach you. “It’s a win-win,” says Troast.

Ventilate. According to Troast, “Air that’s moving feels up to 8 degrees cooler than air that’s stagnant.” Pushing air around your home is key to the AC-free summer home.

7) Maximize your fans. Huddling around a window fan is no way to live. Try an energy efficient room fan which will make less noise and move more air than the big box in the window. With a room fan, though, “just be sure that you’re not drawing in air from a hot spot around the house,” warns Troast. You can use window fans to supplement, and they’re best placed on north-facing, shaded windows, if possible.

And bathroom fans aren’t just for stink. A simple, subtle ventilation tactic is to continuously run exhaust fans – like the bathroom fan- to keep air moving through the house without causing a minor tornado inside.

8) Go whole house. If you’re in a house and want to go big, consider a whole house fan. These powerful units suck air up out of the house and out through the roof or attic, and can be installed strategically- above a staircase, for instance- with incredible results. Open the windows first thing in the morning before it gets hot, switch on the whole house fan for a mere half hour, and flush the whole house out with cool, fresh air. Repeat in the evening after outdoor temps have dropped.

9) Use a ceiling fan. An overlooked option, and a personal favorite of mine. Says Troast, “the subtle, near silent, romantic breeze from a well-designed ceiling fan is always a good option.”

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Keep Cool This Summer Without Turning on the A/C